HIDDEN STAR by Patrice Chaplin


Oona O'Neill Chaplin, A Memoir
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 Though she was Eugene O'Neill's daughter, Charlie Chaplin's third wife (married at the age of 18), and the mother of actress Geraldine Chaplin, Oona O'Neill Chaplin (192591) did not lead the kind of life that merits a book-length recounting, especially one as lax and disorganized as this one by her former daughter-in-law. Novelist Patrice Chaplin (The Forgotten, 1984, etc.) makes grand claims for her subject's deep well-springs of talent: ``She was a hidden star,'' a ``queen of movieland's royal family.'' Again and again we are told how her charisma and vivacity and beauty were admired by all who met her. She may well have been ``a barefoot sprite, around whom happened marvellous, secret adventures as subtle as her perfume.'' But the truth is that apart from marrying well and having eight children, Oona didn't do very much. Nor is Chaplin is able to convincingly capture her subject's personality. Perhaps part of the problem is her status as Oona's ex-daughter-in- law, a strange twilight zone that provided enough closeness to moot a biographer's objectivity, yet too much distance for an intimate rapprochement. What we are left with is a series of recollected conversations and meetings, a few biographical details, and much too much about Patrice Chaplin. However, her understanding of the sadness of Oona's situation is keen--talent squandered, hopes hopelessly reposed in others, disappointments with her children. Oona seemingly lived so much through the lives of others that she never really had a life to call her own. Even her vices weren't her own--like both her parents, she found constant comfort in alcohol. Toward the end of her life, occasional tipsiness gave way to frequent and appalling scenes as she began to drink suicidally. Too few tidbits for Charlie Chaplin fans, and even the few Oonaphiles out there will be disappointed. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-86066-002-9
Page count: 204pp
Publisher: Collins & Brown/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996