Using very few oral referrals, anecdotes or the ever available gossip, Manvell (biographer of earlier British performers) has written a discerning and discreet portrait of the ""little fella"" who sashayed across the screen in his bowler hat, cane, with a swagger, and saggy, baggy pants -- the vulnerable, graceful, melancholy clown who mimed universal aspirations. Manvell places him firmly in context of the theater and the times which were later to vilify him on personal as well as political grounds. He traces Chaplin's beginnings from a destitute London childhood (alcoholic father, emotionally ill mother) to his odd jobs here and there, plays in the provinces, to America where at 24 he landed a contract with Sennett, worked his way up to the big films -- The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and his elegiac Limelight -- having acquired millions, many wives and seemingly indiscriminate mistresses (sex was the detente between films), and having apotheosized what his sympathetic contemporary, Max Eastman, called ""playful pain."" Huxley was to put it less kindly in a letter -- ""One feels terribly sorry for Charlie -- such talents, such a mess -- in art no less than in life."" Manvell underplays the mess and concentrates on the talents of a great original whose works will endure undimmed via some magic lantern or another. Chaplin was and is still here an artistic event.