Sunday, July 16, 2017

Charlie Chaplin; A Timely Visit

17 July 2017

Oona O’Neill (1925-1991) earned her father’s enmity when she married Charlie Chaplin. Eugene O’Neill and she never spoke again. Eugene O’Neill also disinherited his son Shane (1919-1967) who assisted my father in writing his biography of the playwright, The Curse of the Misbegotten.

The conservative, anti-communist witch hunters of the 1950s hounded Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) from the United States. He and Oona took up residence on the slopes above Vevey. There they grew old, raised their family of eight and entertained friends and relatives in luxury and calm that contrasted with both their childhoods. In Switzerland, one can feel isolated from the sort of hysteria which is again afoot in the United States.

From Lausanne, Vevey is a short train ride on the way to Montreux. A bus took us up the hill to the house and its grounds. Since visiting with my cousin, the Arboretum keeper, we’ve become obsessed with cypress trees. One way of classifying them is by the angle of their branches: upward, flat or downward. The villa has several ancient specimens.

This is a place of great calm. I imagine that Chaplin’s geniality and humor must have been a balm to Oona, given her father’s dark and brooding outlook. One snippet of an archived family film shows the entire brood sipping their soup in hilarious coordination. I’ve a new appreciation for Chaplin’s artistry. He was irrepressible, and a hard worker.

Oona lived on for a quarter century after Chaplin’s death, half the year in New York, half in Switzerland. Some accounts indicate that she too had slipped into the family addictions, alcohol in her case, that O’Neill’s plays depict. I remember my father’s dedication her brother Shane’s children, his assurance that they had escaped the curse of the mis-begotten.

I want to perch somewhere in between the isolation necessary to create art and the addictions that follow from loneliness. Humor is one answer. Chaplin said: 'Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.' The life of the senses is another: 'We think too much and feel too little.'

No comments:

Post a Comment