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Oona Living in the Shadows: A Biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin

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Born into a family blessed by genius and plagued by tragedy, Oona lived in the shadow of greatness from an early age. One of the most exquisite and enigmatic beauties of her generation, she intrigued the public for decades. Now, in this stunning biography, new light is shed, at last, on the mystery that was... OONA The daughter of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Ne Born into a family blessed by genius and plagued by tragedy, Oona lived in the shadow of greatness from an early age. One of the most exquisite and enigmatic beauties of her generation, she intrigued the public for decades. Now, in this stunning biography, new light is shed, at last, on the mystery that was... OONA The daughter of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill, Oona mixed easily among Manhattan's cafe society and was named New American Debutante of the 1941-42 social season. But at just eighteen she shocked the world by running off to Hollywood and marrying a man thirty-six years her senior: the brilliant and controversial Charlie Chaplin. From the child who yearned for her absent father's love, to the woman who became the mainstay in an extraordinary marriage; from the dedicated wife and devoted mother of eight to the devastated widow, this book reveals a spirit as fascinating as the geniuses who surrounded her. Extensively researched, Oona's story is rich with exciting insights into her successful union, her world of celebrity--Hollywood in its heyday--and the allure and intellect that made her a heroine in her own right.


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Born into a family blessed by genius and plagued by tragedy, Oona lived in the shadow of greatness from an early age. One of the most exquisite and enigmatic beauties of her generation, she intrigued the public for decades. Now, in this stunning biography, new light is shed, at last, on the mystery that was... OONA The daughter of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Ne Born into a family blessed by genius and plagued by tragedy, Oona lived in the shadow of greatness from an early age. One of the most exquisite and enigmatic beauties of her generation, she intrigued the public for decades. Now, in this stunning biography, new light is shed, at last, on the mystery that was... OONA The daughter of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill, Oona mixed easily among Manhattan's cafe society and was named New American Debutante of the 1941-42 social season. But at just eighteen she shocked the world by running off to Hollywood and marrying a man thirty-six years her senior: the brilliant and controversial Charlie Chaplin. From the child who yearned for her absent father's love, to the woman who became the mainstay in an extraordinary marriage; from the dedicated wife and devoted mother of eight to the devastated widow, this book reveals a spirit as fascinating as the geniuses who surrounded her. Extensively researched, Oona's story is rich with exciting insights into her successful union, her world of celebrity--Hollywood in its heyday--and the allure and intellect that made her a heroine in her own right.

30 review for Oona Living in the Shadows: A Biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This is the sad but yet somewhat uplifting biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. She was the daughter of Pulitzer/Nobel prize winning author, Eugene O'Neill and her young life was a pure hell. Her father was a distant, authoritarian figure in her life, who as time went on treated her horribly. Her mother was, to say the least, eccentric and her two brothers were psychologically frail. She was a beautiful, intelligent young woman who was strong enough to, at least, partially deal with the family iss This is the sad but yet somewhat uplifting biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. She was the daughter of Pulitzer/Nobel prize winning author, Eugene O'Neill and her young life was a pure hell. Her father was a distant, authoritarian figure in her life, who as time went on treated her horribly. Her mother was, to say the least, eccentric and her two brothers were psychologically frail. She was a beautiful, intelligent young woman who was strong enough to, at least, partially deal with the family issues. Her debut in society was quite a hit and she and her friend Gloria Vanderbilt were favorites of the press. Then she met Charlie Chaplin and everything changed. The iconic Chaplin was 56 years old and Oona was 18......it was known that Chaplin had a liking for young women and he was immediately attracted to her. The feeling was mutual and they married, much to the dismay of her family and friends. It certainly didn't seem that there was much future for the marriage but instead they stayed married until Chaplin's death at age 95. They had eight children, the last one fathered when Chaplin was in his mid seventies. Their need for each other bordered on obsession and they were never apart over the years Friends talked about their affection throughout their lives which never wavered and Charlie depended on Oona for advice (even though he often didn't take it). They didn't have much time for their children and lived only for each other and Chaplin's work. The author asks the question......was Oona looking for a father figure to replace O'Neill who never showed her any affection.....or was Charlie looking for a mother since his was committed to a mental institution when he was a child. We never quite know but the author's makes a good case. Once Chaplin died, Oona slipped into alcoholism as she could not deal with his death. A sad ending indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Scovell does not (that I remember) come out and say that O’Neill-Chaplin’s marriage was the logical outcome of Oona's rejection by her celebrated father, but that is clearly the thrust. In marrying a higher achieving artist (actor, director, writer, composer, producer, and money manager) she was able to reconcile, to herself, that she was not the fault of her father’s rejection. As Scovell says, to get the “full picture” you have to “examine the two dynasties that produced her". She takes you thr Scovell does not (that I remember) come out and say that O’Neill-Chaplin’s marriage was the logical outcome of Oona's rejection by her celebrated father, but that is clearly the thrust. In marrying a higher achieving artist (actor, director, writer, composer, producer, and money manager) she was able to reconcile, to herself, that she was not the fault of her father’s rejection. As Scovell says, to get the “full picture” you have to “examine the two dynasties that produced her". She takes you through the intellectual and artistic achievements and travails of Oona’s parents and grandparents. Her mother, Agnes Boulton, was a writer who made a living at it. Agnes’s parents were distinguished in the visual arts and intellectual pursuits. More has been made of the O’Neill family tree since Eugene more or less followed his father, James, into the theater. James was an actor, famous for his performances all across the nation in the “The Count of Monte Cristo”. James eventually bought the theatrical troop. Alcohol and depression plagued both families. The book describes the Agnes Boulton - Eugene O’Neill marriage as a literary relationship. These were productive years for O’Neill for whom children were an inconvenience. He had a son from a previous wife, and Agnes had a daughter from a previous “marriage(?)”, both in boarding school. He was not thrilled when 2 years into the marriage, son Shane was born. 5 years later, there seems to be some (temporary) pleasure in the baby Oona. This was not the life or family O’Neill wanted. When he met Carlotta Monterey he quickly opted out. She would serve him, not disturb him. Carlotta would excuse his bad behavior and, most importantly keep his former wife and children away. Oona was a beautiful teen. Given her intriguing lineage and her glamorous friends from Brearley School (education provided by her father according to the divorce agreement) she was in the news. Scovell shows how this incensed her father, who seemed to be looking for reasons to hate her. Highly eligible, courted by many, at age 18 she chose to marry Charlie Chaplin – age 58. . The marriage is portrayed with Oona assuming the protective helpmate wife role that Carlotta played for her father. A major difference was having 8 children and advising Chaplin, when asked, on business or social issues. She seems to rely on staff for parenting, with the children's access to her and their father was well regulated. The chapters on how Chaplin was hounded by the FBI and how the family avoided the red scare were very good, particularly Oona’s role in getting their assets out of the country. This follows with chapters on life in Switzerland, Chaplin’s physical decline, Oona’s caretaker role, Chaplin’s death and Oona’s 17 years alone. This is a 1998 book. Since that time, a 2014 book Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life, paints a different portrait of family life than the cold but pleasant life Scovell presents. In the newer book, Chaplin’s cruelty (mentioned from time to time by Scovell) is more fully described. The book is well written, telling the story clearly. The b & w photos are of uneven interest. The index did not work the few times I used it. A family tree would have been helpful. This book is well written. and recommended for those with interest in Chaplin or Oona.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Loe

    An insightful look into the life of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Her father may have been a genius, but he also was incredibly controlling and absent. Her marriage to Charlie Chaplin, 36 years her senior, makes a lot of sense in this light. It's particularly sad that she never really was able to make a life for herself after Chaplin died. An insightful look into the life of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Her father may have been a genius, but he also was incredibly controlling and absent. Her marriage to Charlie Chaplin, 36 years her senior, makes a lot of sense in this light. It's particularly sad that she never really was able to make a life for herself after Chaplin died.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Have you dreamt of marrying a rich, handsome, intelligent (called by many a genius) man who is the most famous actor, screenwriter and director in Hollywood who loves you so deeply that he doesn't want to leave your side for the rest of his life? This happy fantasy happened to Ooma O'Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill) but it didn't turn out to be a fairy tale. The author of this book (Jane Scovell) makes much of how being neglected by her father made Ooma seek out Charlie Chaplin, a mu Have you dreamt of marrying a rich, handsome, intelligent (called by many a genius) man who is the most famous actor, screenwriter and director in Hollywood who loves you so deeply that he doesn't want to leave your side for the rest of his life? This happy fantasy happened to Ooma O'Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill) but it didn't turn out to be a fairy tale. The author of this book (Jane Scovell) makes much of how being neglected by her father made Ooma seek out Charlie Chaplin, a much older man. That wasn't the aspect of Ooma's life that fascinated me. I wanted to know what caused Ooma to completely break down and become a reclusive alcoholic after Chaplin's death when she appeared completely functional beforehand. I also wondered what would make a beautiful, intelligent woman give her entire life over to another person without allowing any life for herself? Was Ooma weak and found it easier just to hide behind a famous man's coattails? Was she too proud to admit she made a mistake and secretly found her life with the mercurial Chaplin oppressive? Did she drink after his death because she missed Chaplin so greatly or was her drinking to block out the memories of an unhappy marriage that she felt she could not leave? I personally know of many women who have lost themselves in a man, and a marriage. These men were not famous, handsome or rich. In some cases they weren't very nice and the women lost themselves in the martyrdom of their misery. When this has happened family and friends remained hopeful that after the man's passing, the woman would finally be happy. In every case I know of this didn't happen and the woman seemed even more lost after her husband's death. The widow would still find things to complain about, still trying to be the long suffering martyr. I haven't known of any men that do this, maybe because women live longer. Men also tend to remarry. Any which way, this book made me think a lot about men, women, expectations and marriage. It made me wonder if giving yourself totally to another person can ever be a path to happiness. This book didn't answer these questions but I found reading about Ooma and wondering about what comes after the "happily ever after" to be interesting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan Alston

    I found this in the dollar bin, and since I like biographies I gave it a chance. As the title infers ‘living in the shadows’ is how Oona’s life transpired. As a child she lived in the shadow of her parents, more her father—especially in later years. Her mother was distracted by her own life and pursuits, though not unsupportive. This is how she was brought up, what Oona knew, so it was not surprising she practiced this same shadowing in her marriage. The book is filled with glimpses of the Eugen I found this in the dollar bin, and since I like biographies I gave it a chance. As the title infers ‘living in the shadows’ is how Oona’s life transpired. As a child she lived in the shadow of her parents, more her father—especially in later years. Her mother was distracted by her own life and pursuits, though not unsupportive. This is how she was brought up, what Oona knew, so it was not surprising she practiced this same shadowing in her marriage. The book is filled with glimpses of the Eugene O’Neill and Charlie Chaplin idiosyncratic behaviors, the politics that drove the Chaplin’s to discard their American citizenship and move to Switzerland, the hoards of Hollywood people that sprinkled throughout their lives. The seven children Oona bore with Charlie didn’t get much notice in this book, and apparently in their parents’ lives either! An interesting read nevertheless, I did look forward to reading a few pages each night.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sunni

    Well, I have long been curious about Oona...being the daughter of Eugene O'Neill, wife of Charlie Chaplin, mother of Geraldine Chaplin. Her unusual name, her striking looks, the times in which she lived. But it turns out those first two relationships are all that really defined her. The title is right, she lived in the shadows and that was how she wanted it. It is a light, chronological read, more of events than of emotional depth. Which also describes Oona. Nothing wrong with that, just not a s Well, I have long been curious about Oona...being the daughter of Eugene O'Neill, wife of Charlie Chaplin, mother of Geraldine Chaplin. Her unusual name, her striking looks, the times in which she lived. But it turns out those first two relationships are all that really defined her. The title is right, she lived in the shadows and that was how she wanted it. It is a light, chronological read, more of events than of emotional depth. Which also describes Oona. Nothing wrong with that, just not a super interesting read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    La

    Living with an icon like Charlie Chaplin wasn't easy, or so I learned from this book. We always assume the rich and famous have it so much better than we do, but the problems they encounter are sometimes the same ones we have to deal with, sometimes even worse. Oona initally comes across as a fragile young girl who was swept off her feet by the legendary Chaplin, but you come to appreciate her strength and grace as you read about the difficult life she had. Living with an icon like Charlie Chaplin wasn't easy, or so I learned from this book. We always assume the rich and famous have it so much better than we do, but the problems they encounter are sometimes the same ones we have to deal with, sometimes even worse. Oona initally comes across as a fragile young girl who was swept off her feet by the legendary Chaplin, but you come to appreciate her strength and grace as you read about the difficult life she had.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meghan McGinnis

    I long so deeply for Oona to have realized her potential. So much of the biography, but so often as a reader, you're left wanting for more depth to what is mentioned. I long so deeply for Oona to have realized her potential. So much of the biography, but so often as a reader, you're left wanting for more depth to what is mentioned.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nola

    Oona was the daughter of a genius who married a genius, Charlie Chaplin. In essence she was looking for a father figure and found him in Chaplin. An easy read, sad that she became an alcoholic and couldn't get by without her dependency on Chaplin. Oona was the daughter of a genius who married a genius, Charlie Chaplin. In essence she was looking for a father figure and found him in Chaplin. An easy read, sad that she became an alcoholic and couldn't get by without her dependency on Chaplin.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    I don’t know what it is about the book that makes me feel the stories it tells are not insightful enough. It may be the author’s writing which is very subtle and gentle. Maybe it was Oona’s personality so sweet that there was no other way of writing this story. Who knows? This is my second biography and first Scovell’s. Sweet indeed.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    After reading this book, my first thoughts were that the author had really done her homework with her research on Oona O'Neil father, the famous writer Eugene O'Neil's tormented, succesful life as one of America's foremost playwriters. I enjoyed the early part of the book, when Scovell writes about Oona's childhood and her relationship with her mother, Aggie Boulton, and her complex bond with her father, who turned out to be a distant selfish father who put his writing career before anything els After reading this book, my first thoughts were that the author had really done her homework with her research on Oona O'Neil father, the famous writer Eugene O'Neil's tormented, succesful life as one of America's foremost playwriters. I enjoyed the early part of the book, when Scovell writes about Oona's childhood and her relationship with her mother, Aggie Boulton, and her complex bond with her father, who turned out to be a distant selfish father who put his writing career before anything else. Scovell described O'Neill's meeting with Chaplin as being the start of a new chapter in her life as a devoted partner and confidante to the gifted but controversial hollywood legend. Chaplin became the father that she never had in O'Neill and a purpose of keeping Charlie afloat after Hollywood and political paranoia shunned him and put his twilight years of making films into turmoil sending Chaplin, Oona, and their children into permanent exile in the town of Verny, Switzerland. I was disappointed with the final chapters of the book, finding out that Oona like her father, and brother followed in their steps and turned to alcohol after losing Chaplin to old age. My opinion was how would you have time to feel sorry for yourself with such a large family to oversee, she had eight! The book does not go into any great detail about her offspring instead the author concentrates solely on Oona's innermost feelings towards Charlie, and her family, after death and without Charlie her reedeemer, she is heavily burdened with grief and depression. Scovell says that Oona died when Charlie died and we see that with her description of how Oona lived in her final years leading up to her death in 1991. If you are into Hollywood History when talkies were just becoming popular, you will like this book. Recommended by Rosemary Davies-Wiencek

  12. 4 out of 5

    J.J. Warren

    I really enjoyed this beautiful work about Oona O'Neill Chaplin. It was good brain food for me and I felt satisfied with how much knowledge I gained by reading it, which is what I always hope to achieve from reading a biography. Jane Scovell really dug deep into the lives of not just Oona, but all of those around her, which gave the book depth and made it a good read. I was fascinated with what I learned about her parents, her siblings, her friends and of course, Charlie Chaplin. I felt as though I really enjoyed this beautiful work about Oona O'Neill Chaplin. It was good brain food for me and I felt satisfied with how much knowledge I gained by reading it, which is what I always hope to achieve from reading a biography. Jane Scovell really dug deep into the lives of not just Oona, but all of those around her, which gave the book depth and made it a good read. I was fascinated with what I learned about her parents, her siblings, her friends and of course, Charlie Chaplin. I felt as though I was reading not just a biography of one, but of many. I recommend this book to those who love to read about fame, fortune, and the reality of human fragility of even those who seem to have it all together. Jane Scovell wrote about the life of Oona with delicate, respectable grace.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lenore

    eh. I have long been interested in Oona O'Neill Chaplin. The book walks us thru events of her life chronologically, but is superficial in many ways. And after the middle of the book, she keeps repeating her hypothesis that O'Neill married Chaplin as a father substitute. Over and over again. Really, we got it! she then skims over the last years of her life after Charlie Chaplin died. She doesn't seem to have a hypothesis here except that she turned to alcohol and that filled her aching heart. I w eh. I have long been interested in Oona O'Neill Chaplin. The book walks us thru events of her life chronologically, but is superficial in many ways. And after the middle of the book, she keeps repeating her hypothesis that O'Neill married Chaplin as a father substitute. Over and over again. Really, we got it! she then skims over the last years of her life after Charlie Chaplin died. She doesn't seem to have a hypothesis here except that she turned to alcohol and that filled her aching heart. I wish this book would have gone deeper emotionally; rather, we got an almost encyclopedic account of her life.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Elliott

    I found this to be an exceptionally well written account of Oona O'Neill Chaplin's life. The book was rich in scope, in that it gave detail about her father, Eugene O'Neill, and her husband, Charlie Chaplin, and the psychological impact each had on her life. I found Oona Chaplin to be a fascinating woman, and felt that her life was presented in a very respectful manner…the book is respectful, yet does not gloss over any of the grit that was part of Ms. Chaplin’s life. I highly recommend this boo I found this to be an exceptionally well written account of Oona O'Neill Chaplin's life. The book was rich in scope, in that it gave detail about her father, Eugene O'Neill, and her husband, Charlie Chaplin, and the psychological impact each had on her life. I found Oona Chaplin to be a fascinating woman, and felt that her life was presented in a very respectful manner…the book is respectful, yet does not gloss over any of the grit that was part of Ms. Chaplin’s life. I highly recommend this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    The problem with biographies of people we don't know much about is that we don't know much of anything. It ends up a cross between a Wikipedia summary and conjecture thrown together in the author's head with no clear view of the original sources. I think I learned more about het father and husband than I did about Oona. The problem with biographies of people we don't know much about is that we don't know much of anything. It ends up a cross between a Wikipedia summary and conjecture thrown together in the author's head with no clear view of the original sources. I think I learned more about het father and husband than I did about Oona.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A very well written and readable biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Thoughtful and insightful, this book may make you think twice about wishful thinking that you were born a child of the famous. The book includes long and interesting sketches of Eugene O'Neill and Charlie Chaplin as well. I could not put it down. A very well written and readable biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Thoughtful and insightful, this book may make you think twice about wishful thinking that you were born a child of the famous. The book includes long and interesting sketches of Eugene O'Neill and Charlie Chaplin as well. I could not put it down.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    A woman torn between two giants in the cultural realm: father Eugene O'Neill and husband Charlie Chaplin. Interesting read on a woman who may have known exactly who she was the whole time OR looking for someone to define her. A woman torn between two giants in the cultural realm: father Eugene O'Neill and husband Charlie Chaplin. Interesting read on a woman who may have known exactly who she was the whole time OR looking for someone to define her.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    An interesting biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Although no one predicted her marriage to Charlie Chaplin would last, it did. I learned a good deal about her life that I didn't know previously. Recommended to anyone who likes biography, especially of the Hollywood set. An interesting biography of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Although no one predicted her marriage to Charlie Chaplin would last, it did. I learned a good deal about her life that I didn't know previously. Recommended to anyone who likes biography, especially of the Hollywood set.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kathrin Peters

    I enjoyed this biography; it provides some interesting context and reveals details on the life of Oona O'Neill Chaplin which were new to me. And in doing so it gives interesting insights on Charlie Chaplin. I enjoyed this biography; it provides some interesting context and reveals details on the life of Oona O'Neill Chaplin which were new to me. And in doing so it gives interesting insights on Charlie Chaplin.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Very well done. Facinating biography about facinating people.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    It was a bit slow in the beginning, but eventually was a fascinating read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Akeshia Singleton

    interesting biography. love the work of charlie chaplin and interesting to read about the person who knew him best.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sally

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Labbate

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nicki

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gemma

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Patterson

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeannine wakefield

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tara Catogge

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