Charlie Chaplin’s only novel to see ‘light’ of day after six decades

BY Justin Scuiletti  February 5, 2014 at 5:46 PM EST
Promotional still from Charlie Chaplin's 1952 film "Limelight"

66 years later, you’ll finally get to read Charlie Chaplin’s novel. Publicity still by United Artists.”

The world has known Charlie Chaplin the actor, director, composer and comedian. Soon, you’ll be able to experience Chaplin the novelist for the first time — while getting a look inside the actor’s mind.

“Footlights,” the only prose fiction ever written by the legendary actor, will soon be made public after remaining unpublished for almost 66 years. The 1948 34,000-word novella, which Chaplin later turned into a script for his 1952 film “Limelight,” depicts a once famous-turned-washed up stage clown named Calvero, who saves a dancer from suicide — an act that inspires him to attempt a comeback with her encouragement.

Chaplin’s Calvero — written during a time when the U.S. government accused the comedic actor of being a communist sympathizer — reflected Chaplin’s state of mind as his film career was dwindling and the American public had turned against him:

“A great star once … hissed off the stage, and then I realized, that could happen to me. You know, as a comedian gets older and loses his exuberance, he has to think analytically about his work – that is, if he wants to continue in the funny business … And about the audience, then I began to fear them … ruthless, unpredictable … like a monster without a head; you never know which way it’s going to turn – it can be prodded in any direction. That’s why I had to take a drink before I could face them. It got to be torture every performance. I never really liked drink, but I couldn’t be funny without it, and the more I drank” he shrugged. ” … well, it became a vicious circle.”

Chaplin’s biographer Robinson compiled the novella from drafts found during extensive Chaplin archive digitization at the Italian film restoration institute Cineteca di Bologna. Cineteca will publish “Footlights” as part of a larger book called “The World of Limelight,” also compiled by Robinson.