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Work on Chaplin museum begins on Lake Geneva

Michael Chaplin is happy to see the mansion being turned into a museum dedicated to the life and work of his famous father Keystone

Memories of Charlie Chaplin, one of the world’s most famous comedians and stars of the silver screen, will live on in western Switzerland, as work has finally begun on a museum on the shores of Lake Geneva. The complex is due to open in spring 2016.

This content was published on May 8, 2014 - 09:19
swissinfo.ch and agencies

Members of the Chaplin family and representatives of canton Vaud on Wednesday launched the renovation of a run-down 18th century mansion, Manoir de Ban, above Vevey.

Chaplin spent his last 25 years on his 14-hectare estate along the ‘Swiss Riviera’, where he could surround himself with family and walk into town or drive in the countryside without drawing unwanted attention. He died at the mansion on Christmas Day in 1977.

It took 14 years of planning for Chaplin's family, investors and supporters to agree on the conversion of the property into a museum complex.

Three of his children – Michael, Eugene and Victoria – and their business partners in the nearly CHF60 million ($69 million) project said they are on track to open the museum early in 2016.

The mansion, with its verdant lawn and serene view of the lake and the Alps, is stripped bare and will be refurbished as it was when Chaplin lived there. It has gardens, service buildings and a pool, and plans call for a large new building with recreated sets from Chaplin's movies.

The complex is expected to attract up to 300,000 visitors per year.

A Luxembourg investment firm, Genii Capital, purchased the property in 2008 with the aim of creating the museum. Canton Vaud provided a CHF10 million loan for the museum, which is being developed with corporate help from a French ski resort developer, Compagnie des Alpes, and Vevey-based food and drink giant Nestlé.

“He is still very well-known and beloved around the world,” said Yves Durand, the museum's director.

”His soul, his spirit, is still here. People will meet him, people will encounter him, people will hear his voice, will see his movies, will hear his music.”

Yves Durand, museum director

His soul, his spirit, is still here. People will meet him, people will encounter him, people will hear his voice, will see his movies, will hear his music.

Family home

Chaplin co-founded the American film studio United Artists in 1919 and helped define the silent era with films such as City Lights in 1931 and Modern Times in 1936.

He came to Switzerland when he was in his 60s, fleeing accusations of being a communist sympathizer during the McCarthy-era witch hunt in the United States. In his peaceful new setting, he raised eight children from his last marriage, wrote an autobiography, made films, composed music and entertained other artists and celebrities.

Nearby Montreux has a huge archive of Chaplin photographs, manuscripts and other documents from the Victorian-era London of his youth and from pre-World War II Hollywood, where he found success with his Tramp character.

Chaplin and his last wife, Oona Chaplin, the daughter of the great tragic playwright Eugene O'Neill, lived most of their married life at the Swiss mansion. She also died there, at age 66, in 1991.

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