Searching for Old Hollywood–Postcards of Movie Star Homes

DSC03642In my imagination, I can see the Hollywood of long ago when film industry insiders referred to their mansion-lined streets as the Colony. I see glamorous movie stars dancing at the Cocoanut Grove, old-school studio execs drinking cocktails in the Hollywood Roosevelt’s Tropicana Bar, and hungry starlets sharing bungalow apartments in Spanish-style, u-shaped buildings. Whenever I visit Hollywood during the TCM Classic Film Festival, I search in vain for any remnants of this fleeting bygone era.

My attachment to Old Hollywood is behind my new passion for postcards of movie star homes. I stumbled across my first cards in an antique shop in southern Ohio, and I have been hooked ever since. Produced in series, these colorful linen postcards picturing the stars and their homes were issued from the 1930s through the 1950s. Many series were issued by the Western Publishing and Novelty Co., whose premier design included a portrait of the star in the corner of the card. One series produced cards slightly smaller than typical postcard size probably because they were sold in packets. The M. Kashower Co. was one of the older companies that produced postcards, many during the 1920s. If you find cards from Kashower, they are likely older and worth more. Other companies included the Tichnor Art Co., the Reed Robinson Co., and the Longshaw Card Co., which also used the star portrait design. Longshaw also produced postcards of the movie studios. Just like the stars of the Golden Age were larger than life, so their homes are rich in lore and legend.

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The postcards of Pickfair, the mansion of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford, seem to chronicle the famous couple’s relationship. Designed by California architect Wallace Neff and located in the San Ysidro Canyon in Beverly Hills, the property was originally a hunting lodge when purchased by Hollywood’s premiere couple in 1919. They renovated extensively, creating a 22-room mansion.

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Legend purports that Pickfair was the first private property in the Colony to include a swimming pool, which was set within a large formal garden. The bell-shaped statue in the background was installed by the couple on their property. Pickford and Fairbanks were famous for entertaining, and an invitation to Pickfair was a sign of social acceptance into the Colony. Over the years guests included close friend Charlie Chaplin (who lived next door), George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Elinor Glyn, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Fritz Kreisler, Amelia Earhart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Crawford, Noel Coward, Max Reinhardt, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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In 1936, Pickford and Fairbanks divorced, primarily because of the latter’s infidelity. Pickford had retired from acting by that time because she was unable to adjust her star image to the talkies. She married Buddy Rogers, but she seemed to retreat from the world, at least compared to her life with Fairbanks. Postcards after 1936 do not refer to the residence as Pickfair; they say simply “Residence of Mary Pickford, Beverly Hills, California.” The post-Fairbanks version by Tichnor shows a lawn devoid of people and animals; the one by Western Publishing looks even emptier, with their famous sculpture—installed at the height of their romance—conspicuously missing.

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Warner Baxter lived in this Tudor-style home on Nimes Road, which was built in 1933 at the height of his popularity. Baxter called his home “solid, stolid, and uneccentric…nothing flashy, with everything in quiet good taste.” The message on back of this postcard disagreed, noting that Baxter’s home was far more beautiful than the card suggested.

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This is Marion Davies’ Georgian-style summer cottage on Santa Monica Beach, which included between 110 – 118 rooms. Built in 1926 for $7 million, the house boasted 55 bathrooms, 37 fireplaces, a gold room furnished in gold leaf, crystal chandeliers from Tiffany’s, and a ballroom lifted from a 1750 Venetian palazzo. It was demolished in 1956.

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Pola Negri said about her home in Beverly Hills, “The white colonial house on Beverly Drive was still under construction when I bought it. While American stars were imitating the architectural glories of Versailles and the Alhambra, a Polish star was opting for a place that might easily have passed for a neighbor of Mount Vernon. The grounds were as elaborate as the facade was simple. There were tennis courts and a swimming pool…rose gardens and Italian gardens and vegetable gardens; a four car garage and a patio with a magnificent fountain; there was even a private projection room downstairs. To run the place efficiently, it took a staff of six…my enormous sunken black marble tub resembled nothing so much as a Cecil B. De Mille set….”

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Chaplin’s house was near that of his friends, Pickford and Fairbanks, though it lacked the extravagance of Pickfair. It was nicknamed “Breakaway House” because it was built on the cheap by a frugal Chaplin using studio carpenters.

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Everyone knows the story of child actor Jackie Coogan, whose parents spent or gambled his money away. After Coogan sued them in 1935, he ended up with only a fraction of the money he had made during the 1920s—when the Coogans lived in this home. His experiences led to the Coogan Act, which stated that employers must put 15% of a child actor’s earnings in a trust.

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Joan Crawford bought this house shortly before marrying Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The couple supposedly called the house El Jodo, though a door plate on the front read Cielito Lindo, or “Beautiful Little Heaven.” It was set far back in the Brentwood Park section, which was exclusive in 1929. After Crawford’s several divorces, broken hearts, and other domestic traumas, the house was hardly a heaven. Later, Donald O’Connor owned the house.

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Lupe Velez’s home was a Spanish-style mansion located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Velez burned the candle at both ends, making her infamous in a town that attracted its share of raucous behavior. Yet, it is a lifestyle that too often leads to heartbreak and ruin. In love with Johnny Weissmuller, Velez could not seem to make it work with everyone’s favorite Tarzan. Shortly after their breakup, she found herself pregnant by a bit actor who refused to marry her, which led to a tragic solution to her troubles. In 1944, she was found dead among the white silk sheets of her bedroom from an overdose of seconal.

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I bought two postcards of Bing Crosby’s home in Toluca Lake, because the houses look nothing alike. I wondered if there had been a mistake, but, as it turns out, Bing owned two homes in Toluca Lake. When he married actress-singer Dixie Lee in 1933, they bought a Tudor Revival house on Forman. Three years later, they built a Southern colonial style home on Camarillo Street, complete with a matching carriage house where a maid and chauffeur lived. In 1943, a Christmas tree caught on fire, destroying a part of the house. Bing sold the house for $15,000, and the Crosbys moved to Beverly Hills. Subsequent owners divided the acreage and sold it off in parcels. Over the years, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, Andy Griffith, and Jerry Van Dyke all lived there.

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Last year former 90210 actor Brian Austin Green and his wife, cookie-cutter starlet Megan Fox, bought Bing Crosby’s modernized carriage house—I can’t imagine anyone remembering their names in 80 years, or collecting a postcard of their home.

 

22 Responses Searching for Old Hollywood–Postcards of Movie Star Homes
Posted By robbushblog : February 9, 2015 5:14 pm

How many of these homes still exist today? I don’t want to hear the sad end of Pickfair again. It just makes me sick.

Posted By LD : February 9, 2015 5:25 pm

As I was reading your post the Bette Davis film, THE STAR, went through my mind. Specifically, the scene were Margaret Elliot is drunk and riding around Hollywood touring the homes of the stars with her Oscar in tow. I have always found how celebrities live interesting. Now some will show photos of their homes for sale on line. If there is a connection to classic Hollywood it is usually mentioned although the homes have probably been renovated to the point of looking nothing like the originals. There are photos in books and Ken Murray’s home movies to help us get a feel for that era. We all know what Michael Curtiz’ beach house looked like because of MILDRED PIERCE. It has long ago been swept into the Pacific but remains forever on film. Thank you Susan for sharing your postcards. Another way to try to capture that place in time.

Posted By Donald : February 9, 2015 8:19 pm

Suzi: These cards are priceless. I’ll trade you one Pedro Borbon for a Warner Baxter.

Posted By Susan Doll : February 9, 2015 8:22 pm

I am not sure how many are left. Some are gone. Some, like LD notes, are renovated to the point where they would be unrecognizable. Others with additional structures that set on a fair amount of property were divided up, like Bing Crosby’s property. Practically speaking the 1930s and 1940s are not that long ago, but in Hollywood years, it is another time and place.

Posted By Susan Doll : February 9, 2015 8:27 pm

Donald: Is that a sports guy? Sorry, Warner is worth so much more!

Posted By Donald : February 9, 2015 8:51 pm

Really, Suzi? Is Warner Baxter in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame?

Posted By Susan Doll : February 9, 2015 9:05 pm

True, but I will bet Pedro Bobo, or Robo, or whomever, can’t say “You’re going into that audition room a youngster but you’re coming out a star!” with zest and conviction like WB did in 42ND STREET!

Posted By AL : February 9, 2015 11:06 pm

Susan–you really got-to-me with this one! I have a very large collection myself–now I’m going to get them out and compare them with your list of mfgs. Barbarian Pia Zadora bought Pickfair, had it demolished and replaced it with a gawd-awful Moderne-type. Susan, I would love to see what you’d do with an article about The Garden Of Alla or Falcon Lair…I’m sure you’re familiar with my favorite Gloria Swanson quote: “We were making more money than we dreamed existed; our fans treated us like Royalty and they expected us to live like Kings and Queens–so we did!”

Posted By george : February 10, 2015 1:49 am

According to Wikipedia:

“In 2012, Pia Zadora claimed on Season 4, Episode 4 of the BIO channel’s Celebrity Ghost Stories that the real reason she demolished Pickfair was not due to termite infestation but because it was haunted by the laughing ghost of a woman who allegedly died there while having an affair with Douglas Fairbanks.”

Sigh.

Posted By george : February 10, 2015 2:09 am

A rare look inside Pickfair, as Mary Pickford gets a special Oscar (1976).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vXhqrbSeOE

Posted By Susan Doll : February 10, 2015 2:47 am

Thanks Al. I am glad you enjoyed the post. And, I have always wanted to go to where Falcon Lair was. I have a thing for Valentino.

George: I remember when Pickford got her Oscar. Thanks for the link.

Posted By Patti : February 10, 2015 4:03 am

Have you been to the coffee shop on Catalina Island, CA, that has the old movie stars’ postcards lining their walls? The “postcards” have been enlarged and are framed as wall art. Whenever I go over to the island, I like to sit and eat breakfast while looking at all the “art”. The name of the restaurant rhymes with “Mack’s”.

Posted By LD : February 10, 2015 10:25 am

Outrageous what happened to Pickfair. Why wasn’t it on the list of the National Registry of Historic Places and then declared a landmark? That is what happened with Elvis’ Graceland. Sometimes there seems to be such a lack of respect for film history as with the selling off of MGM’S assets. Thankfully, film preservationists are saving what they can of the movies. Film festivals, TCM, blogs, etc. can ignite and perpetuate interest in the heritage of film.

Then there are the people who are part of the history. RIP Lizabeth Scott.

Posted By Susan Doll : February 10, 2015 4:23 pm

Patti: Thanks for the tip. I have never been to Catalina, but I would love to go because of the many jokes in old movies about “on a clear day you can see Catalina.”

Posted By AL : February 10, 2015 9:56 pm

Susan–Falcon Lair has been demolished? How sad. I have some Cool shots I took from a small airplane years ago. I have a photo of me with a mannequin donned with Rudy’s matador costume from BLOOD AND SAND. At one of the Memorials I met Ditra Flame aka The Lady In Black (the REAL one)and she gave me some Deco trinkets that were part of an elaborate necklace he bought for Natacha (she never wore it). Schwabs, Coconut Grove, Brown Derby–I knew them well but they’re all gone now…sad…

Posted By Susan Doll : February 10, 2015 10:16 pm

Al: I am not sure if all of Falcon Lair has been demolished, but I think the main house was. There were other buildings on the grounds, including a stable. It certainly isn’t like Valentino left it.

Posted By AL : February 10, 2015 10:28 pm

Right around the “corner” from Falcon Lair is a home that was built so as to incorporate the stable. The amazing original doors are still there, lovingly cared for. It’s across the road from the Sharon Tate house (which also has been demolished). Susan–of all of you MovieMorlocks guys, you’re my Favorite–your columns always seem to “talk” to me…luvAL

Posted By Susan Doll : February 10, 2015 10:40 pm

Ahh, thanks Al.

Posted By robbushblog : February 11, 2015 3:43 pm

The main house of Falcon Lair was bulldozed in 2006, one year after a renovation project was begun! Why it was given up on so easily I don’t know. The destruction of all of this history makes me sick.

Posted By Phyl : June 4, 2015 4:35 am

I came across this post a few days ago and thought it would be cool to collect these. I went to an antique store today and found a Bob Hope one within minutes!!! For only $1!!! My lucky day :)

Posted By vanessashannon : May 15, 2016 12:47 am

Can you please tell me where to purchase these post cards? My passion is Old Hollywood and its buildings as well. Thanks

Posted By Susan Doll : May 15, 2016 1:07 am

Vanessa: I found many of mine at antique stores — not the expensive ones with expensive pieces of furniture, but the “junk” shops with old magazines, old pop culture toys, etc. If you live near an antique mall, with several booths, inevitably several of vendors will have a postcard box. Most of the postcards are divided by state, so you can easily flip to California and look for them. There is also a postcard show that comes through my city every January, and I have found several there.

Good luck in your search.

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