OONA by Jane Scovell

OONA

Living in the Shadows: A Biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Devotion to genius characterizes the life of Eugene O—Neill’s daughter and Charlie Chaplin’s wife in this respectful overview. Drawing on extensive research, arts journalist Scovell (who has been co-author to Elizabeth Taylor and Kitty Dukakis) moves quickly from the proverbial family tree to chart the messier human trail left by mother Agnes Boulton O’Neill’s flightiness and father Eugene’s nearly lifelong absence and rejection of their daughter. Aside from a vivid fit of despair, Oona’s youthful feelings are not deeply documented here. But her early actions are, as a beautiful New York society girl, Hollywood ingenue, and, at age 18, fourth wife to 54-year-old Chaplin. Though Scovell draws the requisite links between father O’Neill’s neglect and Oona’s need for Chaplin’s adoration, the author doesn—t dwell on them. She speculates that the mutual protection offered by the marriage somewhat diminished and compromised the couple’s awareness of the world; Gold Rush co-star Georgia Hale even questions their union’s perfection. But Scovell, like Oona’s friends and family, largely accepts the idea that when a marriage lasts for four decades and produces eight children, one should stop seeking its flaws and instead celebrate its duration. As for whether Oona ever wanted more for herself, Scovell’s as clear as her research allows. She notes that Oona may have screamed, in her last days, “What the f— did I do with my life!” but that she never sought artistic parity with Chaplin (and rejected invitations to write a memoir). Hardly a story of marital victimization, this tells instead of how Oona made a choice, lived her life afterward, and in Chaplin probably found exactly what she wanted: “father, lover, provider and protector.” Only upon his death did her drinking grow debilitating. Nevertheless, her dependent position and habitual self-effacement inevitably make Oona, however finely realized, a limited subject for a biography. A semi-hidden life of unbroken allegiance, compassionately rendered. (16 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1998
ISBN: 0-446-51730-5
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1998




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