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Mudslides devastation town Montecito home to the stars from Chaplin to Oprah

Montecito, the California coastal enclave devastated by this week's deadly mudslides, is known as Oprah Winfrey's home town.

However, it was Charlie Chaplin, the biggest star of another era, who helped make it a haven for celebrities.

At the height of his fame in 1928, Chaplin led a small group of investors who built the Montecito Inn, which he called "the cream of the coast", a posh getaway two blocks from the Pacific Ocean that became a local landmark.

In its lobby is a life-sized statue of Chaplin. Since early on Tuesday, like much of the rest of the town, the statue has been knee-deep in mud.

The deadly mudslides that ravaged the town came a month after a massive wildfire drove many residents from their homes and blackened the nearby mountains.

With no vegetation left to absorb the rain, the slides came quickly in the midst of a torrential downpour. At least 17 people have died and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.

The stark images of streets filled with boulders, downed trees, wrecked cars and obliterated houses generated international attention and sympathy to the community of 9,000 people that in normal times values its privacy.

Tennis legend Jimmy Connors was among those who were stranded and had to be airlifted from the area by the Coast Guard.

"Montecito - fires burn - rain comes - mud slides and devastation - evacuated today by helicopter - thoughts and prayers for all!!!" Connors tweeted.

Winfrey, fresh off a Golden Globes speech that inspired calls for her to run for president, posted Instagram photos of the shin-deep mud in her yard and video footage of rescue helicopters flying overhead.

She is a star among stars in the town that is teeming with them. Ellen DeGeneres, Al Gore, Jeff Bridges, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Stewart and Rob Lowe either live or own part-time homes in the town.

"I have a very pleasant existence in Montecito," Dick Wolf, the creator of the Law & Order television empire, told The Associated Press in 2014.

Nearly a century ago, Chaplin made his first visit and fell in love with the area and its Mediterranean climate, ocean views and canyon serenity.

Just to the north are hot springs that had been treasured for centuries by the native Chumash Indians, Spanish settlers and, starting in 1855, a handful of wealthy Americans who thought they had healing power.

To the south is the Pacific Ocean and to the west is Santa Barbara and its city amenities.

About 90 miles south-east lies Los Angeles, where Chaplin, his fellow Montecito Inn investor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and other silent-film stars worked.

In 1942, Chaplin, age 53, married 18-year-old Oona O'Neill in a Montecito wedding that both dazzled and scandalised the country.

Since then, Kim Kardashian-West, Melissa Etheridge and Jessica Simpson are among the many who have had Montecito weddings.


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