Charlie Chaplin was born in London on April 16, 1889 and died on Christmas day 1977 in Vevey, Switzerland. With his birth anniversary coming up this week, I thought I’d revisit a fantastic museum dedicated to him. Chaplin’s World opened in Vevey in April 2016 and I got a chance to visit it just a month later. But how did this iconic British comedian end up in Switzerland? And what can you expect at Chaplin’s World? Read on to find out.
In 1952, Charlie Chaplin was denied re-entry into the United States, amidst allegations of being a communist sympathiser. Banished from his adopted home, the British actor and his family arrived in the charming town of Corsier-sur-Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva. They settled at the Manoir de Ban estate, where Chaplin spent the rest of his days. Today, this 10-acre estate is the site of Chaplin’s World museum.
Sitting in an auditorium at the museum, I watched a montage of the comedic genius’s films on a screen. Then, the screen slowly rose to reveal “Easy Street”, a recreation of the archetypal slum studio set often seen in Chaplin’s movies. I almost expected the Tramp to pop out of one of the houses with that familiar impish glint in his eyes.
Chaplin’s World offers an intimate glimpse into the life of the man behind that famous toothbrush moustache. The Hollywood-style studio (image above) has enthralling scenes—complete with lifelike wax figures—recreated from Charlie Chaplin’s famous movies. You can pose for photographs amidst props like a barber’s chair (image left), with Chaplin behind it re-enacting the shaving scene from The Great Dictator (1940). Or try on the famous bowler hat from the clothing shop on Hollywood Boulevard.
My favourite part of the museum was the manor house, of course. The two-storey white building with its pale, lime green shutters was inviting and warm, almost as if Chaplin still lived in it. An exuberant wax statue of his stood in the foyer (above, right), welcoming visitors. In the living room, which has its original furnishing, is a concert piano where Chaplin’s friend, the renowned Roman classical pianist Clara Haskil would play during intimate evening gatherings.
The family rooms on the first floor were dotted with pictures from his albums (image left), reflecting the happy life Chaplin shared with his fourth wife Oona and their eight children. The elegant, wood-panelled library was Chaplin’s refuge, where he shut himself away to write. An eye-catching chandelier (image right) made with pages from his autobiography and his handwritten notes was an apt centrepiece for Chaplin’s world of words.
Later, as I walked about the estate’s grounds with cypresses, pines, and cedars—some older than the house itself—I felt the same closeness to nature that Charlie Chaplin must have felt here. “I sometimes sit out on our terrace at sunset and look over a vast green lawn to the lake in the distance, and beyond the lake to the reassuring mountains,” he wrote in his autobiography, “and in this mood I think of nothing but enjoy their magnificent serenity.”
Before leaving the museum, I bought a couple of bookmarks from the souvenir shop. “You’ll never find rainbows if you are looking down,” one said quoting Chaplin. It’s an apt testament to the eternal optimism of the Tramp, and of the man behind the persona.
Find out more about Chaplin’s World and book your tickets here.