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Trosman, H. (2009). Chaplin: A Life. By Stephen M. Weissman. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008, 315 pp., $27.99.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(6):1523-1527.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(6):1523-1527

Chaplin: A Life. By Stephen M. Weissman. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008, 315 pp., $27.99.

Review by:
Harry Trosman

In March of 1931, Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter to Max Schiller, the husband of Yvette Guilbert, the French actress and singer, as follows: “Charlie Chaplin was in Vienna; I almost caught sight of him, but it was too cold for him, and he left in a hurry. He is undoubtedly a great artist—although he always plays one and the same part, the weak, poor, helpless, clumsy boy for whom life turns out all right in the end. Now do you think he has to forget his own self in order to play this part? On the contrary, he invariably plays only himself as he was in his grim youth. He cannot get away from these impressions and even today he tries to compensate himself for the humiliation and deprivation of that time. He is of course an especially simple, transparent case” (Freud 1960, p. 405).

The letter suggests that Chaplin scheduled an appointment to see Freud and then got cold feet and canceled. It is hard to imagine that a man who lived with so much hardship in his childhood would be put off by cold weather. Chaplin was interested in meeting men of stature—Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein were friends—but there may have been something about meeting Freud that aroused resistance.

The note suggests that Freud felt some regret and was disappointed. He obviously valued Chaplin as an artist and saw clearly how Chaplin drew inspiration in his work from the bleak reality of his childhood. He made use of the grimness of his early, difficult life, which he transformed into a tragic and highly effective humor.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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