Charlie Chaplin’s first novel published, six decades after he wrote it

Charlie Chaplin
Silent film actor-director Charlie Chaplin, right (at left is Buster Keaton), in a scene from the 1952 film “Limelight.” Chaplin wrote a novella upon which the screenplay was based. It is being published for the first time.
(The Roy Export Company Establishment / Associated Press)

A 34,000-word novella that Charlie Chaplin wrote in the late 1940s is being published for the first time by a film institute in Italy. The book was the basis of his last great film, “Limelight.”

The manuscript of “Footlights” was discovered in the Chaplin archive at the Cineteca di Bologna in Italy, the BBC reports. It serves as a kind of prequel to the story of “Limelight,” the 1952 autobiographical film that was the last that Chaplin made in the U.S. before he left the country with allegations that he was a communist in his wake.

Chaplin novella: A Quick Takes item in the Feb. 5 Calendar section about a newly published novella by Charlie Chaplin referred to the book by two titles, “Footlights” and “Floodlights.” The correct title is “Footlights.”

The novella will be released on Tuesday at BFI Southbank in London during an event to mark the centenary of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, the BBC said.

The Guardian reports that the novella was “pieced together from a mix of handwritten and typed scripts” by Chaplin’s biographer David Robinson. “Floodlights,” like the film “Limelight,” tells the story of an aging clown, Calvero, and the ballerina he saves from suicide.

Cecilia Cenciarelli, co-director of the Cineteca di Bologna’s Chaplin project, told the Guardian that the book “has shadows. It’s the story of a comedian who has lost his public, by a comedian who at that time had lost his public, who was referred to in the press of the time as a ‘former comedian,’ a ‘former successful film maker.’” 

In the novella, Calvero says he wants to stage a comeback “to rock them with laughter like I used to … .” When Chaplin wrote those words his career had been on the wane for more than a decade.

“Limelight” was set in London (where Chaplin got his start as an entertainer) but was filmed in Hollywood. It starred Claire Bloom as the dancer, Terry, and Buster Keaton as Calvero’s partner. Robinson said the novella “Floodlights” makes references to Chaplin’s own, impoverished South London childhood.

The novella does not yet have an American or British publisher, the Guardian said, but will be available on Amazon and on the Italian publisher’s website.


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