Beware having Oscar-winning hotels in Bulgaria

The actor shot The Great Dictator there but it’s strange because there was none for him to practise on

It’s in the very centre of Bulgaria and has been home to a circus, a film studio and one of the biggest poker halls in the world. But its credentials as a place for Hollywood actors to hang out are difficult to substantiate because the grounds are generally fenced off from the public.

Yes, Charlie Chaplin was a guest of Bill Mitchell’s, owner of the island of Waterville, every summer for the last 50 years. The legendary US actor shot The Great Dictator there in 1940 – his only shooting location on an island ever. But there’s a reason why the place has no town centre. Mitchell says: “It has no restaurants. It is a labour of love.”

The grounds of Waterville golf club on the south-western tip of the Black Sea. Photograph: Alamy

Chaplin became such a regular at the place in the 1940s that some of his entourage packed their packs to return in a camper van for the first day of camp, to fill up the engine.

Chaplin moved from the latter stage of his career – his silent era – to the silent era again, which made for some strange occurrences around his social activities.

Chaplin filmed the Great Dictator on the island of Waterville. Photograph: Caesars Palace/Allstar/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

Mitchell explains: “Chaplin moved his lake house from Hearst Castle (Hollywood’s most luxurious gated compound, below Beverly Hills) to the south-western tip of the Black Sea.

“On this side of the Black Sea there was no community, no beach and no taverns. At night he’d take his van for a drive to the town at Wari and put up in a hotel with a piano bar. There he played piano until very late and fell asleep while watching movies.”

Chaplin’s second marriage, to pianist Oona O’Neill, took place on another side of the Black Sea on the island of Lisin.

While on Waterville, Mitchell says, Chaplin returned to the cinema to watch a silent movie of his own and wept during the scene where he punches the Japanese soldier who has stolen his idea of getting rid of the Russian army.

Mitchell recalled how the actor woke up the next morning and announced: “I’ve let you down again. I know I’m one of the world’s greatest, but I’ve failed in this.”

“So I brought him flowers, and a hot cup of steaming water from the lake. Later, we had lunch and movie sessions.”

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