Chaplin, the Movies, and Charlie is attuned to the level of juveniles and young adults because the author shared the writing process with his daughter Alben, who was only seven years old when they first began going to see Chaplin’s films together and was eleven when her father finished writing the book. In his introduction, Jacobs states that Alben was, in a substantial way, his collaborator and that his main intention was to do justice to her insights.
Jacobs’ book is written in simple language, yet it does an admirable job of explaining complex matters, such as the evolution of film comedy and Chaplin’s film persona. Jacobs focuses his attention on Chaplin as an artist, considering him to be an important pioneer in the development of motion pictures as an art form. The author discusses Chaplin’s private life in generalities, not having attempted to delve into personal documents or to conduct extensive interviews. He is enthusiastic about Chaplin’s genius and anxious to present him to young readers in the best possible light. Consequently, Jacobs tends to gloss over some unpleasant incidents in Chaplin’s life, such as his forced marriage to sixteen-year-old Lolita MacMurray in 1924, who was pregnant at the time, or his long exile from the United States from 1952 to 1972 as a suspected communist.
Chaplin, the Movies, and Charlie is not a definitive biography, complete with long quotations and extensive footnotes....
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Chaplin, the Movies, and Charlie has been popular with young adult readers because it deals with two things that young people instinctively enjoy: comedy and motion pictures. Jacobs undertook the writing of this book as a labor of love in more than one sense: He loved Chaplin and he wanted to introduce the great comedian’s films to his daughter Alben, who was only seven years old when he started taking her to see Chaplin’s films in New York City. Like many parents, Jacobs had the double pleasure of enjoying films that he had seen in his youth and seeing them vicariously through the eyes of his young child.
Jacobs considered his daughter to be his collaborator for this biography, an unusual approach that probably would be attempted only by an author with Jacobs’ professional qualifications. By sharing his ideas with his daughter and by trying to incorporate her impressions as well as his own into his biography, Jacobs has created a work that is sympathetic to young readers. His aim is not to be didactic or sententious but to introduce a great comedian to readers who may know of Chaplin only by name and to offer information that is intended to maximize the enjoyment of his films.
Jacobs presents only enough of the facts about Chaplin’s life to make the reader aware of the connection between his art and his personal experience. The natural effect of Jacobs’ book is to make the young reader want to see more of Chaplin’s films. Fortunately, the development of videotapes has made it much easier to view these classic comedies than it was when Jacobs published Chaplin, the Movies, and Charlie in 1975.