- - Sunday, December 11, 2016

LOS ANGELES | Eugene Chaplin, the 63-year-old son of cinema legend Charlie Chaplin, likened President-elect Donald Trump to the character Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria, in his father’s film “The Great Dictator.”

“It’s a very good comparison,” Mr. Chaplin said of Napaloni, who was meant to parody Mussolini in the dark comedy from 1940. Charlie Chaplin directed and starred in “The Great Dictator” as Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania, who believes in Aryan superiority. It was an obvious satire of Hitler’s hateful views.

During a rare visit to the U.S., the Swiss native Mr. Chaplin — whose father was arguably America’s most famous political exile — voiced views opposing Mr. Trump’s opinions on immigration, Muslims and free speech. Mr. Chaplin was flown to Los Angeles from his home in Europe as part of a presentation to travel journalists about Chaplin’s World, an attraction in Switzerland that honors his father.

“Trump comes from a reality show background, and has been very clever by publicizing himself with these very strong opinions, which are ridiculous,” Mr. Chaplin said of the Republican’s bluster during the lengthy 2016 campaign season. “Time will tell if he’ll go that far.”

Asked how his father, an immigrant, would react to Mr. Trump’s call to build a wall at the Mexican border, the soft-spoken Mr. Chaplin replied, “Obviously, he’d be against it. … I describe my father as a great humanist, right to the end.

“He came from poverty [and] always felt opportunity should be for all races. He hated stupidity and ignorance; he loved tolerance.”

Born 1889 in England, Charlie Chaplin came to Hollywood in 1913, where he found superstardom portraying the mustachioed “Little Tramp,” a down-on-his-luck yet plucky, cane-twirling vagabond wearing bowler hats, baggy pants, tight coat and oversize floppy shoes. As his fame grew, Chaplin’s films increasingly became more topical to reflect the times. “Modern Times” in 1936 was designed to foster empathy for the working class during the Depression, and “The Great Dictator” sought to tear the self-aggrandized facade from the wave of fascism sweeping through Europe.

During the McCarthy era, Chaplin was accused of communist sympathies, and while sailing to London in 1952 for the premiere of “Limelight,” the U.S. government revoked his permit to re-enter the U.S. The family then settled in Switzerland, and Chaplin would not return to the U.S. until he was granted an honorary Oscar in 1972. He died five years later on Christmas Day in Vevey, Switzerland, at age 88.

Eugene Chaplin, the fifth of Charlie and Oona O’Neill’s eight children — and the first born in Switzerland — was named after O’Neill’s Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning father, American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

“My dad always said he was a citizen of the world,” Mr. Chaplin said, adding his father was also an advocate for free speech. “He’d think there’s something wrong with … punishing people” for flag burning, which is legal although continually controversial.

In person Mr. Chaplin is sweet-natured and approachable, with a smile reminiscent of his dad. But the 63-year-old also has the spirit of Charlie, whose movies sympathized with outsiders and the downtrodden.

“He felt very strongly for [immigrants],” Mr. Chaplin said of his father, who himself was a visitor to America.

Mr. Chaplin spoke at the Chaplin Theater at Raleigh Studios, where his father, along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith, reportedly inked the deal forming United Artists in 1919. He showed photos of the Manoir de Ban, the mansion where he grew up and now the centerpiece of Chaplin’s World. The museum features delicately sculpted wax figures by France’s Musee Grevin and rebuilt sets from various Chaplin classics, such as the Klondike cabin from 1925’s “The Gold Rush.”

Mr. Chaplin has dual British and Swiss citizenship.

“It’s an amazing place,” he said of Switzerland. “My dad said when he sat down at the terrace of the house and looked at the mountains, he felt very safe. And that’s Switzerland altogether.”

After studying at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Mr. Chaplin became a stage manager for plays and operas. In a twist of fate, the son of the king of silent cinema became a sound engineer at Montreux Casino’s studio, recording The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Queen.

Mr. Chaplin currently works for circuses, a love he inherited from his father, who made 1928’s Oscar-winning “The Circus.”

Chaplin’s World opened on April 16, Charlie’s birthday, in Switzerland.

L.A.-based film historian/critic Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.”



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