Lit and Legendary Comedians | Performing Arts

Meticulous biographies that provide a fresh take on the lives and careers of Lucille Ball and Charlie Chaplin.

Eyman, Scott. 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.—Phillip Oliver

Royal, Sarah. A.K.A. Lucy: The Dynamic and Determined Life of Lucille Ball. Running Pr. Oct. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9780762484263. $29. BIOG

Pop-culture historian Royal (host of the podcast Enough Wicker: Intellectualizing “The Golden Girls”) provides a fresh take on the life and career of one of TV’s most recognizable stars, Lucille Ball, in this delightful, photo-filled account of her groundbreaking accomplishments. Ball (1911–89) believed her drive came from her unconventional childhood. Her father died when she was three, and she and her younger brother were raised by grandparents and a working mother. The book effectively charts the course of her passionate, enduring love with Desi Arnaz; summarizes the most famous episodes of I Love Lucy, which pioneered three-camera filming; and supplies examples of the masterful merchandising of Ball’s likeness on everything from pajamas to furniture. The last episode of I Love Lucy aired in 1957, but reruns still air today, nearly 60 years later. Royal also reflects on Ball’s legacy as the first woman to run a television studio (when she bought Arnaz’s shares after their divorce). In her later years, Ball tackled Broadway, stood up for gay and women’s rights, and offered opportunities and support to up-and-comers such as Carol Burnett. VERDICT This perfectly supplements the many books about Ball by contributing new insights with heart and humor.—Lisa Henry

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