How Young Hollywood Lives
Tourists who visit Hollywood are constantly amazed by the large number of signs on fabulous Wilshire Boulevard that advertise auctions.
“TONITE—AUCTION OF LAVISH FURNISHINGS FROM THE MANSION OF MISS JOAN CRAWFORD . . . NEXT TUESDAY AUCTION OF FABULOUS POSSESSIONS FROM THE MANSION OF MISS BARBARA STANWYCK . . . FROM HEDY LAMARR’S MANSION, COMPLETE FURNISHINGS TO BE SOLD AT AUCTION.”
One visitor from the East, after observing all these auction advertisements, turned to a friend of hers, a long-time resident of the movie colony, and said, “Surely, there must be one Hollywood star who doesn’t live in a mansion?”
The truth is that there are dozens of actors and actresses who live simply, reasonably, and normally; and with few exceptions, practically all of these are under the age of 30.
The day has long since passed when an actor, on being signed to a contract, raced to a phone, rang up an important real estate dealer, and shouted, “I’ve just signed a contract at Metro. Get me a house befitting my position. You know, gardens, swimming pool, the whole works.”
The reason these days have passed is that starting salaries in the motion picture industry aren’t very large. Janet Leigh began at $43.80 a week, Debbie Reynolds at less than $100, the same holds true for Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Bob Wagner, Debra Paget, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, and so on down the line.
It takes anywhere from five to ten years before a star begins earning a four-figure weekly salary; so that for the most part they spend their early working days living in small but well-furnished apartments or in small but modest rented houses.
When they hit the big time and have proven themselves great box-office attractions, their salaries boom, and they begin to live accordingly.
Jane Powell has just bought herself a beautiful new home in Westwood. In addition to her large Metro salary, Jane averages $8,500 a week when she goes out on personal appearance yours.
Marge and Gower Champion own a lovely hillside home equipped with swimming pool because their salary is $2,500 a week and night club appearances bring them another $7,500 a week.
Liz Taylor and her husband Mike Wilding can afford. to own a swank modern home overlooking a picturesque canyon, because after ten years in the business, Liz has managed to save more than $40,000 and has signed a new contract which brings her close to $150,000 a year.
But these are the exceptions.
How about youngsters like Roberta Haynes, Joanne Gilbert, Terry Moore, Joyce Holden, Debbie Reynolds, Debra Paget, Janet Leigh, Farley Granger, Bob Wagner, and Dale Robertson?
Let’s take a look.
Dale Robertson owns a house out in Reseda, a middle-class community 20 miles from the studio, which he bought on the G.I. loan—nothing down and around $55 a month. It’s a simple stucco job, two bedrooms, one for Dale and his wife, and one for their baby daughter Rochelle. Robertson is one of the boys who likes cars, especially convertibles, but no Cadillac or big job for him. He has a business manager who limits him to spending money of $20 a week even though Dale is currently earning $1,000 a week.
Young actresses like Debbie Reynolds, Debbie Paget, Mitzi Gaynor and several others either live with their mothers in small establishments or rent conveniently located apartments.
Typical of the smart young career girl is Joyce Holden. Ever since she came to Hollywood from Kansas, Joyce has lived in a series of bachelorette apartments, one larger than the other. Right now she occupies a two-bedroom garden apartment in the San Fernando Valley. With each move, Joyce adds to her collection of antique furniture by haunting the secondhand antique shops and attending the auctions. Her interest in Early American furnishings began on a farm in Colony, Kansas, where she spent every summer until she was 12. Her aunt and uncle, Vern and Jesse Nichols, owned the farm, and when Joyce grew up and came to Hollywood, they gave her the four-poster canopy bed she had slept on as a little girl.
Like most of the young actresses in town, Joyce likes lots of company. She often invites eight, ten, twelve guests home for dinner. She also believes that every girl living alone should have a pet. In her own case the lease on her apartment ex-pressly prohibited pets of any sort, but when Joyce moved in she found a forlorn, copper-colored cat squatting right in the middle of the living room. The cat still resides in that apartment.
Roberta Haynes is another apartment-dweller. Even though she was raised in Encino, not too far from Hollywood, she talked her parents into letting her furnish her own apartment near Columbia Studios. It was this organization which signed Roberta after she had finished Return To Paradise opposite Gary Cooper.
The dark-haired, exotic-looking young beauty began to furnish her three-room flat by buying a box spring and mattress. After that, as she earned more money, she spent it on modern furniture made of wood, wrought iron, and foam rubber. Finishing touches are products of her own handiwork. Drapes, curtains, a few paintings. Because her salary is relatively small, Roberta, who likes to read, buys 25-cent paper-covered books. The money she doesn’t invest in clothes, she spends on records and art prints, only she can never decide which prints to frame.
Dawn Addams is another young actress who likes to re-decorate her studio apartment. Dawn is the petite English girl who made such a startling first impression on moviegoers when they saw her in MGM’s Plymouth Adventure. Like her own colorful background—her father is an English Army officer and she’s lived all over the Empire—her place is unorthodox. It consists of a series of rooms on different levels, The living room is three steps above the street. The dinette is two steps down from the living room, and the bedroom is up one flight on a gallery overlooking the whole apartment. In the tradition of a soldier’s family, Dawn has filled her small apartment with mementoes from home, and also a piano, on which her current boyfriend, Farley Granger likes to practise.
Another European who’s made a good go of things in Hollywood is German-born Ursula Thiess, one of actor Robert Taylor’s great heart interests. Ursula’s apartment on Wilshire Boulevard is a far cry from the bombed-out rubble that was once her home in Hamburg.
As you probably know, Ursula’s picture on the cover of “Life” is what got her an RKO contract in this country. When she arrived in New York two years ago, she knew no English so that the studio had to arrange for a series of interpreters to go around with her in Manhattan as well as Hollywood. Ursula’s Hollywood interpreter was a young girl of her own age named Rosalie Harding. With the bond of language between them, a close friendship sprang up between these girls, and in a little while, Rosalie asked Ursula to leave her lonely hotel room and share a room in the Harding household. When her English was fluent enough, Ursula was sent to India to act in Monsoon.
After three months she returned to the Harding house, but then decided that if she was ever going to make the break, she had best make it then. She was convinced that her English was good enough, so she and Rosalie went apartment-hunting. They found a modern suite of three rooms with porch overhanging Wilshire Boulevard. Ursula then bought “Pappy,” a French poodle to keep her company.
Like most German girls Ursula loves to cook, and since Bob Taylor doesn’t particularly like to make the rounds of night clubs or to be seen in public, many of their dates consist of home-cooked meals.
Joanne Gilbert, the young nightclub singer who made such a sensational debut at the Mocambo that she was signed by Paramount for Red Garters, represents the school of young girls who live with their mothers.
Joanne’s parents are separated which is true of Mitzi Gaynor’s, Peggy Ann Garner’s, Jane Powell’s, Margaret O’Brien’s, and many others—and Joanne and her mother occupy a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Hollywood. “It’s really too small,” Joanne says, “and now that I’m making a little money we’re looking for a larger place. I also drive a ’49 Chevvy—it’s crumpling, it really is—and I guess I’ll have to get a new car.”
Practically the only young Hollywood star who doesn’t own a car is Ursula Thiess, and that’s because she doesn’t know how to drive.
Joanne Gilbert’s night club act is booked in at $3,000 a week, so that it shouldn’t be too long before the Gilbert gal winds up with a Ford convertible and at least a two-bedroom apartment.
The youngsters who have the biggest and swankiest apartment in Hollywood are Janet and Tony Curtis; and they certainly deserve it. For five years they’ve both worked long and hard and have finally reached the point in life where a monthly rental of $400 doesn’t tax their financial setup too heavily. Their combined weekly salary is close to $2,500—that is, when they’re working. Before they found their current penthouse apartment, Janet and Tony lived in a small furnished job a few blocks away.
As a matter of fact, Joan Evans and her husband Kirby Weatherley occupy that same sort of furnished apartment which is typical of what Southern California has to offer young marrieds in the way of housing.
When Joan and Kirby decided to get married last June, over Joan’s parents’ objections, the bride-to-be had exactly 24 hours in which to find an apartment. “I think we did the right thing,” Joan says, “in renting a small furnished unit to start with. I was making Column South after the wedding and still I could manage to cook and keep house without any extra help. If we had bought a house we’d have had to hire people to run it. I think a small place during the first year of marriage gives the bride more time to devote to cooking and fixing things up.”
Joan has another theory that not having to do housework before you’re married makes the job more interesting after you’ve got a husband to take care of. At least it’s worked out that way for her.
She had a separate wing in her parents’ home, but her grandmother or the family housekeeper was always on hand to cook and pick up after her. Not burdened with the pre-wedding task of cooking, she now loves to prepare three meals a day. According to Kirby, his wife is an inventive and very clever short-order cook. Once she expects guests for dinner, however, Joan is a meticulous planner. A list of reminders to herself reads like this: “Toasted cheese fingers, page 8 in recipe book, make spread before; avocado salad, make before; Beef Casserole, p. 121, ready by 6:00; French peas p. 184, allow time to shell; rolls, don’t forget, melt butter; sherbet; coffee, make early.”
Of all the young marrieds in Hollywood, the Rory Calhouns seem to have hit the jackpot insofar as houses are concerned. A year ago, Rory asked his Lita what she’d like for a fourth anniversary present. She said a house of their own with grounds and swimming pool.
Rory has the luck of the Irish. He found a family that was moving back East and was ready to take a loss on their 8-room colonial in Beverly Hills. Rory snapped the bargain up without reading the complete terms of sale. Later, much to his amazement, he learned that a swimming pool from the old Will Rogers’ estate went with his purchase.
Rory is a crack wood-worker and has already transformed one guest bedroom into a beautifully-panelled bar. He also hopes to remodel the unfinished structure atop his garage into a large playroom.
The Calhouns, and this is true of most young acting couples, have no full-time cook or housekeeper; so that they run their home on a very casual basis. Their door is always open and it’s recognized as a paradise for free-loaders. You can always get a free meal and drink at the Rory Calhouns, practically no questions asked.
In contrast to the old Hollywood standards where butlers and formality ruled the household roost, today movieland goes in for pleasant, relaxed, and informal living. Nowhere is this motif, this way of life, more conspicuous than at the home of Jerry and Patti Lewis.
Jerry, of course, earns more money than any youngster under the age of 30 throughout the world. He averages half a million a year. Thus, when Patti talked him into buying a brick colonial house with pool in the Pacific Palisades, he insisted that he must have one small wing where he could indulge himself in his various hobbies, gun-collecting, movie-making, photography, hell-raising, and so forth.
Jerry decided to build a small, separate rumpus room. The idea carried him away. When construction costs on this small rumpus room hit $20,000 wife Patti called a halt. But not for long. What started out to be a hideaway developed into a de luxe playhouse, and it’s here that Jerry and his gang make their wild movie Shorts, satirizing well-known film hits.
Right now the playhouse is valued at $120,000, that is with photographic equipment included, but Jerry says it’s worth every penny in fun and relaxation.
Generally speaking, Hollywood is neither a country club nor a night club town. Its youngsters are shrewd, intelligent, career-wise and in some cases genuinely cultured. They appreciate good art, good music, and good clothes. But most of all they appreciate their homes on which they lavish a large portion of their earnings.
They feel that their residence and its decor reflects their standard of taste which is why they’re always re-modeling, redecorating, searching for new furnishings, new architects, new modes of expression.
Essentially, they are all artists with a love of beauty and a high regard for style, and more than any other element they are responsible for transforming the old-time sickening, roccoco-ish, ornate, overbearing Hollywood way of life into one that is simple, modern, clean, and stimulating.
In short, the young householders are a credit to the community; much more so than many of the old-timers.
—BY MARVA PETERSON
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JUNE 1953