Charlie Chaplin And His Times by Kenneth S. Lynn
Kenneth Lynn faced a major problem in writing a biography about Charlie Chaplin. There’s little new to be said about the subject. Doing a quick search on Amazon.com reveals 98 different books about Charlie Chaplin; Lynn works very hard at trying to say something new, or to display Chaplin from a new angle. He tries too hard.
There are four major problems this book has:
- The author tries to depict everything in Chaplin’s life as being a psychological revelation into the character of Chaplin
- The author spends page after tedious page trying to infer things about Chaplin that he has no basis in fact for
- Mr. Lynn basically has nothing new to say about Chaplin
- The author distrusts (seemingly) everything Chaplin ever said
Despite what Lynn says, not every woman in every Chaplin film is a psychological attempt by Charlie to reconcile his mother’s very different character traits, or his childhood poverty. Nor is every dream sequence. Nor is The Little Tramp’s station in life. As Sigmund Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Lynn spends dozens of pages insinuating ideas that he can’t substantiate with facts. He spends dozens of pages speculating that Chaplin’s mother supported Charlie and his brother Sydney via prostitution. But without giving a single stitch of evidence. He intimates that H. A. Saintsbury, who helped Charlie in his early stage career, “was quite possibly homosexual” (page 73) and that “If there is a suggestion here that their relationship (Chaplin’s & Sainsbury’s) was sexual, there is no evidence to support it.” (page 78) Then why bring it up? Lynn does this time and again, sinking below the journalistic level of the National Enquirer.
Most of Lynn’s ‘insights’ about Chaplin come from earlier works, either Robinson’s biographies, or the excellent biography by John McCabe. Lynn himself adds nothing new, if you discount the rumor and innuendo.
Lynn disputes everything Chaplin ever said about himself. For example, trying to prove that, since there were people arguably poorer than Charlie Chaplin in London during Chaplin’s childhood, then Chaplin himself wasn’t all that poor. He rejects virtually anything mentioned in Chaplin’s My Autobiography, unless he uses it as a launching point for one of his ‘what if’ innuendos – then it apparently is trustworthy.
However, Lynn did do one part of his book well. He documents the other people in Chaplin’s Hollywood. Lynn gives the reader a peek behind the scenes at Chaplin’s fellow stars (Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, etc.) and co-workers (Eric Campbell, Edna Purviance, etc.) that we don’t see in most Chaplin biographies. But even these moments tend toward the ‘sleazy’ perspective that the author is trying to portray Chaplin in.
In a nutshell, this book was truly painful to read, and I do not recommend it.
Editorial review of Charlie Chaplin And His Times courtesy of Amazon.com
Loved by millions in his heyday, exiled into obscurity in his middle age, and worshipped anew in his final years, Charlie Chaplin has been the subject of many biographies. In this book, Kenneth S. Lynn focuses on Chaplin’s personal, political, and romantic associations. Lynn sees Chaplin’s obsessive egotism and brutality toward women as a result of his obscure London upbringing and the torment and embarrassment his mentally disturbed mother caused him.
Lynn also takes a fresh look at Chaplin’s alleged victimization at the hands of immigration officials in the 1950s and performs an intriguing psychological reading of Limelight, which he considers Chaplin’s most autobiographical film. Along the way, Lynn provides mini-histories of issues and events that shaped Chaplin’s life, including a consideration of the tramp in early 20th-century America, biographies of famous silent film stars, and an account of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. —This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.