Posted by Susan Doll on February 9, 2015
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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