Harding gets no more animation into the life of entertainment-great Chevalier than did Michael Freedland (1981)--though there's a bit more French-show-biz background here, as well as a somewhat more strictly-factual approach. Harding's view of the man is neatly simplistic: for love of applause, ""he willingly sacrificed everything."" So ""Momo"" is followed from fatherless urchin-squalor to teenage performing; from early vaudeville successes to the partnership with Mistinguett (""her supple body vibrant with magnetism""); from ups and downs at the Folies and other revues to a new independence after his WW I service. In the 1920s Harding seems to have more material on Chevalier's emotional problems than Freedland did--dizziness, melancholia, hallucinations--though his recovery (coinciding with the arrival of wife Yvonne) is awfully blurry. Then: on to Hollywood, where Harding is better on the films than Freedland (but histrionically hostile to Jeanette MacDonald); and on to one-man-show comebacks before and after the war, to Gigi, legendary celebrity, and relentless touring. (""Momo without an audience did not exist."") Like Freedland, Harding finds Chevalier mostly free of WW II shame: ""The only blemishes on his record during the Occupation were small."" Like Freedland, he downplays the fabled stinginess; he ""was extremely generous in other ways."" And, like Freedland, he fails to make Chevalier's life either an absorbing personal story or a bright show-biz chronicle--though this account is probably a bit more trustworthy (and certainly more restrained) than the emotive, livelier Freedland version.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Secker & Warburg--dist. by David & Charles