It began with my visit to Vevey, a pretty little town on Lake Geneva where Charlie Chaplin spent last 25 years of his life. It was the December chill. I had come here to celebrate Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland !
Vevey wears the character of Charlie Chaplin
On the first glance itself, the town looked like it was wearing the personality of the evergreen legend.
To begin with, the hotel I was staying in, was named after the legend’s movie ‘Modern Times’. It acknowledged the Little Tramp with Chaplin portraits in the bar, corridors and guestrooms. There were TV screens in the lounge area showing clips from his films.
Outside the hotel, a statue of him sat on a bench while a huge cutout of him adorned the outer wall.
Läderach Chocolate Shop
Several places in Vevey pay homage to Charlie Chaplin, particularly the Läderach chocolate shop. Around two decades ago, the chief chocolatier, Blaise Poyet, had approached the Chaplin family about making a confection in his honor. Hence came the Little Tramp’s oversized shoes in chocolate.
Mr Poyet was careful enough to inculcate three characteristics of Charlie in these chocolates.
First, Charlie was strong, So Poyet used dark chocolate. Second, he was very romantic, and for that caramel was used. And third, Charlie was original, so he used pine nuts, which is unusual. And thus Charlie Chaplin’s shoes came in tiny shoe polish boxes to become one of the souvenirs to buy in Vevey. They also conduct several workshops to learn how to make chocolates.
In the town there were several high rise buildings with Charlie Chaplin’s murals. A cafe down the street bore his French pet name, Le Charlot, and a women’s shop had a window decorated with a bowler hat, cane, red rose.
Chaplin’s statue in Vevey
Charlie Chaplin, one of the most prominent stars of the early days of Hollywood, lived an interesting life both in his reel & real lives. Recognized as an icon of the silent film era, he is often associated with his popular character, the Little Tramp … the man with the toothbrush mustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, funny walk and expressions.
I walked on the same promenade along the lake Genève, where Chaplin used to go for evening strolls with his wife Oona. And I wondered how it would feel to be Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland. Later in life, Oona pushed the wheelchair-bound Chaplin along the path. Now, a bronze statue of the tiny Little Tramp gazes over the lake, posing for tourist photos.
Charlie Chaplin’s House
After being barred from the United States over suspicions that he had communist sympathies, Charlie Chaplin chose Switzerland as his retirement home. He decided to settle in Vevey, along with his wife and children. Four of them were born in Switzerland. The family lived in Manoir du Ban, a 37-acre grounds with a mansion of the neoclassical style of 1840 in the small Swiss Riviera town about 55 miles northeast of Geneva. The snow-capped Alps of France and Switzerland that rose up beyond the far shore of the lake provided the mountainous backdrop. Perhaps he wanted a scenic peaceful surrounding. The house is a collection of his personal effects, rare family photographs, book collections and loads of video clippings.
I have seen his movies umpteen number of times but a home movie in which 70+ years old white-haired Chaplin plays with his children on the front lawn of his mansion showing his other side, moved me. He remained a child among his own children. He lived here until his death in 1977.
Chaplin’s childhood, in London, was one of poverty and hardship. His father was absent and his mother Hannah had to fend herself to make the two ends meet. He was sent to a workhouse before the age of nine. When he was 14, his mother was sent to a mental asylum. Thus Chaplin began performing at an early age and became somewhat known to public. His work took him to America at the age of 19. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. Chaplin loved to direct his own films.
Chaplin was scandal-prone, involved in several controversies of tax evasion and affairs with young women. In one such case, he had to marry a woman who claimed to carry his child.
Chaplin was married four times and had a total of 11 children. In contrast to many of his boisterous characters, Chaplin was a quiet man who kept to himself. He died at age 88 of natural causes on December 25, 1977 at his home in Vevey, Switzerland.
There are so many stories and clips from his life in Switzerland which I got to know on this visit. His food habits, his love and discipline for his children, and such glimpses. An eye opener for a die hard fan like me!
The house of Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland is now restored into a museum & was inaugurated on 16th April 2016 (his birthday). It is a part of the new complex known as Chaplin’s World. The complex includes the Manoir showcasing his personal life, a cinema museum or studio dedicated to his professional achievements, and a restaurant.
“He wanted people to remember him. That’s why he did the films and he did it in such a perfectionist way,” Chaplin’s fifth son Eugene Chaplin told me during the media dinner that evening.
I, then, asked him, which of his father’s movies he would recommend to others. He was thoughtfully silent for a few moments.
Smilingly he said, “You have asked a very thought provoking and simple question. All of his movies are my favourites and I have seen them many times. But I would say, go for my father’s silent movies which he enjoyed making most. He never wanted to make talking movies as they would restrict his audience.”
Although the children grew up speaking both French and English, Charlie himself stayed away from French and remained loyal to English.
Later that night, when I was about to leave, Eugene saw me again and called his photographer to click our pictures. A photo with an Indian soul. My day was made. 😀
The next day while taking the museum tour the guide told me, Chaplin had three fears in his life.
“He would become mentally ill just like his mother.”
“He would lose all his money and become a poor again.”
“People would forget him.”
Ice Sculpture at Jungfrau
I left for Interlaken from where we proceeded towards Jungfrau next morning. Coming to Jungfrau was for a reason. To participate and celebrate Charlie Chaplin in the form of an ice sculpture.
Jungfrau Railways, in collaboration with the Chaplin’s World museum, unveiled an ice statue of Chaplin in the Ice Palace on the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, in his memory. The unveiling was part of a series of commemorations that marked the 40th death anniversary of the movie legend. The British sculptor John Doubleday, who chiefly uses bronze for his sculptures, worked meticulously on it for eight months. All these days, his work remained hidden behind a wall of ice at an altitude of 11,332 feet.
Read here in detail for all activities & things to do in Jungfrau region.
John Doubleday along with Charlie Chaplin’s son Eugene unveiled the ice statue. The statue would further delight visitors to Jungfraujoch all year round. When I asked him about the difficulties faced in making this sculpture, he whispered in my ears, “I don’t think I’d make many ice sculptures. It’s way too cold here to work on!” 😀
On way to Jungfrau by train, I met with school children between ages 10 to 12. They were dressed as the comedian, complete with bowler hat, suit, moustaches, cane and his bow-legged gait. They had won some contests and were going to be part of this event. It was a great fun to interact with them in my broken French. 🙂
Getting to Vevey:
Fly direct to Zurich from Mumbai by Swiss International Air Lines and connect to Vevey, Interlaken and Jungfrau by either Swiss Rail or by road.
Modern Times Hotel on the highway in Vevey is convenient for motorists. It is dedicated to the Charlie Chaplin theme. In Interlaken, I stayed in Grand Hotel Victoria – Jungfrau.
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