Kevin Pilley takes a cane-twirling, splay-footed stroll through Charlie Chaplin’s former Switzerland home, which has become a museum to the great man.

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Charlie Chaplin’s former home in Switzerland opens as a museum this month

Kevin Pilley takes a cane-twirling, splay-footed stroll through Charlie Chaplin’s former Switzerland home, which has become a museum to the great man.

Charlie Chaplin’s former home in Switzerland opens as a museum this month

There is only one place to go after Blaise Poyet’s “Laderach” chocolate shop. And that’s Vevey’s Chaplin Parc.

There are few places in the world which turn you into a shoe-eating hobo. And a great dictator.

There are fewer still that make you walk like a duck.

And only one museum which you leave uncontrollably splay-footed, spinning an invisible walking stick. With an invisible toothbrush itching your upper lip.

And that museum is dedicated to the grandson of a cobbler from Cork.

2016 is the year of the Tramp. In Switzerland, at least.

This month sees the opening of the SF55m (€50m) Charlie Chaplin Museum in his old home in Corsier-sur-Vevey, overlooking Lake Geneva.

Sir Charles lived amid the steep, south-facing Lavaux vineyards in the Manoir de Ban on the Vaud Swiss Riviera, an hour from Geneva, from 1952 to his death on Christmas Day, 1977.

Hounded for his alleged communist sympathies and in the throes of an embarrassing paternity suit, his re-entry permit was revoked by the FBI while he was on his way to London for the premiere of Limelight.

Library filer of Charlie Chaplin, 1934.
Library filer of Charlie Chaplin, 1934.

He refused to return to the “moral pomposity” of the United States , “that unhappy country” with its “hate-beleaguered atmosphere”.

His home is included on the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National Significance.

There he wrote the screenplays for A King of New York, The Freak (about winged women found in South America but never filmed), and his last movie, The Countess of Hong Kong (1966).

He also wrote his autobiography at Corsier.

Chaplin is the area’s most famous modern resident, although Graham Greene and Audrey Hepburn lived close by.

David Niven is buried in Chateau d’Oex. The novelist Vladimir Nabakov lived at the Montreux Palace.

But it is still Charlot (Little Charlie) Country.

The 19-room, three-level neo-classical mansion was built in 1840.

Its previous owners included a watchmaker, an industrialist, two sisters and an American diplomat.

Chaplin’s widow Oona, the daughter of the playwright Eugene died there in 1991.

The property was bought by a Luxembourg investment group in 2008.

The 150-acre “eco-friendly engineered” Chaplin’s World theme park and “Modern Times Museum” complex will feature “successive multi-media experiences”, “ambiophonic acoustics”, “immersive décor”, a “Charlot” gift shop (selling shoe-shaped pralines packaged in film reel boxes), a “Gold Rush Café” , a “Limelight” restaurant and display previously unseen private photographs, letters, manuscripts, personal effects and other memorabilia.

His writing desk will be on display, as well as some of the Manoir’s original Louis XIV furniture.

There will be a stage school, conference facilities and 1,400-space parking lot.

The old garage is now the reception area.

There will also be a special walkway to Chaplin’s grave.

You can visit the Beau Rivage hotel in Lausanne where the Chaplins stayed before moving in, the Place du Nature market, his favourite bakery where he got rolls and croissants every day and his favourite restaurant where he dined every Sunday evening, “Auberge de L’Onde” among the 16th century winehouses of Saint-Saphorin.

It is at the start of the Lavaux wine terrace walk through Chexbres, Cully, Grandvaux and Villette.

Other haunts were his favourite winery, “Au Clos de la Republique” in Epesses and Vevey’s “Cinema Rex” in which he used to dub his films.

The museum traces Chaplin’s extraordinary rags to riches career, from a south London workhouse to meeting royalty and the likes of Gandhi, Churchill, Khrushchev and Albert Einstein who wept at the premier of City Lights (1931).

Chaplin museum
Chaplin museum

He was born in Walworth, south London, in 1889, the son of vaudevillian “who looked like Napoleon” Charlie Snr, the son of a butcher and “soubrette” (operatic soprano) and sweatshop sewer Hannah, an Irish shoemaker’s daughter.

He grew up in the boot-repairing district of late Victorian London.

His childhood, he wrote, “was in continual crisis”, his life “a quagmire of miserable circumstances”.

To make ends meet, young Charles Spencer quickly became “a veteran of many occupations”.

The museum chronicles jobs as a chandler’s shop errand boy, a doctor’s dogsbody, pageboy, flower-seller, printer, glass-blower for a day and toy maker, making boats from shoeboxes and packing straw.

It tells of his father’s alcoholism and early death (his daily diet was six raw eggs in port wine), homes next to graveyards, abattoirs and pickle factories, the homes for destitute children and his syphilitic mother eventually being sent to a lunatic asylum.

It chronicles early influences – the clown Dan Leno and French comedian Max Linder.

And his formative years clog dancing with the “Eight Lancashire Lads” and 21-month tour of the US with Fred Karno, the father of slapstick.

His elder half-brother Sydney, who died in 1965 and is buried in Clarens-Montreux near Vevey, was also on the tour. A former bugler seaman, he ended up as Charlie’s business manager.

He opened the first privately owned airline in the US. But became bankrupt, his acting career ending after he allegedly bit off an actress’s nipple.

Chaplin never forgot Karno, buying him an off-licence in Dorset for his retirement.

As Chaplin admitted from “this trivia” and “lineal history of ancestral promptings and urgings”, he became the film industry’s first international superstar, one of the most famous and richest men in the world. And a global brand.

There are statues to him in Hyderabad, Barcelona, Waterville (where the family holidayed), London, and the Quai Perdonnat on Vevey’s waterfront. As well as around “Chaplin’s World”.

The museum reveals how he formulated his creative philosophy, summed up by “life is worthwhile if you smile” and “life is a tragedy in close-up and comedy in long shot”.

Chaplin said of his most famous creation – the little vagrant with baggy trousers, derby hat and bamboo cane: “The whole point of the Little Fellow is that no matter how down on his ass he is, no matter how well the jackals succeed in tearing him apart, he’s still a man of dignity.”

Adding: “He is a man with a soul. A point of view. He has an air of romantic hunger.”

Charlie Chaplin walking along Waterville Strand while enjoying his summer holidays in the early 1960’s in Waterville, County Kerry.
Charlie Chaplin walking along Waterville Strand while enjoying his summer holidays in the early 1960’s in Waterville, County Kerry.

Chaplin became a ruthless perfectionist creating “laughter which does not pretend to cure but only to console”.

Being a clown, he believed, placed him far higher in life than any politician.

Various rooms in the museum are dedicated to his Keystone period (1914-17), the debut of his iconic Tramp persona in Kid Auto Races At Venice and the formation of United Artists (1919).

By 1926, he was earning £10,000 a week. And spending £1m on a film (Gold Rush).

He married three teenage actresses and the death of his three-day-old son Norman inspired the pathos of The Kid (1921).

He built this own “English cottage-style” studios amongst the peach, lemon and orange trees on La Brea Avenue, Hollywood.

They became the A&M Studios and now home of Jim Henson Company Studios. The original Superman TV series was shot there.

Chaplin stubbornly refused to take on the talkies saying, “I am a pantomimist and in that medium I am unique”.

However, after a few flops, he moved from social realism into making overtly political and social satires like the silent Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940) with its five-minute rant finale.

Chaplin was knighted in 1975, three years after receiving a standing ovation on his return to US to receive an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

His daughter Victoria says: “The museum will give life again to our parents’ home.”

He was the man who made me want to eat my own shoes.

The Chaplin Museum told me his were made of licorice.

Not Swiss chocolate.

GETTING THERE

www.chaplinsworld.com , www.myswitzerland.com

Aer Lingus fly daily between Dublin and Geneva and once per week from Cork on Saturdays. Fares start from €49.99 one-way.

www.moderntimeshotel.ch

Switzerland Tourism:

www.MySwitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre on International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail info.uk@myswitzerland.com for packages, trains, and air tickets sales@stc.co.uk

Swiss Travel System:

By road, rail, and waterway throughout Switzerland, the Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad.

Prices are £94 in 2nd class and £151 in 1st class.

For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist, call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk

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