Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to augment our Motoring Mondays series — showing stars next to their very expensive automobiles — with two views of another expensive Hollywood pastime, party giving and going (especially in the Fabulous Forties).
I can quite confidently assure the reader that Hollywood parties are by and large the best in the world, wrote the normally dyspeptic George Sanders in his 1960 book, Memoirs of a Professional Cad. (That’s George pictured above on the right opposite Bette with a young bit player we think you might recognize.)
Bette Davis demurs. Hollywood’s social whirl is, for the most part, pretentious and politic, she wrote in her 1962 book, The Lonely Life: An Autobiography. There was more good acting at Hollywood parties than ever appeared on the screen.
The old-line studio bosses were notorious for tossing lavish soirees both to emphasize their individual wealth and status as well as to make points with the most desirable talent of the moment. Sanders notes that Jack Warner’s ‘palace’ stood as a monument to first-class architectural design…and is still the grandest and most elegant house in Hollywood. It is also the scene of some of Hollywood’s best parties.
And star domiciles were nothing to sneeze at either. Joseph Cotten’s house high in the Santa Monica cliffs sported two grand pianos, lofty rooms with frescoed ceilings and an immense Palladian statue, reported Sanders.
Greer Garson’s place in Bel Air featured a pink marble bathroom, a sunken bath — with great sea shells holding multicolored soaps and mysterious feminine paraphernalia. To top things off, the glass doors on one side of the room opened onto a small and exotic garden which is completely walled in and private so that one can walk about in the nude and take a sun bath.
The more mundane Ronald Reagan loaded his house with General Electric products (he was the company’s spokesman at the time). Even the drinks seemed to be served electronically.
The grand-scale parties at William Randolph Hearst’s place were legendary although the pomp and circumstance didn’t sit well with Davis. San Simeon might have been a palace but there was no soap in the bathroom when I dined there once.
She complained that many Hollywoodians regarded their homes as mammoth sets for entertaining. I always wondered how they felt on those rare occasions when they were home alone. I would have felt like a lost lamb in a jungle!
Both Sanders and David agree that perhaps the best party-giving couple in classic Hollywood was Basil Rathbone and his wife, Ouida. The Joseph Cottens also score highly in their estimations. Their parties, as Davis put it, gathered fascinating people together at a well-appointed groaning board under excellent food and wine.
Sanders recalls a party at which the piano was successively occupied by ArturRubinstein, Oscar Levant, and Cole Porter, while Danny Kaye clowned, and Judy Garland sang. In Hollywood entertainers of all kinds feel more at home with one another in what to them is a sort of emotional native habitat…the effect is undeniable.
But even in classic Hollywood, there was no lack of boring parties.
To avoid such festive tedium, Sanders as a guest employed this modus operandi: 1) show up alone; 2) show up without a coat or hat; 3) do a quick circle of the room to size up the event; 4) make the required salutations as you head toward the bathroom; 5) upon arriving in said bathroom, climb out the window and drive home.