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Abra-ca-Debra—Debra Paget

The house looked like something out of an old Boris Karloff movie.

Vacant and slowly decaying, it stood surrounded by its own jungle of weeds and overgrown shrubbery. Here and there a window was broken and a part of the stone masonry had fallen away. Compared to the usual immaculate houses in this part of Beverly Hills, it seemed dilapidated and antiquated.

Debra Paget was so disappointed she could have cried.

For as long as she could remember, her indomitable mother, Maggie, had promised the five children that if they were good, watched their weight and worked hard, some day they’d live in a big house with a swimming pool. And now on this cool star-bright evening, her parents were seriously considering moving into a “white elephant.”

It was all Debra could do to stifle her tears. This deserted relic was hardly her dream of the ideal family homestead, particularly for a rising young movie star.

She looked around to see if anyone else shared her disappointment. In addition to her parents, there was Teala, her married sister, and William Barry, the friend who had found this house.

Obviously, they were all too overcome by the sheer size of the three-story mansion to notice that it was terribly run down. Wisely, Debra kept her thoughts to herself. She climbed out of her Cadillac convertible and followed the rest of them as they filed up the flight of stone steps leading to the main entrance. Bill Barry turned the key in the lock and ushered them into the vast emptiness.

There was no electricity in the house so Bill and Debra’s dad had to carry flashlights. As they moved from the livingroom to the solarium, from the diningroom to the Chinese room, the two men played their beams of light into the farthest dark corners. Their footsteps echoed loudly on the bare floors and there was dust everywhere. Debby shivered.

It took Bill Barry over an hour to show the Griffins (Debby’s real family name is Griffin) the complete house from the basement to the top floor. He didn’t omit one of the twenty-five rooms or seven baths. He pointed out how the various bedroom suites included their own small kitchenettes so that they could function as separate apartments in case anyone wanted to live independently of the family and yet under the same roof.

He showed them three different playrooms with outside entrances so that a gang in one room needn’t disturb a party in another. He demonstrated the hotel-size stove and refrigerator which are permanent equipment in the kitchen. He flashed his light along the walls of builtin closets and the marble-lined bath with the steam cabinet. He even included a side trip to the small guest cottage beside the three-car garage. Then he led his visitors around the outskirts of the property so they might see how completely private the pool and gardens were.

When the inspection trip was completed, a kind of contagious excitement spread through the Griffin group. “Can we afford such a big place? What did you think of that rustic gameroom? Where will we ever get enough furniture to fill twenty-five rooms? Won’t the pool be heavenly?”

Only Debra and her mother were completely quiet. Debra was trying to fathom Bill Barry’s reason for bringing them to this creepy place. And Mother Maggie was silently figuring and weighing the alternatives before making up her mind.

Finally, Mrs. Griffin declared herself. “We can either go forward or slide back,” she said, voicing one of her pet beliefs, “but we can’t stand still. I think we should take it. What do you say, Frank? Teala? Debby?”

“I think we should talk to the others,” Debby’s father suggested.

And so, like every other big decision that faces this unusual show-business family, the question of moving to Beverly Hills was debated around the diningroom table late that night. It’s the custom among the Griffin clan to give everyone a voice in family affairs. And there are nine strong voices in Debra Paget’s family.

First, of course, come her parents. Next come Teala and her husband, Gene Bennett, who live at this same address along with their two little girls, Kim and Jeneene. Between Teala and Debra comes Frank, Jr. Frank is an actor under contract to RKO. Debra follows Teala in age. Eighteen months younger than Debby is Leslie, or Lisa Gaye, as she is called professionally. And last of all is their precocious little sister, six-year-old Marcia.

With so many different theatrical personalities under one roof, you’d expect nothing but jealousy and continual friction, but there is none. With an admirable spirit of cooperation, the Griffin family manages to live together in harmony. Mother Maggie explains this by saying that “my kids are all too busy to fight.”

But there is more to this remarkable family spirit than just keeping busy. The Griffins happen to like each other. The girls are good friends. All the grown-ups pamper and love the children. And everyone admires and adores Mama.

In addition, the family has evolved a workable system of living. Each capable member contributes to the family fund, and everyone has a say in how the money gets spent. All share in the housework. Over the years, they’ve found that by pooling their incomes and energy they can live better together than apart.

The move into the big house in Beverly Hills is a wonderful example of the “Griffin System” in operation.

“The night after we saw the house on Crescent Drive,” Debra recalls, “we sat up until two in the morning arguing. At first, I was completely against our taking such an old house. It seemed to be a hopeless wreck, but Mama soon set me straight. She said that all it needed was a thorough cleaning indoors and out. Dad agreed.

“Then she outlined some of her ideas about how we’d furnish the place. She said she’d like to put white cotton carpets all over the house to lighten the rooms and to mix a lot of big comfortable modern chairs with some Chinese chests. It sounded pretty wonderful.

“In the end we all decided that the house had everything we’d always wanted—a home with plenty of rooms and a pool. We were willing to work to pay for it.”

Two nights later, Mr. and Mrs. Griffin signed the lease for their new Beverly Hills home, a three-year rental with option to buy. With that the work began.

According to Maggie, “We really should have taken before-and-after pictures. Without photographs people can’t begin to appreciate what a wonderful transformation the decorating firm of Mann & Field wrought on that out-of-date house.”

The first stage was the clean-up. Mr. Griffin and Gene Bennett worked on the yard, while Debra and her mother tackled the house. “To give you a small idea how wild the grounds were,” Debra’s dad explains, “Gene and I worked around outside for a week and we didn’t know we had a huge outdoor barbecue and grill hidden under some ivy.”

The changes were almost as surprising inside. Right from the beginning Maggie worked with Bob Gilbert, Mann & Field’s head decorator. She ordered over 300 yards of white carpeting through them. She chose her big comfortable couches and chairs in their showrooms. Bob Gilbert helped plan the seating arrangement in the livingroom. He also suggested that she move the old diningroom furniture into the breakfast room for everyday use. Then he sold her a very striking new diningroom set for parties and company dinners.

As soon as the utilities were turned on and the house was reasonably clean the Griffins moved in with their entire menagerie. They own two parrots and a macaw who were quickly installed in a sunny room on the third floor. The dogs, Gypsy and Honey, were let free in the big back yard. Cuddles, the baby monkey, got a stylish new black wrought iron cage and now he’s allowed to stay in the front hall. The five cats were allowed to roam at will. And all the pet goldfish were unceremoniously dumped into the lily pond.

The human members of the family had a much tougher time deciding which set of rooms they’d occupy. After much indecision, Debra finally chose a big corner room with a fireplace and a lovely little balcony. “It’s heavenly,” she claims, “especially early in the morning and at dusk. I can lie on my bed and listen to the birds and watch the squirrels. You’d think we were living in the country instead of on a busy block in Beverly Hills.”

Most of Debby’s white satin and rose velvet furnishings came from the Griffins old Hollywood Boulevard house, but Mrs. Griffin did have some adorable cupid lamps made especially for the new room.

Leslie chose the sleeping porch overlooking the pool for her private world. The furniture in this room has a Cordovan finish and is as tailored as Debby’s is feminine. Leslie has twin beds because she loves to have girl friends like Lori Nelson and Julia Adams spend the night.

Teala and her husband have a separate apartment with rooms for their towheaded little daughters. And for the first time in his married life, Frank Griffin has a den of his own where he can go off by himself, read the paper, and take a midday snooze. He also has a new desk for which he can thank little Marcia.

On about the 428th trip to the Mann & Field headquarters, Marcia and Debby were waiting while their mother looked at curtain material for the solarium. Debby was engrossed in her favorite pastime of clipping recipes from magazines. Suddenly little Marcia suggested, “Let’s buy Daddy a desk. He needs one terribly. He has to keep all his papers in boxes.”

Debra threw her arms around her baby sister. “Angel, what a divine idea!” she agreed. And so Debra bought one.

The whole family received a wonderful surprise from an old friend and artist, Arne Nybak. Arne’s specialty is commercial murals and stage sets. His commissions keep him busy all over the country. When he dropped by the Griffins’ place one Sunday to see the new house, he was so struck by its dramatic quality that he promised to give the family a special housewarming gift.

“Why not a sample of your work?” Debby asked. She never dreamed he’d take her seriously.

A few days later Arne arrived at the door with his paints and brushes. He tied an apron around his business suit and went to work. For three days he painted a wonderful three-dimensional mermaid mural in the front hall.

“It’s the first thing people see when they come to visit us,” Debby says, “and it really takes their breath away. Honestly, the jeweled mermaids kind of set the tone for this whole story-book house.”

Debra and her family have been living in their new home a little more than three months. By now, they’re used to the luxury of private rooms and adjoining sun decks and five telephones. They’ve got the housework down to a science. This is one movie star’s family that doesn’t have a servant problem. It has no servants.

Each girl looks after her own clothes and cleans her own room. Maggie and Teala share the cooking but Debby likes to do some of the baking. All the children help with the dishes and bed-making. Then race outside and sit by the pool.

“If people used to criticize me for not dating and always sticking close to home,” Debby says, “they’re really going to blast me now. I plan my whole day just so that I can spend the best sun hours swimming. I even had my hair cut to make it easier to manage when it gets wet. I really love this beautiful place. Honestly, it takes a pretty sensational date to lure me away.”

To be sure, a lot of the younger movie crowd gather at the Griffins’ place. And you never can tell when one of them may prove to be the man in Debra Paget’s life. But this much is certain. If a man does win Debby’s heart, he’ll have to marry her fabulous family, too. This is one clan that believes in sticking together.



(Debra Paget can be seen in 20th Century-Fox’s Gambler From Natchez.)



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