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Biographies of Charlie Chaplin

A list of prominent biographies of Charlie Chaplin, famous movie clown, actor, writer, director, producer, and composer.

Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, by Jeffrey Vance
Jeffrey Vance, film historian and expert on silent films, has created what may be the finest photographic biography of Charlie Chaplin ever.   It contains 500 photographs of wonderful quality, detailing Chaplin’s life and creative process.   He describes the atmosphere on Chaplin’s film sets, his relationships with his cast and crew, his first attempts at famous comedy scenes.  Also Chaplin’s own life story, from his poverty in Victorian London, his many romances, his four marriages, his hounding from the U.S.A. during the communist witch hunts of the 1950’s, and his happily-ever-after years in Switzerland.
Discoveries: Charlie Chaplin (Discoveries), by David Robinson
David Robinson wrote the definitive biography of Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin: His Life and Art).  Shortly afterward, he wrote this smaller volume (143 pages) for the Abrams Discoveries book series.   This book contains less detail on Chaplin, but has a photograph, drawing, or film still on almost every page.  A very nice introduction to Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin: A Photo Diary, by Michel Comte (Editor), Sam Stourdzé
Michael Comte released a large photographic diary of the life of Charlie Chaplin, from 1909 to Chaplin’s death in 1977.   And I mean large – 480 pages, 12″x10″.   The photographs come largely from Charlie Chaplin’s own estate, consisting of glass negatives, negatives and photoprints of Chaplin’s life.
Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, by Joyce Milton
A large, heavily researched, largely hostile biography of Charlie Chaplin.   The author spends very little time on Chaplin’s films, instead going on about his romances, affairs, mistresses, etc.   She focuses on his political views, inconsistencies, and her theory that he suffered from being manic-depressive.
Chaplin: His Life and Art, by David Robinson
Amazon.com editorial review, used by permission: Of the many books about Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), among them the Tramp’s own charming but evasive 1964 autobiography, this magisterial volume does by far the best job of detailing and analyzing his genius as a filmmaker. Chaplin’s widow allowed David Robinson to examine their personal archives in Switzerland, and he makes good use of this access in his meticulous descriptions of the movies that created the legend, including City Lights and Modern Times. Robinson is less interested in Chaplin’s tumultuous personal life, skating rather lightly over the lawsuits and scandals that plagued his later years in the United States. No matter: Chaplin lovers will find their understanding of his films enhanced; those unfamiliar with his artistry will learn why an actor-director whose greatest work was done before 1940 remains a key figure in the history of motion pictures.
Charlie Chaplin: My Autobiography, by Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin’s own autobiography, written in Switzerland before his death.   It is an interesting read, which I strongly recommend.   Bear in mind, however, that it is a highly biased book in many respects.  He doesn’t mention one wife at all, and barely mentions his children.  If this were your only source, you would be unaware of the many people who worked with Chaplin in the creation of his films.
The Intimate Charlie Chaplin, by May Reeves, Constance Brown Kuriyama, Claire Goll
Amazon.com editorial review, used by permission: Many of those who knew the intimate Charlie Chaplin documented his life and their perceptions of him in their writings. One of the most fascinating and revealing of these accounts has, until now, been available only in French. May Reeves’ portrait of Chaplin (as told to Claire Goll) covers their year-long relationship during his 1931-1932 vacation in Europe. The enigmatic actress and dancer Reeves, in chronicling her relationship with Chaplin, both elaborates on and offers contrasts to the popular impressions of her brilliant traveling companion. Constance Brown Kuriyama has translated Reeves’ original Charlie Chaplin Intime into English, and also includes an introduction, and a translation of reminiscences by Chaplin’s press agent, Carlyle T. Robinson, which until now have also been difficult to obtain.
Charlie Chaplin: Intimate Close-Ups, by Georgia Hale
Georgia Hale was Charlie Chaplin’s co-star in The Gold Rush – and was also one of his romances.   This book tells, from Georgia’s perspective, of her on-again-off-again romantic relationship with Charlie.
Making Music with Charlie Chaplin, by Eric James, Jeffrey Vance
Amazon.com editorial review, used by permission: Eric James knew and worked with Charlie Chaplin in the capacity of Music Associate for more than 20 years, during which time he composed and arranged music for a large number of his films. James draws upon this relationship to offer this autobiographical account of both his professional and personal experiences of Charlie Chaplin. James details everything from his first encounter with Chaplin to his frequent visits to Switzerland when he lived at Chaplin’s Manoir de Ban in Vevey. He discusses Chaplin’s temperament and the creation of the music for his films, offering insight into the magnitude of Chaplin’s musical genius and the person behind the legend.
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