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Samson DeBrier; Hollywood Raconteur and Bon Vivant

April 08, 1995|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Samson DeBrier, a self-styled "celebrity warlock" who attracted many of Hollywood's past and future stars to the soirees he regularly held in the modest bungalow where he lived surrounded by the treasures of his world travels, is dead.

Recognized as a singular Hollywood character, one who was famous in the entertainment world simply for being himself, DeBrier was 86 when he died April 1.

Film producer Tony Bill, who made regular pilgrimages to DeBrier's small cottage in Hollywood, once summed up his raconteur friend by saying the perennial host had the best kind of fame "because he didn't have to do anything."

Born in China and a man of independent but modest means (he had real estate income) DeBrier came to Hollywood for a small role in "Salome," the 1923 silent film featuring Alla Nazimova.

Somewhere around that point he began to create his own myths, claiming that he had been invited to France by novelist Andre Gide, conversed in Paris with Gertrude Stein and became an intimate of filmmaker Jean Cocteau.

Much of it was probably true. His lengthy correspondence with Gide before going to Europe was documented, and through Gide, the art lover and connoisseur met Ernest Hemingway and many of the other Americans flooding France. His charm and elegance also made him welcome at the tables of France's literati. But in 1983, he said that he felt "uncomfortable living on the edges of their celebrity."

He took particular exception to one celebrity, noting in his diary: "I have met the famous Gertrude Stein. I didn't like her very much."

DeBrier returned to the United States and produced a New York City radio program called "Gang Plank," where he interviewed famous figures such as Gloria Vanderbilt, Noel Coward and Thomas Mann.

By 1941 his income had diminished and he moved to California to work in an aircraft plant. He stayed in Hollywood, buying a century-old Georgian House, which he filled with oriental robes, velvet pillows and emerald jewelry. For extra income he rented out the main house while presiding over his intimate discussion groups in the small rear bungalow.

There his guests over the years included the freshest faces of Hollywood: Jack Nicholson, James Dean, Stanley Kubrick, Steve McQueen and Jane Fonda, together with such older luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Anais Nin and Dorothy Parker.

Asked by Time magazine in 1987 what they had discussed while sitting amid his collection of old newspapers and peering into a kitchen where a Modigliani hung on one wall, DeBrier replied that "the listener expects some remarkable reminiscence, little realizing that noble conversations are rare."

In 1953 he starred with Nin in Kenneth Anger's cult film "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome," which centered on DeBrier's Hollywood home, where the bed was shaped like a Chinese dragon's belly.

Although DeBrier was discreet throughout his long life about those who spent long, relaxed evenings in his presence ("they felt safe because they knew I didn't want anything from them") he kept detailed notes of the conversations.

And those notes eventually will be published, he told interviewers.

"After my death."

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