Charlie Chaplin, monster


By 1915, says Ackroyd, Chaplin was ‘the most famous man in the world’. Lenin said that ‘Chaplin is the only man in the world I want to meet.’ He stayed with Churchill at Chartwell. At Nancy Astor’s house he met Shaw and Keynes. Barrie and H.G. Wells were fans. Debussy told him, ‘You are instinctively a musician and dancer.’ Almost as a symbol of the Victorian age yielding to modern times, Chaplin had been invited to attend Henry Irving’s funeral at Westminster Abbey — and he accepted acclaim and precedence as his due. ‘I am known in parts of the world by people who have never heard of Jesus Christ,’ he boasted. His one unfulfilled ambition was to star in a biopic about Napoleon.

Chaplin’s hubris had no limits. Offered prizes and awards, he was ungracious: ‘I don’t think you are qualified to judge my work,’ he once said, returning a trophy. His knighthood was delayed until 1975 because he’d declined to appear on stage at a Royal Variety Performance, which was ‘construed as an insult to George V’.

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