Discovering Chaplin

I recently received a review copy of the forthcoming U.S. edition of the Peter Ackroyd bio of Chaplin and what a sloppy, poorly-researched mess it was. It’s clear that the author did no actual research and just rehashed other bios, including Lita Grey’s first book which he seems to take at face value. Hell, eventually, even Lita didn’t. If this isn’t bad enough, there are caption errors galore. Glaring ones. I doubt I am the only one who looks at photos before they read a book and these errors will be obvious to any Chaplin fan or film historian. I did notify Random House of the caption mistakes and they told me they were “looking into it” and would make sure they were corrected for future printings. We shall see…

Meanwhile, here are a few of the caption blunders. It’s evident that Ackroyd and/or his publisher just used the captions that were provided by their photo sources (Getty, New York Daily News, etc) without double-checking them to make sure they were correct. If I’ve learned anything from research, it’s that you can never trust the captions on stock image websites.

The only thing correct about this caption is the date.
Nope, this is Chaplin signing his contract with Mutual in 1916.
This is actually a photo of Chaplin & Raquel Meller in 1926.
To me, this error is egg on the face of Ackroyd and his publisher.
Lita is not marrying Chaplin here, but signing her contract to be his leading lady
 in The Gold Rush


  1. I often see the first one captioned like this and, although there was no set for Kid Auto Races at Venice at all, I kind of believed it. Don't you know where and why it was actually shot?The last one is quite funny, by the way… Did they think she was signing her marriage settlement?!Domi

  2. Wow, this is stunningly bad. It shows a real disrespect for the subject matter to not take the time to get these things right. Unbelievable!!!! I really liked Peter Ackroyd's book about London and am disappointed that he didn't do as good a job with Chaplin. I'm also disappointed to see that the book is getting very good reviews on Amazon in spite of these kinds of obvious errors. Not having read the book, I'd have to guess that people are responding to Ackroyd's good prose (he does craft great sentences) and the interest of the subject matter itself, and the readers giving the book good reviews may not be familiar enough with Chaplin's story to notice the errors. That is a bummer, indeed, because it will once again perpetuate misinformation.

  3. Last night I read the section where Paulette shows up for her first day on the set of Modern Times all dolled up and Chaplin tells her that's not the look he wants for the Gamin and throws a bucket of water on her head. Ackroyd used this as an example to show how actors were in fear of Chaplin's temper. He doesn't explain that Paulette actually appreciated this action by Chaplin and that the scene she filmed immediately afterward was the best she ever had. The book has the feel of the Joyce Milton/Kenneth Lynn bios where facts are twisted around to make Chaplin look bad.

  4. ugh, another book that a person will read, and then base all assumptions about Chaplin on for the rest of their days. When I went to Barnes and Noble years ago to pick up "Opposite Attraction", the kid at the counter said…"did you know Charlie Chaplin married her when she was a teenager?" to which I replied, "Did you know it was her second marriage and she met him when she was 22?". Shut him up.

  5. Does he include any of the stories from actors who LOVED working with Chaplin? Adolphe Menjou, Georgia Hale, Jackie C., Martha Raye, Jack Oakie, Claire Bloom, anyone? I know there are reports that Chaplin was pretty hard on his son Sydney, that Brando didn't like working with him, and that Chaplin did sometimes fly off the handle with Virginia Cherrill, but I get the sense that through most of his career, he was lovely to work with as a director, very gentle, patient, and encouraging–especially if he felt actors were trying their best. The idea that the "bucket incident" filled a girl as strong as Paulette with fear is ridiculous!

  6. The Mutual photo and this one especially have me shaking my head. The fact that these errors slipped in just shows such a lack of familiarity/intimacy with what actually happened. It's an embarrassment. My eight-year-old kid could have done a better job captioning these photos!

  7. Jack Oakie and Martha Raye barely get a mention. There are quotes from Jackie Coogan and Georgia Hale about working with CC but it's only a sentence or two–and odd quotes that I wouldn't have chosen to include. Plus he seems to seek out negative quotes about Chaplin. I noticed he only devoted a couple of sentences to Chaplin and Keaton working together on Limelight and it was something negative–quoting Eugene Lourie, the set designer, who said that there was jealousy between them and they tried to upstage each other. Jerry Epstein, who worked closely with Chaplin on the film and claimed there was nothing but mutual respect and admiration between the two, is not mentioned in the Limelight chapter at all. Ackroyd really seems to go out of his way to present Chaplin as a complete jerk.

  8. In the Italian edition of Ackroyd's book, published in August 2014, there is absolutely no illustrations. May be the editor or the author have received bad comments, and therefore decided not to make the same errors. Anyway, I hope that poor book will soon be forgotten…DE.

  9. The British edition has the same erroneous captions, even if the lay out and photos are not exactly the same (for instance, the photo of the "Kid autos races" is cropped, without Henry Lherman).D.

  10. Hi folksI just read the biography bought at recently opened Charles Chaplin Museum in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. When trying to validate the accuracy of Peter Ackroyd's book through the web I came across this blog and have to perceive that I now feel like another person to "base all assumptions about Chaplin [on Peter Ackroyd's biography] for the rest of (their) my days.". Which other biography do you recommend being more accurate?Best regards Jan

  11. Dear JessicaThanks a lot for the flowers. It was the first biography about Charles Chaplin I read and hence I have not much measures to judge. Only I noticed that Peter Ackroyd mentions 82 films with participation of Charles Chaplin (p. 240 of Penguin Vintage 2015) while in his book he only quotes 75 films by title. This triggered my curiosity.If I can trust wikipedia the missing films are (comments also taken from Wikipedia site; Oct-2016):1. A Thief Catcher => Print discovered in 20102. Her Friend the Bandit => A lost film. The only known Chaplin lost film.3. Recreation => Released as a split-reel with a travel short, The Yosemite4. Gentlemen of Nerve 5. His Trysting Place 6. Triple Trouble => Compilation assembled by Leo White with scenes from Police and an unfinished short, Life, along with new material shot by White. Chaplin includes this production in the filmography of his autobiography.7. The Bond Well, unless I will not have read other biographies and x-checked a bit more I will not judge except that Charles Chaplin for sure is a fascinating person.Thanks again & best regards Jan

  12. I borrowed this book from the library a year ago seems to me Peter decided to make a book version of the 1992 Chaplin film just as fiction and both share similar stories, Peter however says something I've never read before about Chaplin, When he was 19 he was friends with a girl of 12 Chaplin supposedly liked cuddling/holding this girl? Peter directly says afterwards "Chaplin never admitted to being sexually active with the child" It's like Peter suggestion Chaplin couldn't be trusted around female children, Sounds like BS to me just a shot to make Chaplin look as tho he is interested in girls well under 18. According to Peter this information is in the "My trip a broad" book (a book I have not read) The whole thing sounds made up or facts have been twisted so Chaplin looks bad. Jess do you know anything about it?

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