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Homes Of The Stars—Then And Now

Photo courtesy of Darrell Rooney.

I went to Jean Harlow’s house last weekend. Now, there’s a statement I never thought I’d be able to make. As it happens, the good folks at Angel City Press held a signing party for Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira’s beautiful new book Harlow in Hollywood in the home Jean Harlow shared with her mother and stepfather in 1931-33 (It was also the setting for her wedding to Paul Bern in 1932.) Rooney got to know the current owners when he drove Harlow’s vintage Packard to their street and parked it right in front. That broke the ice, and since then they’ve become friends who were generous enough to open their residence to a parade of film buffs and well-wishers on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It’s still a beautiful, tastefully designed home on the West Side of Los Angeles, opposite the Los Angeles Country Club.

Photo courtesy of Darrell Rooney.

A photo of Harlow sitting on a windowsill back then reveals that she had a clear view for miles from her—

—hilltop perch (now there are houses across the street, and mature trees, but the outlook from the second story is still pretty impressive.)

Photo courtesy of Darrell Rooney.

If you have some spare change, you too can live in a majestic house with a Hollywood pedigree. My wife noticed several interesting listings in the real estate section of the Sunday paper and I thought I’d bring them to your attention.

For a mere $38,000,000 (marked down from $65 million) you can own The Robert Taylor Ranch, comprised of 112 acres in the Mandeville Canyon area of Brentwood. The listing cites “11,700 of main house by Robert Byrd A.I.A., 4,000 of recreational/office complex, 3,100 of guest studio, 10 car garage, horse stables w/bridle paths & riding arenas, championship tennis court, and swimmer’s pool with pavilion (all square footage approximate). Beautiful, expansive, lush sweeping grounds surround this trophy property which offers the ultimate in luxury living.”

If all that is too rich for your blood, how about Max Factor’s palatial home in Hancock Park, which is available for a mere $6,250,000? This is “truly one of Hancock Park’s finest estates, located on THE premiere street… This English Manor boasts opulent wood carvings, custom molded ceilings and more, all trademarks of old world craftsmanship. You couldn’t find work like this today. Perfect scale in all public rooms. Octagon breakfast room. Outstanding formal dining room. The tennis court and pool sit amidst award winning garden. Outdoor living in a colonnade of arches. Finest value available in Los Angeles.”

And if you’re willing to travel a short distance to an attractive suburb of the city, you could pick up Victor McLaglen’s home in La Canada Flintridge for $4,950,000. “Magnificent English Period Revival home, beautifully crafted in 1928, set on 1.532 acres of land with rolling lawns, gardens, & unique trees. The custom millwork & architectural detail throughout are exquisite. There are 3BR suites, 6.5 ba. The 1st occupant was Academy Award winning actor Victor McLaglen & family; they named the home Fairhaven. A guest house is connected to the main home by an arched porte cochere. Basement includes billiard rm, exercise rm. & office. There is a pool house, secluded pool & private patio areas.”

Photo courtesy of Darrell Rooney.

Any home reflects its owners, and I’m sure there are echoes of these formidable Hollywood figures in each of these magnificent residences. But a famous name on a deed doesn’t generate warmth or a feeling of welcome; it takes something more. As I spoke with the doctor who now owns Jean Harlow’s home I was struck by the loving care he and his wife have put into the property. I think the famous platinum blonde, who died before her time, would be pleased to know that her onetime home brings such pleasure to the people who live there today.

8 comments

  1. MWest says:

    Your closing statements are truly touching. It is true that how the home owners treat the house makes it a home and whether it's a humble house or a mansion doesn't matter because it's what you make of it. Being in the custom homes Austin industry, this is easily understandable as some think making a grand house equates to a home. Such an inspiring post!

  2. Vincent says:

    Add another fabled house to the list. The Hollywood Boulevard home where Carole Lombard lived from 1934 to 1936 — the period when she was known as the industry’s top hostess and party-giver — is now available for sale or rent. (You’re probably aware of the house from your research for that paperback Lombard bio in the ’70s.) Learn more at http://la.curbed.com/archives/2011/03/carole_lombards_hollywood_bachelorette_pad_returns.php

  3. John Kane says:

    Some time ago I read a book which had the names and addresses of famous Hollywood stars. In it I discovered the address of James Stewart and as Christmas was approaching I wrote a letter thanking him for all the pleasure he had given me over the years in his many film roles but especially for (as you might have guessed) “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I also wrote that I really want answer. I just wanted him to know of the joy he had added to my movie-going over the years. Back came a letter thanking me for my kind words and wishing me and my family and especially happy Christmas. And then he died and it just so happened that the following year we were visiting friends in LA and I said to my wife that we should make a point of visiting Jimmy Stewart;s house as a tribute to the man. We still had the book with his address and with the help of a friend we traced the location of his home. There was no house, only a great hole and a building site. We stood and gaped at this desolate sight. A man was walking his dog and we stopped and asked if this really had been the home of James Stewart. “What a damn shame, ” he said, “They sold his house and within a week, the bulldozers moved in a demolished everything. Jimmy loved his garden and cultivated roses, but they just ploughed them in with everything else. I managed to rescue a few of his bushes but why did they do that? It was a beautiful house with a beautiful garden. If you want to start from scratch why destroy something beautiful to do it?” And he went on his way shaking his head. The plot of land on which Jimmy’s house had stood was a corner location which also contained and mail box. I went and laid my hand on it and thought of the letter that he had sent me and my family that must surely have been posted in that box. I don’t know what kind of house the owners of the plot put up but whatever it was I know I despise them. And what a contrast to the owners of the Harlow house who bought a beautiful period home and had the sense and good taste to cherish it,

  4. PHIL SPANGENBERGER says:

    Back in the early ’60s I worked for a doctor who owned Jean Harlowe’s former home and I delivered some things to the home. He was very wealthy and as a joke for his other wealthy friends, he had nailed a 50-cent piece to the carpet. It was indeed quite ahome and he had it beautifully furnished.That was back in ’62.
    Phil

  5. Mary Ranaudo-Somers says:

    I believe that you mean “Bern” not Berg,

  6. Mark Heimback-Nielsen says:

    I read that some believe that Harlow and Berg’s house is haunted by Berg and that Sharon Tate, a friend of the house’s later owner Jay Sebring, saw a ghostly figure that she identified later as Berg.

    Unfortunately both Sebring and Tate were later murdered by the Manson cult which confirmed for some that the house truly was cursed.

    I wonder if the current owners are still bothered by noises in the night or if the book and the signing may have quieted things down?

  7. Tom says:

    Really enjoyed this piece very much.

  8. Karen says:

    Leonard, thanks so much! I’m especially tickled with this post as Silver Screen stars as a passion of mine. Love the images and wow, what a car! I hope you don’t mind, I shared a link to your blog with the blog-owner of “Hooked on Houses”, so you might be getting a bit more traffic soon from her large and enthusiastic following. Many thanks and have a marvelous week,
    Karen N in Rochester, NY

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