There was and still is a swift business in Hollywood built around the busing of visiting tourists past a selection of movie star homes.
Now we see the driveway to Jayne Mansfield’s home, now the Beverly Hills Tudor-style residence of Jimmy Stewart, there’s Dolores del Rio’s old house…. that sort of thing.
Frank remembers in the 90’s enjoying a somewhat twisted version of these traditional guided tours. It was called The Grave Line Tour because it focused only on residences where something awful — death and/or destruction — had occurred.
Guests were handed a copy of Marilyn Monroe’s official death certificate as they boarded a large black hearse for the journey. Stops routinely included Monroe’s rather modest last house, the two story brick where Peter Lorre had finally succumbed and (the piece de resistance at the time) the O.J. Simpson residence in Holmby Hills.
Well, a most enjoyable new tour has emerged, one that doesn’t require a Hollywood visit or a trip anywhere, for that matter. It’s a newly published book from actor Robert Wagner, with Scott Eyman, titled You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age (Viking, 2014).
Wagner, born in 1930, began his movie career at age 20 and quickly succeeded thanks largely to mogul Darryl Zanuck’s support at Twentieth Century Fox. (Wagner, of course, also has had perhaps an even more successful tv career.)
His book (excerpted in the March issue of Vanity Fair) recreates the domestic settings “of the great parties” he attended since, as he puts it, “I usually hung out with a crowd that was 10 to 15 years older than I was.
As those people aged they had less to celebrate. Wagner declares that the days of classic Hollywood’s high-style partying are over — a lesson to me that nothing lasts forever. Except the movies.
Some excerpts about those luxuriously appointed party settings:
Bette Davis: She purchased a two-story red brick house behind a wall in Glendale, a suburb of greater Los Angeles located on the eastern end of the San Fernando Valley. Not the most fashionable location but, for the actress, situated only 10 minutes from her home studio Warner Bros. This meant she could sleep for an extra hour in the morning — no small thing when you have to be on the set, in wardrobe and makeup, by eight a.m.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard: She was Gable’s third wife while he was her second husband. Both preferred country living and purchased a 20-acres spread in Encino in the San Fernando Valley. Property was fronted by a white-brick-and-frame Colonial. A homey place with a room set aside for Gable’s collection of rifles.
James Cagney: He and wife lived for years in what appeared to be an unpretentious Connecticut farmhouse in Coldwater Canyon in Los Angeles, running perpendicular to the Santa Monica mountains. It was two-stories, finished in fieldstone and shingles, and boasted of a rustic interior spread over six or seven small rooms. The Cagney’s rarely entertained there but welcomed individual guests, often animal lovers. If you liked horses and/or dogs, you were aces with Jimmy.
Jack Warner: Without question the most opulent house I have ever been in was Jack Warner’s. The focal point of the nine-acre spread in Beverly Hills was his immense mansion, measuring more than 13,000 square feet. There were two guesthouses, terraces and gardens, three hothouses, a nursery and a nine-hole golf course. In addition, there were gas pumps and a garage to service Warner’s fleet of cars. If you didn’t already know that Jack was a rich and powerful man, the entrance to his mansion would have told you. (The place was bought in 1990 by media mogul David Geffen for $47.5 million.)
Four years before his first marriage to Natalie Wood, Wagner had an intense affair with with an established Hollywood actress that left a lifelong impression upon the young actor, still with us at age 84.
The romance thematically dovetails with those cataloged in two previously published blogs covering Classic Movie Cougars — older female stars bedding younger men.
They became close in 1953 (during the shooting of that year’s version of Titanic) when Wagner was 22. The woman he fell in love with — Barbara Stanwyck — was 45. The couple is pictured above.
(This affair and his doomed marriage to Wood are touchingly detailed in Wagner’s previous book, Pieces of My Heart, also co-authored with Eyman.)
We wonder what Stanwyck’s house looked like.