Hidden Star: Oona O'Neill Chaplin

Patrice Chaplin, Author
Patrice Chaplin, Author Trafalgar Square Publishing $29.95 (204p) ISBN 978-1-86066-002-3
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Oona Chaplin (1925-1991) was the estranged daughter of Eugene O'Neill, a debutante who dated J.D. Salinger and Orson Welles before marrying Charlie Chaplin when she was 18 and he was three times her age. Although her full life merits book-length consideration, this is instead a memoir, beginning in the late 1970s, of her early and long widowhood. The author, a novelist (Albany Park, etc.), had divorced Oona's son but had occasional cause to approach Oona for unpaid alimony. She also served at times as Oona's clairvoyant, but here, despite some fine writing, she lacks the vision to create from inadequate exposure to Oona and limited access to her friends, relatives and journals a worthy portrait of her subject as a child, wife, mother and alcoholic. Hints of Oona's personal life emerge only occasionally and in no particular order in a work dominated by the author's memories of her awkward and infrequent encounters with Oona. Whatever sympathy Patrice Chaplin gains in her attempts to find help for her own addict son--by asking his grandmother for a new, bigger house--is lost when, at the end of the book, so much is left unanswered. Oona had eight children, but their roles in this memoir are mostly limited to the author's usually unsuccessful attempts to contact them. This sort of honest but frail journalism prevails, relieved briefly by a lucid account of Oona's relationship with her unforgiving father. The beautiful photographs of the Chaplin clan are a poignant reminder that here is a wealthy, complicated star who remains hidden despite Chaplin's effort. Photos. (Feb.)
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