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Born into a theatrical family, Chaplin's father died of drink while his mother, unable to bear the poverty, suffered from bouts of insanity, Chaplin embarked on a film-making career which won him immeasurable success, as well as intense controversy. His extraordinary autobiography was first published in 1964 and was written almost entirely without reference to documentation - simply as an astonishing feat of memory by a 75 year old man. It is an incomparably vivid reconstruction of a poor London childhood, the music hall and then his prodigious life in the movies.
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UK Kirkus review
First published in 1964, this autobiography is a welcome addition to the Penguin list of modern classics. In his introduction David Robinson tells how Chaplin was accused of using a ghost writer but explains that no one but the actor could have written so vivid and idiosyncratic account of his life. An autodidact, Chaplin is said to have learned a new word each day and here he is lavish with his newly acquired vocabulary. He talks of the 'pulchritudinous influence' of Mabel Normand and other women on the 'he-man' atmosphere of the studio and of the 'quidnuncs and quasi-promoters' to be found in the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles. His was an extraordinary life. Born in the East End of London, Chaplin and his half-brother Sydney wanted to pursue a stage career. Both their mother and Chaplin's father had been in vaudeville and both boys were to succeed in their ambition. The odds against them doing so were incredible for their mother became insane and Chaplin's father died, an alcoholic, in his 30s. Several times they were taken to the workhouse with all that that meant in terms of deprivation and humiliation, separated not just from each other but from their mother. Chaplin describes these times without once hinting at any self-pity but furnishes details of pennies obtained from the pawn shop, clothes fashioned from rags and the humiliation of never being sure of having the rent or enough to eat. It is almost certain that malnutrition caused his mother's breakdown. And then comes the rise to riches and fame. Small parts on the stage begin to earn the boy a reputation as a good comedian. He is taken to America with a touring company and, finally, joins the studio where the Keystone Cops films are being churned out. The passages where he describes how the character of the little tramp evolved and how he used his knowledge of stagecraft to improve the quality of the early films are fascinating, as is his account of his immense popularity. When political intrigue put an end to these happy days in America Chaplin was married to Oona. Together they made a new life in Europe and it is to her that he dedicated this extraordinary book. (Kirkus UK)
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