Chaplin’s protean quality was often puzzling, wrote an earlier biographer David Robinson in his definitive biography of the comic wonder of the ages.
People who knew Charlie Chaplin well described him as modest, vain, prodigal, mean, generous, shy, show-off, ruthless, timid, kind, patient and impatient.
Having lived the most dramatic of all rags to riches stories, Chaplin was all these things until at the peak of his fame, smack in the face of adulation came an equally passionate public revilement that booted him out of America. It exiled him for the rest of his life and outlawed his masterpiece films for nearly a dozen years.
Why? Because he was complicated. And so was America at that time when so many were isolationists in the late 1930’s who hated Chapin’s satire of Hitler in his classic film “The Great Dictator.” Or was it more fear that it would get us into war than hate?
Passivists and appeasement champions like Neville Chamberlain in Great Britain feared it might provoke World War II. But not President Roosevelt. He thought the satire was made to order, and it fit the despicable Hitler to a tee.
And Chaplin could care less what people thought of his work as long as they went to see it and kept coming.
Another ingenious film Chaplin made, Modern Times, was disliked by many who saw it as a spoof of capitalism and found offensive his making fun of robotic workers turning screws a quarter inch on unending assembly lines, yet his critics thought if not for magnanimous capitalists creating those fabulous factory jobs, they’d be hungry and homeless.
Chaplin’s Rise and Fall
Now comes a new book about Chaplin by Scott Eyman titled Charlie Chaplin Vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided.
This remarkable story is about Chapin’s years in exile from the United States during the postwar Red Scare that ruined his life. It’s a must-read, written by Eyman, the bestselling Hollywood biographer and film historian.
Eyman tells the tragic story of Chaplin’s fall from grace at a weird time in our country’s history when gossip columnist Hedda Hoppa and even the American Legion were on Charlie’s coattails wanting him expelled as they saw him not just as a nuisance, but a threat to democracy as seen through their distorted lenses.
Yesterday, I couldn’t stop listening to a fascinating 36-minute NPR interview he had with Terry Gross, which kept me parked in my car outside Duffy’s Sports Bar in Deerfield where I was to buy lunch to take out for Rita and me.
Eyman explained how Chaplin was smeared in the press, scandalized for his affairs with young women, condemned for his alleged communist ties and banned from returning to the U.S., for which there was absolutely no justification as he was never charged or found guilty of anything. What a raw deal, I couldn’t help thinking, for such a cinematic genius so admired and rightfully appreciated.
I got so absorbed in this interview which happens to me often as programs on this South Florida radio station WLRN, which I support, arrest and captivate me, especially Grosses interviews on Fresh Air.
Eyman was formerly the literary critic at my local paper, The Palm Beach Post and is the author or coauthor of 16 books, including the bestseller John Wayne and Pieces of My Heart and You Must Remember This with actor Robert Wagner.
Eyman also writes book reviews for The Wall Street Journal and has written for The New York Times and other newspapers. He lives in West Palm Beach with his wife Lynn.
And Scott, if you ever need a publicist, I’m close by in Boca Raton. Before I went into PR, I was a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Vice President of NBC in NYC. And I’m an author too.
Besides CEO of the public relations firm TransMedia Group headquartered in Boca Raton, Tom Madden is an author of several books, starting with SPIN MAN and now his latest, WORDSHINE MAN about how to make writing inviting. He likes nothing more than promoting other authors like one of his current clients Mark M. Bello, whose book Asher’s Distracted Adventure has earned the prestigious Mom’s Choice Award® and is deemed to be among the best products for families.