The screen legend, Charlie Chaplin, spent his last 25 years above Lake Geneva in Switzerland. When he died at the age of 88, he left behind a legacy. Now, four of his eight children – Eugene, Michael, Victoria and Christopher – have collaborated to create a new museum, Chaplin’s World, in their former family home.
The family home, Manoir de Ban is an 18th century mansion on a 350-acre estate in Corsier-sur-Vevey, at the heart of the Swiss Riviera. Overlooking the Alps, it is complete with a grand library lined with leather-bound collections of 19th century Punch and Strand magazines. It was the exiled residence where Chaplin made films, wrote books, composed musical scores and gardened with his fourth wife, Oona and their children.
Over ten years in the making, the Chaplin’s World Museum will feature over 3,000 square meters of Charlie Chaplin, presented as a multimedia, cinematographic and virtual world of the Hollywood star. With a projected cost of $45 million, it is estimated to open in spring 2016. Curator, Yves Durand, told Agence France-Presse that everything is in place, the museum has “the financing, the project leader, the architect, the scenographer and the green light” from the Chaplin family and Switzerland.
Born in London, England, Charles Spencer Chaplin spent many years of his early childhood in and out of workhouses. He was left to provide for himself and his brother, Sydney when his father died early and his mother was committed to a mental asylum due to psychosis. Having inherited acting abilities from his entertainer parents, he made his professional debut at the age of ten as part of the juvenile stage group called “The Eight Lancashire Lads.” Two years later, he performed in Sherlock Holmes, which set his career as a vaudeville comedian in motion.
In 1910, he traveled to the United States with the Fred Karno Repertoire Company. He was a sensation with American audiences and when his troupe returned to the United States again in 1912, he was presented his first motion picture contract. He joined the Keystone Film Company in 1913, and his overnight success on the silver screen, had the producers scrambling for his services.
His film character “Little Tramp” in one of his early Keystone shorts, Kid Auto Races, propelled him into a leading Hollywood star. However, after several years of shuffling from one film company to the next, Chaplin decided to become an independent producer. In 1919, he established United Artists with DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
However, when accusations flew of Charlie Chaplin being a Communist sympathizer in the McCarthy era, he became the target of a witch-hunt. A file was later produced that supposedly detailed his “subversive political activities” since the 1920s, so he set his sights on Switzerland, and permanently left the United States in 1952.
In exile, Chaplin continued to work in films, created musical scores to accompany his silent movies, and wrote an autobiography, My Autobiography in 1964. His low-key lifestyle, away from the pressures of Hollywood, allowed him to relax, and enjoy a quiet life.
The family home slowly descended into disrepair after Chaplin’s death in 1977. In 2008, the Luxemburg financial and investment firm, Genii Capital, purchased the mansion with the intent of designing a Chaplin museum. With the money from corporate supporters, Nestlé and Compagnie des Alpes, $11.45 million loan was provided by the Swiss canton of Vaud.
At a news conference on May 14, 2014, organizers announced plans for the refurbishment of the Manoir de Ban. The site will include a movie theater, outdoor stage, two additional buildings, which will recreate sets from Chaplin’s movies, and a film school. In addition, photographs and records dedicated to the actor’s rise from his impoverished London beginnings and the early Hollywood days to international fame for his movies and characters will be on display.
In 1966, Chaplin made his last film, A Countess from Hong Kong, a British comedy starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren and Sydney Chaplin. It was the last film, written, directed, produced and scored by Chaplin. He returned to Hollywood one last time in 1973 to receive an Honorary Oscar at the 44th annual Academy Awards.
In an interview with Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, his son Michael Chaplin noted that when his father was at his desk writing, or in the library, he would dictate to his secretary. According to the younger Chaplin, the Manoir de Ban was the place the actor had called home, and it has remained mostly unchanged since the great legend, Charlie Chaplin resided there.
By Dawn Levesque