Tribute to the Tramp: Vevey’s Chaplin’s World Museum Honors the Legacy of a Cinema Great

Serious students of the silent screen have a new spot to visit on the Swiss Riviera north of Montreux: a new museum near Lake Geneva in Vevey, Switzerland which opened this April, honoring the Little Tramp.

Charles Spencer Chaplin, who rose from poverty in the slums of England to international stardom in both silent and sound films, stills regales millions of people around the world with his silent-era slapstick comedy.

A promise to pay proper homage to the moviemaker’s creative genius was the key to getting his eight children to allow a consortium of investors to pore through a legacy of photos, snapshots, shooting scripts and reels of film. The result is Chaplin’s World, comprising The Studio, a museum crammed with Chaplin artifacts, and the adjacent Manoir de Ban, the mansion where Charlie spent the last 25 years of his life. Both can be viewed at leisure during a self-guided tour.

Charlie Chaplin at his mansion, Manoir de Ban, now part of Chaplin’s World Credit: Courtesy of Roy Export Co. Est.

Charlie Chaplin at his mansion, Manoir de Ban, now part of Chaplin’s World. Courtesy of Roy Export Co. Est.

Several dozen wall monitors throughout the museum loop Chaplin films. Visitors examine working scripts covered with Chaplin’s hand-written notes, his correspondence with various contemporaries, a multitude of posters, musical scores, scripts and other memorabilia loaned by Chaplin’s children—like the actual bowler hat, cane and shoes he wore in dozens of his movies. Wax likenesses of Chaplin and other film icons such as Buster Keaton, Paulette Goddard and Stan Laurel are so realistic that visitors who bump into them sheepishly mumble apologies.

An entire room recreates Charlie’s editing facilities. It’s stacked with canisters of film and editing equipment, as though Chaplin had just taken a break for lunch. One wall is covered in statistics about his films. (Did you know that The Gold Rush (1925) cost $923,886.45 to make, and brought in over $6 million?)

A short stroll away at Manoir de Ban, family films never before seen by the public play on a monitor in the huge dining room where the entire family took its meals. In the adjacent living room, the violin Chaplin carried with him at all times is mounted in a glass case, and the grand piano on which he composed melodies like Smile and the scores for Limelight and A Countess from Hong Kong sits in front of a window facing the nearby Alps.

Chaplin's World™, Corsier-s-Vevey, Switzerland, © 2016 Marc Ducrest for Bubbles Incorporated

Life-sized wax figures in The Studio. Courtesy of Marc Ducrest for Bubbles Incorporated

The man who spoofed Adolph Hitler in 1940 with The Great Dictator, stood up to U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy’s Hollywood witch hunt, and turned humor and pathos into a heady humanitarian mix lives on here. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Summer 2016 issue, currently on newsstands. For more information about Chaplin’s World, visit its website here.

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