Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Chaplin bio

It seems as though there is a new book or two out on Charlie Chaplin every few years. Forthcoming from Faber and Faber isChaplin: The Life and Times of a Tramp, by Simon Louvish. That should be good. I have a couple of other film books by this noted British film biographer, and each is worthwhile.

Just released is Chaplin: A Life, by Stephen Weissman, M.D. What makes this book stand out among the dozens of earlier books on the actor is the fact that it is not by a film historian or biographer, but a medical doctor. And what's more, the book is endorsed by Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie's daughter. Geraldine (who will always be favorite of mine because of her role as Tonya in Dr. Zhivago) wrote an introduction to the book, and a quote from that short piece graces the cover. "Always provocative and at times heart wrenching . . . An important addition to an understanding of my father's genius and art."

As every Louise Brooks fan knows, Chaplin had a brief but intense affair with then 18 years old Brooks in the summer of 1925. The affair is detailed in Barry Paris' outstanding biography of the actress. In his new book, Weissman cover the same ground in a few paragraphs over the course of a couple of pages. Weissman notes "Looking back on their amorous interlude many years later, Louise recalled with good-natured amusement Chaplin's odd habit of painting his penis with iodine to protect himself from contracting a venereal disease. As she put it, 'Charlie came running at me with his little red sword'."

Seemingly, this is a new source for this particular anecdote. The red sword-iodine detail is attributed to an "Unpublished letter from Jan Wahl to the author" dating from 1989. Today, Wahl is a well-known children's book author. But in the 1950's, as a young man on a Fullbright in Denmark, he met and befriended the then middle-aged actress. Brooks and Wahl corresponded for years afterword.

Chaplin: A Life, by Stephen Weissman, M.D., looks like a good read. It takes a psychoanalytical approach to the Chaplin's life and films. Thank you to my longtime friend Tom McIntyre - publisher sales rep extraordinaire - who alerted me to this new book. Thanx Tom! You are a gentelman and a scholar.

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