Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life
Peter Ackroyd, Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 304 pages
In 1914, Keystone Studios released “Kid Auto Races at Venice” and “Mabel’s Strange Predicament.” The two short films are far less memorable than the character they helped to introduce: the Tramp. Over time, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp became an enduring icon – and his creator a bit of a head case. As Peter Ackroyd relates in “Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life,” inside the mustachioed, self-taught comic was a stew of anxieties fueled by a Dickensian childhood of poverty and neglect.
Chaplin often endured problems of his own making. In the latter 1940s his left-leaning if sketchy political views and a penchant for young women – one of his four wives was just 16 – damaged his standing with the public. And he began losing his touch with moviegoers. Ackroyd links “A King in New York” (1957), a satire about a deposed monarch, to the political flap that helped drive Chaplin out of the U.S. during the communist witch hunt of the era. Twenty years into his exile in Switzerland, Chaplin returned to the U.S. in 1972 to receive a special Oscar, a national mea culpa of sorts.
An early co-star, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, said of Chaplin, “He is a complete comic genius, undoubtedly the only one of our time and he will be the only one who will be talked about a century from now.” And here we are.
Ackroyd rewards his readers with a tale fit for a Chaplin film, featuring humor, tragedy and a poignant fade-out.
The Earl’s Pregnant Bride
Christine Rimmer, Harlequin, 224 pages
The “Bravo Royales” series play into the romantic fantasies surrounding royalty, making princes and princesses seem humble and like “normal-folk,” but with the power that comes from being the queen’s kids. In the series’ latest edition, Princess Genny finds herself pregnant and unwed. The daddy? Earl Rafe, the brother of the deceased man Genny was supposed to marry.
As soon as Genny managed to tell Rafe of their impending parenthood, he rushed her to the altar. The rest of the chapters dealt with each jousting around, realizing they loved their spouse but not wanting to make the other uncomfortable, not knowing how the other felt, blah, blah, blah. . It’s a romantic, light read that plays into some royal fantasies. It’s easy and fun.