CHARLIE CHAPLIN VS. AMERICA: When Art, Sex and Politics Collided by Scott Eyman

CHARLIE CHAPLIN VS. AMERICA: When Art, Sex and Politics Collided by Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster)

At first glance this new book by premier film historian and biographer Eyman would seem to limit its coverage to the period of the 1940s—when Chaplin was burdened by a bogus paternity suit and accused of being a Communist—until his death on Christmas Day, 1977. But Eyman incorporates eye-opening details about Chaplin’s entire life and career throughout the narrative, making this one of the finest surveys of the man and the artist ever written.

Like the author, I first fell in love with Chaplin as a boy after seeing him in Robert Youngson’s comedy compilations. I saved up to buy 8mm prints of his Mutual short subjects from Blackhawk Films and read everything I could about Chaplin. I also vividly recall the disappointment I felt when I devoured his long-awaited autobiography in 1966. It was stuffy and uninteresting to me as a young movie buff. I didn’t care that he spent time with the Royal family or other members of the social elite. I wanted to know more about the making of his films. Eyman casts a clear eye on all of this and posits that moving to Switzerland removed Chaplin from everyday life and smothered his artistry.

There are so many takeaways from this volume I don’t know where to begin. I’ve never fully appreciated Charlie’s kinship with his half-brother Sydney until now. His relationship with his onetime leading lady, Edna Purviance, is evoked through correspondence that she maintained until her death. And, thanks to granular research by Marx Brothers expert Robert Bader, it is now possible to confirm without question that Charlie and the Marxes (or Groucho, at the very least) visited the same brothel in Salt Lake City in September of 1913. Groucho recalled that Charlie was too shy to take a girl upstairs for sex and spent the evening playing in the parlor with the Madame’s dog.

Charlie Chaplin had so many facets that it wouldn’t be possible for one author to explore them all in detail, but by casting a narrower net—and allowing for digressions—Eyman has produced a gem of a book.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024