If only the best in ghost experiences will do, you can’t do much better than 625 Palisades Beach Road, a house that has hosted several eras of legends and is located on a small strip of oceanfront road under the bluffs of Santa Monica, where some of Hollywood biggest heavyweights, and often their toughest competitors, chose to live cheek by jowl.
In fact, in the 1920s and early 1930s, ‘Beach Road’ (as it was affectionately known) was the home of four out of five of Hollywood’s most influential movie men. Ghetto it wasn’t, but it is interesting to think that almost all of the residents of this short stretch of sandy road were first-generation success stories. And every one of them wanted the biggest possible trophy for life at the top: a beachfront mansion.
On a leisurely stroll you would find producer and comedian Harold Lloyd at 443, Mae West at 514, Darryl Zanuck at 546, Samuel Goldwyn at 602, Harry Warner at 605/607, Douglas Fairbanks at 705, and Irving Thalberg and his wife, Norma Shearer, at 707. Also nearby were oil man J. Paul Getty, as well as actress Marion Davies, who lived in a massive estate built by her lover William Randolph Hearst.
The photo above shows my great-uncle Louis B. Mayer’s beautiful home at 625, but what got me started on this blog post was my initial research into the amazing carved stone plinth and gargoyle, a gift from Hearst, as the handwritten notation shows.
After securing this block, uncle Louis cracked the whip and this 20-room Spanish style house was built in just six weeks in 1926. Clearly, he was very keen to move his wife Margaret and their two daughters, Edith and Irene, in as soon as possible. The main photo, which is one in a series of several exterior and interior shots, might have been taken to feature the home when it was put up for sale, or perhaps for a magazine feature story.
Most of the photos include Margaret and Edie and Irene — some posed seriously and others like this one showing the daughters enjoying the home’s luxurious amenities. Perhaps the most staged is the photo of L.B. lounging on a swinging garden settee reading a book. Unfortunately, the pic is ruined by a massive shadow cast by the swing’s shade cloth.
When you Google Hearst and Louis B. Mayer, the main connecting point that comes up repeatedly, of course, relates to their campaign to destroy every print of Citizen Kane (1941), the provocative and brilliant film written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and starring Orson Welles (it was for contractual reasons that Welles was listed as a co-writer, and while he may have collaborated to a degree, it was very much Mankiewicz’s script).
Of course, Citizen Kane was widely considered a not so veiled exposé of Hearst as media mogul and it shocked and polarized Hollywood. After a screening of the RKO film, powerful gossip columnist Hedda Hopper called it “a vicious and irresponsible attack on a great man.”
Although L.B.’s actions to stop the film made for a powerful gesture of friendship, and would certainly be worth a plinth and a gargoyle gift set, it was given 15 years before Citizen Kane.
Still, I would love to know if the gift is related to any milestone in particular, or did one just phone your movie mogul buddy and let him know you’re sending around a fierce gargoyle sentinel on an 8′ foot high carved stone base? With this crowd, maybe that’s exactly what you did.
Not only did Citizen Kane split Hollywood, it split the Mayer family. Louis B. Mayer’s daughter Irene Mayer, who by this time was married to David O. Selznick, was a dear friend of Herman Mankiewicz and his brother, Joseph.
Citizen Kane was nominated for an Oscar in every possible category of the 14th Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay. Neither Orson Welles nor Herman Mankiewicz attended the dinner, which was broadcast on radio. Welles was in South America filming It’s All True, and Mankiewicz refused to attend. His wife Sara put it simply, “He did not want to be humiliated.”
Journalist and biographer Richard Meryman describes the evening:
“On the night of the awards, Herman turned on his radio and sat in his bedroom chair. Sara lay on the bed. As the screenplay category approached, he pretended to be hardly listening. Suddenly from the radio, half screamed, came ‘Herman J. Mankiewicz.’ Welles’s name as coauthor was drowned out by voices all through the audience calling out, ‘Mank! Mank! Where is he?’ And audible above all others was Irene Selznick: ‘Where is he?!’
Funnily enough, a couple of years ago my friend Josh Mankiewicz shared with me that one day his mother revealed that the ‘M’ insignia on the family silver didn’t stand for ‘Mankiewicz’ but for ‘Mayer’ – it had been Irene’s silver and she gave it to Herman’s son Frank and wife Holly!
Just a few years earlier, my grandmother’s youngest brother, Leonard aka “Sonny” (first cousins of Edie and Irene), spent almost an entire train ride playing chess with Orson Welles as they traveled out east. In some shocking telegram timing, Sonny had missed the earlier train to take him to college along with a number of his friends. But if you have to miss out on that camaraderie, I’m assuming hanging out with sharp-witted Orson Welles would’ve been fun for an 18-year-old kid.
At some point (I am not sure what year), 625 Beach Road was purchased by actor Peter Lawford and his wife Patricia (Kennedy) and the home saw a new era of Hollywood types. It also evidently became a love nest for John F. Kennedy and his mistress, Marilyn Monroe. Moving on to different times entirely, 625 later became a glamorous crash pad and party central for The Beatles. John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s last photos together were taken at 625 Beach Road.
I wonder what secrets these four walls could tell if given the chance.
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.