Why did Charlie Chaplin move to Switzerland?
Charlie Chaplin is one of the most famous actors in history, who rose to fame while silent films were at their zenith. Chaplin, who was born in the United Kingdom, spent much of his career in the United States, making connections with the most prominent film stars and movie producers in Hollywood. Eventually though, Chaplin’s American dream became an American nightmare, as he was forced to leave the country and move to Switzerland. Here’s why.
The early years of Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr.
Charlie Chaplin, born Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr., is still a worldwide icon today, despite his best works being created almost a century ago. His film career spanned around 75 years and throughout his time in the spotlight, he showcased his talents by writing, directing, editing and acting in many of his own films, while he also composed the music scores to go with them.
Chaplin was born in the United Kingdom, where he had a turbulent childhood with an absent father and a mother who was committed to a mental asylum to receive treatment from doctors and psychologists. As a young boy, Charlie was forced to live in the workhouse on two occasions in order to have food to eat and a place to sleep. During these early years, Chaplin started performing to make ends meet, eventually getting signed to the Fred Karno company, which took Chaplin to the US.
Charlie Chaplin’s years in the US
In the US, Charlie developed his infamous Tramp persona, which proved popular in his next films as he moved up in the industry. Soon enough, he had gained enough of a presence to go it alone, eventually co-founding his own distribution company, which gave him the rights to all of his films.
Around this time, however, Chaplin also got into some legal trouble in America. During the early 1940s, Chaplin had an affair with an aspiring actress and ended up mired in controversy after she gave birth to a child and claimed Chaplin was the father. This scandal marked the beginning of the end for Chaplin in the US.
After the scandal, and during the height of the so-called "red scare," many in the US accused Chaplin of being a communist sympathiser, and his public image became increasingly damaged. The FBI began to investigate these claims and eventually, when Chaplin left to attend the premiere of his film Limelight in London in 1952, the United States Attorney General revoked Chaplin's re-entry permit, stating that he would have to attend an interview concerning his political views and moral behaviour to re-enter the US. After this, Chaplin never returned to the US again.
Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland and his legacy
Numerous investigations post-1980 found that the US had no real evidence to bar Charlie from re-entering the country and that he would likely have been given permission to re-enter the country, but the hostility directed at him convinced Chaplin that he would not return.
Charlie’s wife Oona travelled to the US to settle his remaining affairs there and shortly after the family moved to Corsier-sur-Vevey in Canton Vaud, Switzerland. His wife renounced her US citizenship in favour of a British passport and the family cut all their ties with the US, ready to start from scratch in Switzerland.
When Chaplin died in 1977, the house became the property of his wife Oona, who then, alongside her children, decided to pass the estate on to the Charlie Chaplin Museum Foundation. Since 2016, tourists have been able to visit the manor, learn about Chaplin's films and legacy, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings where Chaplin spent the last years of his life.