He shook up the silent film world by playing the tramp and was banned from the US for two decades. Now a museum is opening at Charlie Chaplin's former villa in rural Switzerland - complete with a cinema.
Yves Durand, a Canadian patron of the arts, had a vision in the year 2000: He wanted to found a Charlie Chaplin museum at the site of the legendary actor and director's manor in Corsier-sur-Vevey in Switzerland. It took Durand more than 15 years to realize his dream, stalled by legal complications as local Swiss residents feared a "Chaplin Disneyland" would mar their idyll.
But on Sunday, one day after the 127th anniversary of Chaplin's birth, the vision became a reality and Chaplin's World by Grévin opened its doors.
"No other museum in Switzerland will draw people from the other end of the world," promised Durand. The institution's director, Jean-Pierre Pigeon, expects over 300,000 visitors per year.
Chaplin's time in Corsier-sur-Vevey
In 1952, while Chaplin was in Europe to present his film "Limelight," he was barred from re-entering the US, which had accused him of promoting communist ideology. Together with his wife Oona O'Neill and their eight children he settled in Switzerland.
In Corsier-sur-Vevey they found a beautiful villa in neo-classical style with a 14-hectare (35-acre) park nestled between a lake and the mountains. "The wide open space is good for the soul. It broadens your horizon and refreshes your spirit," said Chaplin at the time.
This is the feeling the museum aims to give to its visitors. Durand managed to convince Chaplin's children that the museum should be built by promising that he didn't want to interpret Chaplin, but that the great comedian's own voice would come through in the presentation.
The museum was designed by the French company Grévin, which has been involved in numerous museums and amusement parks around the world. Grévin says the museum will be "a production that transports visitors into a universe full of illusions and dreams."
Visitors won't only get to know Chaplin as a performer, but also who he was off stage - a heartthrob, nature lover, fisherman and enjoyer of fondue and cherry liqueur.
Chaplin, the critic
Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London in 1889 to two actors, Charles and Hannah Chaplin. His father died young and his mother was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, so Chaplin mainly grew up in an orphanage - a part of his past that he dealt with in his 1921 film "The Kid."
Chaplin became one of the most popular silent films stars of his day, helping to define the genre. His character of the unkempt tramp broke with the silent film tradition, which had mainly seen elegant, well-dressed gentleman up to that point.
He established his classic character - complete with mustache, oversized pants, a top hat, worn-out shoes and a cane - in his 1914 film, "Kid Auto Races at Venice." Films like "Modern Times" (1936), about the industrial revolution, "The Great Dictator" (1940), a jab at fascism, and "The Gold Rush" (1925), on materialism, will remain unforgettable.
After World War II, Chaplin was already well established in Hollywood. The political situation there was tense and fears ran high that communism would gain the upper hand. As the Cold War intensified, American Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded an anti-communism campaign that went after individuals suspected of following the left-wing ideology.
Chaplin became a target of McCarthyism and was banned from re-entering the US in 1952. He wasn't let back in until 1972.
Cinema with Chaplin classics
Durand developed the Swiss museum together with architect Philippe Meylan. The Chaplin villa, "Le Manoir de Ban," was completely renovated. In one of the newly built rooms, visitors will find a 150-seat cinema which shows all of Chaplin's classic films.
The curators reviewed 81 movies and 15,000 photographs to make sure the museum was historically accurate.
Chaplin's children have also contributed a number of private family belongings to the collection, including a family photo album and the suitcase that the actor and comedian carried while playing the tramp.
Chaplin lived in the villa in Corsier-sur-Vevey until his death in 1977 at the age of 88.