Saturday, April 10, 2010

Where it all began

To us, old Hollywood living has such a signature look and feel. While visiting the prop house of historic Warner Bros. studios in Burbank the other day, Ron and I reminisced about the incredible and inspirational lifestyles this town has been built on.
Audrey Hepburn with husband actor and director Mel Ferrer at their home on Kimridge Road in Beverly Hills, 1956.In 1964 actress Sophia Loren posed for photographer Alfred Eisenstaed in the villa outside Rome she shared with her husband, producer Carlo Ponti. “I remember our dwelling with great fondness,” recalls her son Carlo Ponti, Jr., today the music director and conductor of Southern California’s San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra. “I think it was—and still is—the most beautiful house I have ever seen."
Marlene Dietrich's Beverly Hills residence in the mid-1930s reflected her preference for high-contrast black-and-white furniture in a home that featured a tuxedo sofa, a mural of a leopard and a zebra, a zebra-print throw, 19th-century Chinese wallcoverings and an ankle-deep carpet of fur. “I would like to have lived in Hollywood at another time,” Dietrich once remarked.

Ava Gardener
“Legend has it that Julia Jean Turner was discovered at Schwab’s Drugstore,” remarks Cheryl Crane, daughter of actress Lana Turner. “But, in truth, Billy Wilkerson, a talent scout, spotted her at the Top Hat Café, a soda fountain across from Hollywood High School. He took her to Warner Bros., where she was renamed Lana, cast in several movies and dubbed the Sweater Girl.” As such, Lana Turner became one of the most durable pinups of her generation. “That image clung to me for the rest of my career,” Turner observed in her autobiography. “I was the sexual promise, the object of desire. And as I matured, my façade did too, to an image of coolness and glamour—the movie star in diamonds, swathed in white mink.” She was in her early twenties when she purchased a modest cottage in a lush, quiet neighborhood north of Sunset Boulevard. For the interiors, Turner created a cocoon of frills and flounces and surrounded herself with china figurines, ruffled lampshades and an enormous teddy bear.Doris Day
“There’s always been just one way—what’s right for me,” said the indomitable Mae West. Like many performers, West was a mixture of show-off and recluse, a personality at once calculatingly public and insistently private. These two facets of the actress’s nature were reflected in her home and the life she led there—not in any balanced way but, like nesting boxes, one hidden within the other. Outside was the Mae West persona, sex-obsessed and self-loving, for which she found a domestic equivalent in the apartment she moved into in 1932, when she first arrived in Los Angeles, and where, in what may well be a record for residential longevity in Hollywood, she remained for the next 48 years. Located on the sixth floor of the Ravenswood, an Art Déco building on Rossmore Avenue whose other tenants included Ava Gardner, Hedda Hopper and Judy Garland, West’s apartment was modest in size. It had just two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, and common rooms that were by no means grand, but the decoration aspired to grandeur, and beyond. “Quality, quality—that’s all I heard [from my mother],” West told Life magazine in 1969. “Everything has proportion, nothing is jarring. Everything is symphony.”
In 1946 Gene Kelly and his first wife, Betsy Blair, bought a modest home at 725 North Rodeo Drive that everyone in their circle would regard as one of the most vibrant social hubs. “A gang of us used to meet on weekends, most of them members of ‘The MGM Family,’” wrote actor Hume Cronyn in his 1991 memoir A Terrible Liar. “These gatherings would shift from house to house, but those I remember best were at the house of Gene and Betsy Kelly.” Famous for his athletic ability and rather notorious competitiveness, Kelly would invite his friends to play touch football and volley ball, providing generous spreads of food and drink, and enjoying sing-alongs at the piano with the likes of Judy Garland and Hoagy Carmichael. Most memorable for his guests, however, was the elaborate and complicated version of charades that Kelly invented, known simply as The Game. “The trick was to pick a series of phrases or quotations so outrageous that they would defy the abilities of the most accomplished pantomimist,” writes Cronyn. It was nearly impossible to beat the Kellys, he says, who shared a “radar-like communication.” “He was a very bright man, in addition to being a talented man,” author and Hollywood historian Rudy Behlmer remarks with admiration. “He was very articulate and his recall was not faulty.” By all accounts, Kelly was exceedingly happy in the North Rodeo Drive residence. There he would live until a tragic Christmas fire in 1983 destroyed it and everything in it, including unique works of art, collected papers, and Kelly’s honorary Oscar for his brilliance and versatility as an actor, director, singer, dancer, and, especially, a choreographer. But so fond was Kelly of the house and its location that when it burned to the ground, he had a new house built in its place on the same property and lived there with his third wife until he died in 1996.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, circa 1940.
Few celebrities exemplified the movie community’s shift to simpler lifestyles better than Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who moved to a 20-acre ranch in the sparsely settled San Fernando Valley town of Encino several months after their marriage in 1939.
Which brings us back to today. Burbank still has that ranch style essence of decades ago. The ghosts of the past still, are such an inspiration and the essence lives on. It is a wonderful thing, nostalgia and to be right in the middle of it is priceless.
(All photos and quotes from Architectural Digest.)