Sunday, December 15, 2013

World Tour Revisited: Chaplin arrives in St. Moritz, Switzerland, mid-December, 1931

I've never been intrigued by Switzerland. Personally I dislike all mountainous country. I feel hemmed in and isolated from from the rest of the world. The ominous presence of mountains towering above me gives me a feeling of futility. I suppose I am indigenous to the lowlands near the ocean, for my Romany instincts tell me that here I'm better suited to survive. Life opens out on a wider vista. 
Nevertheless having basked in the sunshine of the Riviera and enjoyed London's spring and survived its autumn fogs, I felt that a change of atmospheric diet would be beneficial. Besides Douglas Fairbanks was in St. Moritz enjoying the winter sports and that was a good excuse to go there.1
You leave London in the morning and arrive in St. Moritz the following afternoon. The air is bracing and the whole country is blanketed in snow. The sharp whiteness gives zest and life to your spirit.
But all this is knocked out of you on discovering the price of your rooms. But it's worth it. The answer is I intended to stay two weeks and remained two months. ("A Comedian Sees The World, Pt. 4," A Woman's Home Companion, December 1933)

Of course, Charlie's thoughts on Switzerland are ironic since he spent the last 25 years of his life there. One can assume by that time he was happy to be isolated from the rest of the world. 

Chaplin was joined in Switzerland not only by Douglas Fairbanks, but also his on-again, off-again companion, May Reeves,2 and his brother, Sydney3. Both brothers were enthusiastic about skiing, although neither were very confident on skis (this was Charlie's first time skiing and Syd's second) and there are humorous stories about their misadventures on the slopes, which I will share in a later post. 

May Reeves in St. Moritz.
Charlie with Syd
...and Douglas Fairbanks.

1 According to May, St. Moritz was her idea. Chaplin asked where they should go next. "I proposed St. Moritz," she replied. In My Autobiography, Chaplin states that he decided upon St. Moritz  after receiving a telegram from Douglas Fairbanks inviting him there.

2 May arrived in St. Moritz a few days after Charlie because, according to her, she wanted to go to Paris first to buy the proper clothing and would meet him there a few days later. This differs from the account in Gerith Von Ulm's Charlie Chaplin: King Of Tragedy (and supposedly as per Kono) which states that Chaplin had become annoyed with May weeks before in London and summarily dismissed her and sent her to Paris. Now Chaplin wanted to "make amends," so he arranged for May to meet him in Switzerland.

3 In a letter to his friend, Jim Minney, Syd recalls, with his usual dry wit, his invitation to join Charlie in Switzerland: "I was just getting ready to hibernate for the winter and figuring out how I could reduce my debts by going off the Gold Standard or the end of the pier when I received a telegram from he of the quarter to three feet asking if I would care to join him in the solidified winter sports." (Syd Chaplin: A Biography by Lisa K. Stein)


  1. Goodness, what kind of outfit is May wearing in that photo? It looks like she's holding onto a ski stick, and wearing a skirt? But that top? and is that a backpack?

  2. What about those Alpine knickers that Syd is wearing! Of course, in the background others are wearing the same.

    Last night the remake of The Sound Of hsic was on starring Kelly Clarkson. Uncle whatsit as well as well as the other males seem to have clung to that fashion decades later even. As far as the mountains hemming Charlie in .....he says its his gypsy intuition. He claims Romany blood? I had sorta sensed he and Syd both had the heart of a gypsy but thought the fact, like the public misconception of being Jewish had been denied.

    As far as Charlie and May, each must've had somethinging the other wanted and needed.

    1. To my knowledge, Chaplin's gypsy heritage has never been proven or refuted. His son Michael is supposedly doing a documentary about it.

  3. Those photos are a real treat. Thank you so much.
    I just set up my amazon account on my Google tablet. Next I add kindle app. The first book will be the Liza Stein one. Where CC often embelished to satisfy his press audience, his brother usually tells it like it is when it comes to their history, so I will read it first. Then I want The Mutual yes.

    1. You're welcome, I'm glad you like the pictures.

      If you read Lisa's book you will see that Syd embellished his life story just as much as his brother.

  4. Ha ha "Alpine knickers"! Yes, I always ski in a skirt and bobby socks too...