In 1952, Charlie Chaplin was travelling to England to promote his new film Limelight. On departure from the USA, he’d declared that he would be away for “six months, but no more”. On September 19th, 1952, however, while Chaplin was aboard a liner somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, he received news that the American government had begun an investigation into whether or not he should be allowed back onto US soil.
Why? Well, because Charlie Chaplin, despite being one of the greatest filmmakers and actors of his day, was also believed to hold what was euphemistically called an anti-American sentiment. Indeed, as the New York Times wrote after a press conference in Cherbourg, during which Chaplin attempted to convince the public that he was not in fact a communist: “It might possibly be shown that Charlie Chaplin had in some way been connected with or deceived by what has been described as communist fronts.”
In the end, Chaplin’s visa was refused, and it would be over 20 years before he would see America again. Exiled, Charlie Chaplin – with his family in tow – was in desperate need of a new address, and on the advice of his brother Sydney, eventually travelled to Switzerland. It was here, on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, that Chaplin would make his home.
Located in the village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, Manoir De Bain was Chaplin’s home and refuge from 1953 until his death in 1977. As Yves Duran, who helped transform Manoir de Ban into the museum it is today, noted: “He was looking for a paradise with the birds, with the trees, a way he could feel free and at peace.” With the Alps looming on the pine-studded horizon and the sapphire lake glittering below, it’s no wonder Chaplin immediately fell in love with the place. Set in 14 hectares of parks and lush gardens, the ivory-white manor house is both positively palatial and yet strangely intimate.
Having escaped the prying eyes of the media and the US government, Chaplin, now in his 60s, spent his time in Manoir de Ban writing new scripts and composing intricate scores for the various re-releases of his early silent films, occasionally lifting his eyes from the page in front of him to gaze out onto the lush landscape outside his window; one populated by innumerable wildflowers and lush vineyards bending under the weight of their own fruit.
After finishing his work, Chaplin would join his family for a walk down to the lake or to the village, where the grapes from the surrounding sun-bathed hillsides would be being pressed and bottled. Indeed, the unique quality of the white wine from this area convinced UNESCO to make the vineyard terraces of the Lavaux-Oron, which speckle the banks opposite the Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut district, a world heritage site in 2007. If he wasn’t bathing in the relaxation offered by this isolated retreat, Chaplin may have been hosting one of his elaborate parties, to which he invited some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Marlon Brando and Truman Capote.
Today, Manoir De Bain is open to the public, offering a fascinating insight into the life of Charlie Chaplin. Consisting of the renovated manor and a specially designed outbuilding known as ‘The Studio’, ‘Chaplin’s World’ contains an array of personal possessions, family photos, and cinema screens, onto which newsreels concerning Chaplin’s political sensibilities and exile from America are projected. Meanwhile, In the studio, you’ll find replica sets from classic films such as City Lights and The Gold Rush. You can find out more about what Manoir de Ban has to offer by visiting the museum website.