Charlie Chaplin vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided

S. & S. Oct. 2023. 432p. ISBN 9781982176358. $29.99. BIOG
Eyman’s (Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise) meticulous biography recounts the FBI’s smear campaign against Charlie Chaplin, one of cinema’s most beloved actors. Chaplin rose to worldwide fame in the silent era with his onscreen characterization of the Tramp, beloved by millions. In the 1940s, his image took a dramatic turn after he was sued in a paternity case by actress Joan Barry, was accused of being a communist, and married 18-year-old Oona O’Neill when he was 54. After years of investigations failed to unveil evidence regarding Chaplin’s political leanings, the FBI focused on his sex life. Chaplin lost the paternity suit despite a blood test indicating that he was not the father. When Chaplin traveled to England in 1952, he found that his U.S. visa had been canceled. He did not fight the charge and lived the remainder of his life in Switzerland with O’Neill and their eight children. He returned to the United States only briefly in 1972 to receive an honorary Oscar.
VERDICT Distinguished research, featuring the over 1,900-page FBI report, media accounts, and interviews with family members, coworkers, and historians, propels this excellent biography that captures Chaplin, both the person and his work.
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