Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman. 2010. June 2010. HarperCollins. 268 pages.
From the prologue: Choosing a subject for a biography may be as perilous or as charmed as a marriage. A writer chooses with fingers crossed.
From the introduction: A dark-eyed man came swaying down the street like a tightrope walker.
From chapter one: In the pesky rain on a March night in 1978, nitwit thieves huddled at the grave of Sir Charlie Chaplin and dug up the body of the world-famous comedian. They held it for ransom. The scheme could have passed as the hectic plot in one of the great film maker's comedies of errors.
Though I was not that familiar with Charlie Chaplin--his life or his films--I knew that this biography would be a must read for me. Why? Sid Fleischman. He has a way with words. He makes me care. He's a great writer, a great storyteller. His writing is engaging, compelling, fascinating.
Sir Charlie is more than informative--it's completely fascinating. Sir Charlie covers the life and death of Charlie Chaplin. From his humble beginning to his greatest successes. It covers his personal life--his relationships with his mother, father, brother, wives, children--and his professional life. Great attention is made to his films. Details on the plot of each one. When it was filmed, how it was filmed, what made each film work, etc. Fleischman often relating scene-by-scene some of Chaplin's greatest moments. How Chaplin could make you laugh and cry. It covers Chaplin's work ethics--noting how we worked, how diligent he was. But it doesn't hide the fact that Chaplin might not have been the best person to get along with. How difficult he could be. Fleischman's Chaplin is very human.
Here is just one example of why I like Fleischman's style:
Like many shy teenagers, Charlie was a loner. That he had few friends was confirmed by his obsessions. At age sixteen he bought a violin and later a cello and began practicing from four to six hours a day. The screech of scales and pizzicati in his private life not only kept friends at bay but isolated him from bill collectors (55)Here are just a few of the scenes Fleischman discusses in Sir Charlie:
On the tour west, Stan Laurel recalled being assigned Chaplin and his violin as roommates. He was, in fact, Charlie's understudy. How the gentle comedian arranged to go deaf whenever Charlie opened his instrument case, he doesn't say, unless it was to take four-to-six-hour walks. (57)
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews