Monday, March 2, 2015

37 years ago today

Charlie's empty grave

In the early morning hours of March 2nd, 1978, Charlie's coffin was dug up & stolen from his grave in Vevey, Switzerland. The oak coffin, which weighed over 300 pounds and would have required 3-4 strong men to lift it, was dragged a short distance before it was loaded into a car and driven away.

A little over two months later, on May 17th, the coffin was found in a field near Villeneuve. Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev were convicted in December 1978 of stealing the coffin and trying to extort money from the Chaplin family (Wardas, the mastermind, served 4 years; Ganev only 18 mos.). In his lifetime, Charlie had said that if he were ever kidnapped under no circumstances was ransom money to be paid by any member of his family. Oona kept her promise and refused to pay saying: “A body is simply a body. My husband is in heaven and in my heart." However Oona and Geraldine pretended to negotiate with the graverobbers over the phone, which made it easier to apprehend them. At one point the graverobbers even threatened to break young Christopher Chaplin’s legs if the family didn’t meet their demands. The farmer in whose cornfield Charlie was found placed a marker at the gravesite with an inscription translating to: “Here slept, in peace, Charlie Chaplin." His body was eventually reburied in Vevey under a theft-proof concrete slab. Oona Chaplin would often visit Charlie’s second gravesite. “In some ways," she said, "it’s lovelier than the official grave."


Plaque at Charlie's second gravesite. See more images here.

Below Oona talks about the return of Charlie's coffin in May 1978.


In 2014, French director Xavier Beauvois made a film about the grave robbery called The Price Of Fame. It was made with the approval of the Chaplin family. In fact, Chaplin's son, Eugene, and granddaughter, Dolores, have small parts in it. Here Eugene talks about the grave robbery and the film. Below is the trailer.


9 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, the film has made very poor at the French box office (less than 25000 spectators...). However, it was a great succes in Vevey! D.

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    1. At first I was a little surprised that the Chaplin family would allow such a film to be made, but like Eugene pointed out, Charlie himself was always able to find humor in the macabre.

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  2. is there graffiti on that grave marker? I can't tell if it is shadows or spray painted.

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    1. I think something is spray painted on there.

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  3. Yes, unfortunately the plaque was vandalized a few years ago. It seems that respect more and more becomes a meaningless word. Sad times, indeed. D.

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  4. I think the film was funny. You can't make stuff like this up!

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  5. You can see on the following site that the plaque has been cleaned:
    http://www.hebdo.ch/hebdo/culture/detail/quand-deux-charlots-décident-de-déterrer-chaplin
    D.

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    1. Thanks, D. I'm glad someone cleaned it up. It's hard to believe someone spray-painted it in the first place.

      Something I noticed in the movie trailer is that it shows what Charlie's original grave marker looked like at the official site. I tried to find an actual picture of it from before the time his grave was stolen--or even afterward but didn't have much luck. His original marker wasn't the large concrete stone he has now but a cross.

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  6. And why is Charly written on it? I don't understand it...
    Domi

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