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Three hundred million people watched his films. Actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and film editor, Charlie Chaplin (also known as “The Tramp”) entertained millions with his comedic slapstick. Then he moved the world from his comedic silent films into a more satirical approach to filmmaking with the adverse rise of political and social evils of the time.
Movies such as The Great Dictator and The King of New York showed Chaplin's deep concern for the shifting wind of social malaise. He continued to act and direct throughout his long and productive 75 years. Although his life was plagued with much adversity, he overcame it to pursue and succeed at his craft. However, Chaplin's career was marred by the accusation that he sympathized with communists during the McCarthy era.
He was forced to leave the U.S. in 1952 and found a home in Switzerland, where he spent the remaining 25 years of his life overlooking the panoramic Lake Geneva. His eighteenth century, 19-room mansion also served as a place for his writing, entertaining, and filmmaking, as well as a home to raise his eight children with his beloved wife Oona.
Fast-forward to the year 2016. Chaplin's legacy is now enjoying a resurgence with a new Chaplin museum, Chaplin's World, which recently opened in his beloved Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. Three of his children — Michael, Eugene, and Victoria — engaged in the process of creating this new museum with the help of curator Yves Durand. Over a decade and $45 million dollars later, Chaplin's World is now open to the public.
The property was bought from the family in 2008 with the promise that it would be used as a museum honoring Chaplin's work. "We made an agreement, that this land and home would be for the very purpose of the museum that would be dedicated to honoring the life and work of Charlie Chaplin," stated Yves Durand in a recent visit to Vevey. "Discovering his work is also about discovering the history of the century and discovering a man that was much more than a clown, but also a man that was a humanist, a pacifist, and his very special look at society and its injustices," Durand added. The various rooms are dedicated to the scenes that he used as a filmmaker.
Visitors can interact by moving through recreated movie sets, where one can slip on a costume prop and pretend they are part of film history. Images and iconic memorabilia featuring the Tramp wearing his iconic baggy trousers, derby hat, and bamboo cane give the museum-goer the distinct feeling that Chaplin's spirit is still very alive and well in every aspect of the museum.
His lovely home also contains his personal artifacts, such as his writing desk, family dining room table, and other more whimsical touches, such as lifelike wax statues replicating Charlie himself and other friends, such as Albert Einstein, staged in comedic poses throughout the museum. A stroll around the pristine grounds also makes one realize why Chaplin loved this place and called it home for the remainder of his life. The museum also boasts a full service restaurant/café combo and a gift shop.
Called The Tramp, the museum’s eatery offers food throughout the day, beginning at 9:30 a.m. with small breakfast dishes, before transitioning to snacks later on. Come lunchtime, The Tramp also serves a full lunch menu while also featuring beautiful views of the Domaine de Ban park from the outdoor patio. At dinner, the restaurant’s offerings become the star thanks to chef Emmanuel Colier, who promises a gourmet meal highlighting local food and wine. If you haven't had enough of Chaplin yet, stop by the Laderach Chocolate Shop in Vevey for the famous chocolate version of Chaplin's little shoes.
After all this, you’ll walk away with an appreciation for the life and work of a man who overcame much to make motion picture history.
After Many Years of Planning, Chaplin's World Opens in Switzerland - Recipes
Charlie Chaplins Wives
Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard, Oona O'Neil
Part 1 - Charlie's Ideal Part 2 - Chaplin's Wives Part 3 - Chaplin's Family
Copyright November 2003-2016
Chaplin was at a party early in 1918 when he met Mildred Harris. Mildred was a child star from the age of 10 and was 16 when she met Chaplin. The young, single and successful Chaplin was a fine catch for any rising starlet.
Mildred made herself noticed by Chaplin, and Charlie couldn't overlook her beauty. They dated for several months and rumors of a marriage hit the local press during that summer. Denials were issued, but they did marry quietly on October 23, 1918. Mildred told Chaplin she was pregnant, but she really wasn't. But Mildred still would have Charlie's first child.
Charlie and Mildred had one son, Norman Spencer Chaplin. Norman was born July 7, 1919, but the child died three days later.
It was during the production of 'The Kid' that Mildred's and Charlie's marriage fell apart. The couple divorced on November 13, 1920, just before The Kid was released in early February 1921.
Lillita McMurray, better known as Lita Grey, was the flirtatious angel in The Kid' . She also played Ednas maid in The Idle Class . (Litas mother played alongside Lita as a maid in the same film.)
Lita wrote in her first book that she and her mother first met Chaplin when she was very young, while at a restaurant. Charlie and the crew were on a lunch break, when Lita's mother spotted Chaplin and introduced themselves.
In 1920, Lita was introduced to Chaplin again during the making of 'The Kid' by Charles Riesner, Chaplin's assistant director, who was the father to 'Dinky' Dean Riesner. The Riesners and McMurrays were neighbors. In Lita's book, Chaplin took an interest in Miss Lita during the making of this film. He ordered an artist friend to paint a portrait of Lita.
In 1924, Lita caught Chaplins eye once again during the preparation of The Gold Rush' . Lita invited her friend, Merna Kennedy, the future leading lady of the 'The Circus' , to visit Chaplin's Studios. (Merna got 'The Circus' job through Lita suggesting her for the role.)
Charlie and Lita had two children during the marriage, Charles Chaplin Jr. on May 5, 1925 and Sydney Chaplin on March 30, 1926. But the marriage was doomed to fail from the start.
In late November of 1926, the already rocky marriage foundered and turned into a long, nasty public divorce for both Lita and Charlie. The divorce left many scars on both sides that never healed. Chaplin was still so emotional about the whole matter, he couldn't even write about it in his own book in 1964, except for a very brief mention. The main reason for the silence was in respect to his sons.
After the divorce, the couple managed to successfully raise their sons separately.
She recovered and managed to start a successful talent agency in her later years. She wrote two books about her life with Chaplin. The first one was My Life with Charlie Chaplin in 1966, and the second one Wife of the Life of the Party published in 1998.
As for their children, Charlie Jr. played with his father in the film Limelight as one of the clowns in the ballet scene. He wrote his own book on living with his father called My Father, Charlie Chaplin' in 1960. Charlie Jr. died on March 20, 1968.
Named after his uncle, Charlie's son Sydney played a lead role in Limelight as Neville the composer. Sydney would also play in the film A Countess From Hong Kong as Harvey Crothers. Sydney Chaplin still lives in California. He attends special festival events in honor of his father and can be seen in documentaries like The Unknown Chaplin - The Great Director' .
The fact is, this was a happy union during the early part of their relationship in the 1930's. It was even reported that Lita Grey Chaplin herself was very pleased to see Paulette in Charlies life. Paulette became stepmother to Sydney and Charlie Jr., and she was the perfect one for that time! (Lita and Paulette met once at a birthday party and reportly got along fine.) Charlie Jr. and Sydney adored their step-mother. She was around when Charlie was not, as he was working late at his studio.
During their marriage, Paulette's success in 'Modern Times' led to other film roles during the 1930's, including 'The Women' . She even was in the running for the role of Scarlet O'Hara, in 'Gone With the Wind' , but the marriage question haunted her in getting the role. (Paulette's Scarlet film test can still be seen in programs about 'Gone With the Wind' ). Vivien Leigh won that role instead.
Paulette's last film with Charlie was The Great Dictator in 1940. It was during the filming that friends around the couple could see the relationship was failing. While this marriage lasted longer than Chaplins first two marriages, it would not be a lasting one either.
There are reports of Chaplin trying to save the marriage, and he even introduced Paulette as his wife at a New York City speaking event. This was reportly the first time Chaplin publicly referred to Paulette as his wife. Shortly afterwards, Paulette answered questions in the press saying they were indeed Charlie Chaplin's wife. Not for much longer, however.
Paulette received her divorce from Chaplin on June 4, 1942 in Mexico. Paulette would continue in films well into the 60's. For a brief time, she even married Burgess Meredith.
Paulette and Charlie remained distant friends over the years, but rarely saw each other. She even married and ended up living in Switzerland, but never met Chaplin while living there. But like in all the other cases, each succeeding wife would meet the previous. She did meet Charlie and Oona by chance in Paris and they had a pleasant lunch together. The last time she would see Chaplin, apparently, was in New York in 1972. Charlie and Oona were in America for the last time, since 1952, for Chaplin to receive his special Oscar award. She manage to push her way through a crowd to talk to him for a few minute, but their time was short.
Paulette Goddard died on April 23, 1990, at the age of 75. Of all his wives, she had the most successful film career and was remembered for her work, and maybe more so than being Mrs. Charles Chaplin.
Paulette in the end, wanted a career, Chaplin wanted a wife. He would find that wife while looking for yet another leading lady to replace Paulette.
Oona's visit with her father who was the famous playwright Eugene ONeill did not go well. The relationship was a poor one from the beginning. Her film career did not develop either. Instead, she would make headlines in becoming the fourth wife of Charlie Chaplin.
Many people had this marriage written off before it even started, but they did not know Oona O' Neill.
The couple spent a great deal of time together. Even Charlie's sons were very taken by their new step-mother. She may have been 18, but she was very mature for her age and had a calmness about her that aided her in this new married life.
The couple would go through some of the most troubled times Chaplin experienced in the States. The Joan Berry lawsuit, the public's dislike for the new directions of his films, and Chaplin's left-leaning politics were all haunting him publicly. In contrast, his private life could not have been better.
'Limelight' in 1952 became a family affair for Charlie, as his oldest and youngest children were all in the film, including his half-brother, Wheeler Dryden as the doctor. It is even reported that Oona appeared briefly, doubling for Clarie Bloom in a scene that needed to be taken after the production had wrapped.
With the film done, Chaplin decided to premiere 'Limelight' in London and show 'his London' to his wife and young family for the first time. Chaplin got all the proper papers he needed to go on the trip and the government officials wished them a great journey!
In September, 1952, Charlie, Oona, and the three children left New York for London. But two days out to sea, the news arrived on ship that Chaplin was being denied re-entry to the United States.
Ready to fight the US government decision, according to 1952 New York Times reports, the family lived in hotels and stayed with friends for the rest of 1952. But Chaplin had enough with court battles and chose instead to buy a lake side home in Switerland in January 1953. Oona especially wanted to be settled for the birth of their fourth child.
For the next few months, life was very quiet at home for the Chaplin family. Charlie made have not been the perfect father at times, but he provided for all his children well. To be fair, it must have been hard to be a father during the 1950's, 60's and 70's, when you were born in 1889. And it must have been hard for the children as well.
To his kids, he was Dad, but to the world he was still 'The Little Tramp'. This silent-era film figure was a bit too distant for the children, and Charlie did not talk much about his early film days to his children. Maybe it was losing that life, the way he did, was just too hurtful to relive.
Many famous people would visit their home over the years, a real who's who. But even in Switzerland, business still had to be settled with their Hollywood home and studio property. For this Oona was a great help, and we have her to thank for helping save Chaplin's lifetime of film work.
On her solo trip back to America, Oona closed up their Hollywood home and the Chaplin Studios. All his lifetime work at the studio was packed up and shipped to their Switzerland home, with the help of the Chaplin Studio employees, who were still working for him. Their Hollywood home was sold with their belongs either kept and shipped or disposed. Oona made it through the trip with no officials questioning her, even after finding out others were being questioned by the FBI, including former Chaplin's wife, Lita Grey Chaplin, who proudly had nothing to say to them. Chaplin was a nervous wreck throughout the whole ordeal and was very happy to see Oona's return and his work saved.
Charlie created a special film vault at their Switzerland home to store all his valuable film stock. This vault is the main source for all of Chaplin's copyrighted films we enjoy so much today.
Later, Oona even gave up her American citizenship. She had few ties to the States, but would return to help her family when needed. She had her mother and brother with whom she kept in contact.
As for Charlie, he would only return once to the States in 1972 to receive his special Academy Award Oscar with Oona at his side all the way. All the people who worked with Chaplin showed up in either New York or Los Angeles to see him, including his former co-stars Jackie Coogan, Clarie Bloom and Georgia Hale. Edna Purviance would have been there too, if she were alive. (She had died 24 years earlier in 1958.)
When he received the Oscar that night, he had Oona by his side, like she was from the start of their marriage. He pointed at her in gesture that it was Oona that made it possible for him to be there on that night. Oona gave him strenght, where his was failing.
The U.S. trip was a very emotional trip for both. So emotional for Chaplin, he couldn't bear to walk on his old Chaplin Film Studio grounds again. He went to the studio on a Sunday and stopped by the original gate entry. He looked in from the gates, but the menories must have been many. All his wives and his first close love, Edna, were all there in the 34 years he worked there, but that time was gone. All that was left was the building and menories he created on film.
That was the last time Chaplin saw his studio.
Chaplin gained new energy from this American travels and went back to Switzerland where he created his second book 'My Life in Pictures' . He was able to talk about his second marriage more in this book, but mainly in pictures.
In 1976, he restored the last of his classics and one of his favorite films 'A Woman of Paris' . It was Edna Purviance's first starring role. Chaplin and Edna got great reviews, but in the end, it was the little fellow people wanted to see, not the great director. He created a music score for it too, like all his other classics. His health was failing a great deal by this time, and the music does show it, for it does not have the same voice as his earlier work.
His last year with Oona was as quiet as the first months in Switzerland. He would watch films, take drives, do walks, see visitors and attend family outings. But by November 1977, Chaplin stayed home for good. Oona worked hard on caring for him, until her health was called into question by their own children.
But the end was nearing for 'the little fellow'.
Oona never got over the death of Charlie. She tried to start a new life and even lived in New York City for a while. But her whole life centered around Charlie, and life without him just didn't seem possible for her. Living with Charlie was never easy for Oona, but living without him was agonizing. If there was one fault in the marriage, it maybe that Oona didn't develop more of her own personally outside of the marriage. If she had, maybe she would still be with us and her children today.
Oona died from cancer on September 27, 1991. It was just before the release of the film Chaplin for which she gave permission to use Charlie's book as source material for the film.
The couple had eight children: Geraldine, Eugene, Victoria, Annette, Josephine, Michael, Jane and Christopher Chaplin. While all the children went on to lead successful lives of their own, to most people, Geraldine Chaplin is the best known in the acting world. Her first major role was in 'Dr. Zhivago' . She even got to play her own grandmother (Charlie's mother, Hannah) in 1991 movie 'Chaplin' .
The Chaplin family is currently creating a lasting tribute to their parents by turning the family home in Switzerland into the Chaplin Heritage Center . (The final name of the center is still being decided.) They plan to have it open to the public in the future.
After three marriages that didn't work out, Charlie's final marriage realized his ideal girl and love of his life in Oona O'Neill. While Edna was Chaplin's ideal girl on the silver screen, it was Oona who became his ideal girl in real life.
And it will always be Oona Chaplin who will always be remembered as Mrs. Charles Chaplin.
For more information about Chaplin's Family, continue to:
And to Garen Ewing's - 'A Woman of Paris' - Charlie Chaplin first United Artist Film starring Edna Purviance.
A complete list and photos of all of Chaplin's leading ladies!
"I sometimes decry the decline of professionalism in various disciplines
2009 San Francisco Examiner "Best Recent Film Book List"
"THE SEA GULL is an important contribution to film history,
"It is beautiful, informative and edifying all at once." - David Toll, Nevada Writer
"I congratulate you on a very interesting and attractive book. " - Kate Guyonvarch, Association Chaplin
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After Many Years of Planning, Chaplin's World Opens in Switzerland - Recipes