Born in the Bronx in 1937, the child of two pre-mature anti-fascists
and ardent Charlie Chaplin fans, Steve Weissman was a red diaper baby
. The bed time lullabies of his childhood were labor union songs and Spanish civil war ballads. (Although he has a tin ear for music and sings off-key, he still knows the words to Ballad for Americans
, The House I Live In
and Talking Union
His feisty maternal grandmother was a dyed-in the wool Russian socialist who fled the pogroms in that country as a teenager and landed at Ellis Island shortly after the turn of the century. In 1918, she fell in love with My Charlie
(as she always referred to him) after seeing The Immigrant
. Hers was a lifelong love affair with the screen character - a loving lefty legacy she passed on to her grandson (who she babysat on Saturday afternoons by shlepping him to Charlie Chaplin movies).
Coming of age during the Second Red Scare
era as a 12-year-old child, her grandson still has vivid memories of the pogrom-like Peekskill Riots
of 1949 and Chaplin's unceremonious departure from this country in 1952. Later, during the early 1960s, his former brother-in law from his first marriage (a blacklisted Hollywood writer
by the name of Walter Bernstein
) helped fill in some gaps in his political education that his grandmother's working class orientation left out.
Add to that mix, 13 years of medical and psychiatric training at Albert Einstein, Columbia Presbyterian, the NIMH and the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute plus 42 years of private practice studying how people creatively distort and remember their early life experiences and you have the other major influence on Chaplin A Life.
In his practice Dr. Weissman routinely invites his patients to write their autobiographies to add insight to and clarify the therapeutic process.
And in two previously published psycho-biographical studies Frederick Douglass, Portrait of a Black Militant -
A Study in the Family Romance
and His Brother's Keeper: A Psychobiography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
, he has attempted in-depth psychological and psycho-historical portraits of two other major figures.
Dr. Weissman's long-standing and over-arching professional interest is in the relationship between early childhood experience and creativity: a lifelong interest he originally acquired from his psychoanalyst-father--Dr. Phil Weissman--the author of Creativity in the Theater
. Phil's granddaughter--Annie Weissman--a yet-to-be-heard-from future psychiatrist-writer will undoubtedly top the list of Weissman family publications in the years to come. Annie's physician-mother, Dr. Carole Horn--a former journalist and my loving-wife editor--is the real behind-the-scenes brains of this family operation.