Christmas with Charlie, Vol. 7

Oona and Charlie invited me for the holidays. I was happy to go. That Christmas in Vevey started a tradition. I was to spend at least eighteen Christmases with them over the years. The pattern was usually the same. On Christmas Eve, everyone wrapped their packages and decorated the tree. This was Oona’s domain, and she insisted we all help. While all this was going on, Charlie would sit in the living-room reading, always unconcerned. Christmas depressed him; he thought Oona was spoiling the children with all her lavish presents (he’d remember his orange). Usually, the day after Christmas he’d get ill with a cold or the ‘flu. 

This Christmas [1954], he just wanted to talk about his next movie. We both wanted to talk about our projects. But at seven in the evening the doorbell rang, and in walked the kindly Mayor of Corsier, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit. In America, Santa Clauses are usually fat, jolly men; our Father Christmas was tall, thin, and serious, and his costume hung loosely. He sang Christmas carols in a high tenor voice. Charlie took this event very seriously and insisted everyone go into the hallway and listen. The Mayor’s visit became an annual ritual. 

At 6 a.m., Christmas morning , squeals from the children resounded through the house. Within a flash all the paper from the carefully wrapped packages was ripped open. Charlie would come down hours later, after the commotion had subsided. Then he would open his gifts–as delighted as one of the children when he liked something. I usually bought him recordings of old-time English music-hall artists, or picture albums of Victorian London. He was always fascinated by anything that evoked old memories. 

After lunch and more champagne, we watched one of his films. By six o’clock everyone was falling off their feet. The help were relieved when we all went out to dinner. 

–Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, Doubleday, 1989

Father Christmas visits the Manoir, 1955


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