Charlie Chaplin Comes to Life in Chaplin’s World

Footage of a Charlie Chaplin film plays before waxwork figure at Chaplin’s World museum

In Chaplin’s World, full-scale sets from Charlie Chaplin’s movies, populated by waxwork characters, add depth and colour to the black-and-white films being projected behind them.
PETER NEVILLE-HADLEY/Meridian Writers’ Group

It’s a measure of Charlie Chaplin’s 20th-century fame that he could get away with saying, “When I first saw Hitler with that little moustache, I thought he was copying me, taking advantage of my success.”

Chaplin’s success in silent movies, particularly his appearances as the pratfall-prone, bowler-hatted Little Tramp, had made him one of the best-paid performers in Hollywood. But in the 1940s the British-born comedian’s liberal views drew the attention of the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee, and in 1952 his United States visa was revoked.

As a result it’s not Hollywood that now remembers him best, but the Swiss village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, a short journey uphill from the shores of Lake Geneva. Chaplin moved here in January 1953, having purchased the 15-room Manoir de Ban, which has now become the heart of Chaplin’s World, a homage to the performer, director and composer who stayed here until his death in 1977.

Displays in a purpose-built modern building at the entrance begin with a short biographical film, but then the screen lifts to allow the audience to walk through into a street scene from The Kid (1921) which, in a clever trompe-l’oeil, merges straight into the movie projected at the rear, with Chaplin’s Little Tramp apparently running straight towards the viewer.

Further rooms tackle Chaplin’s time as a vaudeville player before he was talent-spotted during a U.S. tour and given a film contract in 1912. Others deal with the craft of silent-film making and with his early successes such as Modern Times (1936). There’s a full-scale street of sets from them, populated by waxwork characters and with large screens showing relevant scenes from police station, bank and restaurant.

But standing around looking at footage is kept to a minimum, with illustrative highlights carefully chosen, and it’s the 19th-century Manoir de Ban itself that is perhaps the star, with displays that chart Chaplin’s later decline as well as his triumphs.

He arrived with his fourth wife, Oona, 35 years his junior, when she was pregnant with the fifth child of what would be a total of eight. Family photos adorn the piano in a large and comfortable sitting room, there are notes in Chaplin’s handwriting on his desk, and views across extensive gardens to the lake and mountains beyond. It seems as as if the man might walk in at any moment.

Other rooms discuss his extensive travels and the various famous people he met at the zenith of his career. It’s startling to come across a waxwork of Einstein in one bathroom.

It was at Manoir de Ban that Chaplin wrote his memoirs, completed two film scripts and composed fresh scores for all his early films. It’s a surprise to learn that international hits Smile (though your heart is aching), and This is My Song are both Chaplin compositions. But it’s no surprise to find that the gift shop does brisk business with bowler hats and false moustaches.



For more information on Chaplin’s World visit its website at www.chaplinsworld.com.

For information on travel in and around the Lake Geneva region visit the Vaud-Lake Geneva Region website at www.region-du-leman.ch.