cover image Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life

Peter Ackroyd. Doubleday/ Talese, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-53737-7

In his typically elegant and measured prose, prize-winning biographer Ackroyd (Shakespeare: The Biography) brilliantly brings Chaplin to life. Beginning with Chaplin’s birth in a poor South London neighborhood, Ackroyd traces his career, from his earliest notices in a play called Jim in 1903, where he learned the value of comic timing, to his stint with the Karno Company, which brought him, along with Stan Laurel, to America in 1910. Chaplin went on to work with Mack Sennett in Keystone films, insisted on working as his own director, made classic films such as City Lights and Modern Times, got involved in politics, and relentlessly pursued women. Ackroyd masterfully paints the colorful backdrop of the youthful film industry, in which Chaplin made a name for himself as one of the first real celebrities of his time, instantly recognizable around the world for his comic performances. Chaplin the man emerges as a protean personality who, in the words of his son, was a “priceless entertainer, a moody dreamer, and the wild man of Borneo with his flashes of volcanic temper.” Ackroyd’s book introduces the Little Tramp in such a charming and candid fashion that it will drive movie buffs to watch Chaplin on screen once again. (Oct.)