A Legion d’honneur medal, “hate” mail from King George, a photo of a tanned and smiling Chaplin posing with Mahatma Ghandi and entourage, a pith helmet, an idea for a new “topless” male swimsuit, and evidence of a foiled assassination plot. These assorted souvenirs only begin to tell the story of Charlie Chaplin’s second world tour, conducted in 1931-2—a tour from which he returned a changed man, changed by the people he met, the places he visited and the ramifications of the Great Depression he witnessed. A Comedian Sees the World was Chaplin’s memoir of this tour, originally published in five installments in a popular American periodical known as The Woman’s Home Companion from September 1933 to January 1934. It was never available to Chaplin’s large world audience outside of the United States at that time. Progetto Chaplin’s new edition, the first in book form, allows the memoir to acquire its first new audience since its initial publication. This being the 75th anniversary of Chaplin’s second tour, there can be no better time to open the pages of his memoir and let him act as a guide through 1930s Europe and Asia as he saw and experienced it.
The archival evidence strongly suggests that A Comedian Sees the World is the first piece of writing Chaplin engaged in on his own. In its pages, the reader will see Chaplin’s political consciousness awakening, a consciousness that will go on to influence his films for the remainder of his career. The memoir also makes a writer out of Chaplin, for with its completion he began an accomplished writing life to include essays, poems, short stories and criticism as well as film scripts. The editor of this new edition, Dr. Lisa Stein, has worked to uncover a wide-ranging collection of visual and verbal artifacts from the Chaplin archives and other venues to contextualize the memoir for today’s readers. The memoir is enhanced by annotations that include original draft material excised from the final version, contemporary news article information and/or alternative versions of events recounted by other memoirists. More than 75 photos and illustrations adorn this edition, including the original full-color illustrations from the Woman’s Home Companion series, a never-before-seen collection of photos/artifacts compiled by a 1931 admirer, and scans of the original manuscript and typescript. Dr. Stein’s introduction provides a narrative of historical, cultural and biographical context for the work, as well as a description of the archival documents and an analysis of the tour’s specific influences on Chaplin’s later film work.
This new edition of Chaplin’s travel memoir hopes to usher in an era of new scholarship that looks beyond the great film work to his many other areas of creative endeavor, but especially to his writing. The draft evidence for this memoir clearly shows Chaplin’s evolution as a writer—that he engaged in the same sort of drafting and redrafting of manuscript pages as he would shoot and reshoot film scenes. Chaplin the writer, in all of his manifestations, has yet to be considered adequately.