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Television Review

Early Hollywood Stars: Peek at 7 Homes

Carrie Fisher hosts a tour of houses once inhabited by the rich and famous, including her own, which Bette Davis rented in the 1940s.

September 14, 2002|MARK SACHS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pick the pocket of any out-of-state tourist visiting Southern California and you'll probably find a checklist that includes the following entries: (1) Go to Disneyland; (2) Check out Grauman's Chinese Theatre; (3) Buy a map to the movie stars' homes.

Forbidding hedges and security-gated enclaves have robbed pursuit No. 3 of much of its curb appeal, but the fascination with fabled dwellings of the rich and famous continues.

Leave it to the Home and Garden channel to take this fascination and run with it in its hourlong special, "The Homes That Made Hollywood." The program, hosted by actress-writer Carrie Fisher, takes viewers through seven properties linked to the early days of the film industry.

The choice of Fisher was a natural: She owns one of the more interesting homes on the tour, and although we get to see very little of the interior, its bloodlines are impeccable. Built in 1919 to resemble a Mexican hacienda, it was rented in the 1940s by Bette Davis, who was charmed by its 3-foot-thick adobe walls and expansive open-beam ceilings. Shortly after, Oscar-winning fashion designer Edith Head purchased the property, and star-studded parties were soon the norm. Elizabeth Taylor reportedly was a frequent houseguest between marriages.

Head lived in the house until her death in 1981, and when it went on the market in '92, Fisher snatched it up, saying the style and size were perfect for her rapidly expanding collection of folk art, Navajo rugs and rustic furnishings.

"It was like the mother ship of my last house," says the "Star Wars" veteran.

The other homes on the tour range from Will Rogers' huge spread, an 11,000-square-foot home on 186 hilltop acres in Pacific Palisades, to the exceedingly modest Spanish-style bungalow where Walt Disney first hung his hat in Los Angeles in 1928. Fearful that other cartoonists would steal his work, Disney took his sketches home each night and came up with a character named Mickey Mouse while working in the garage.

This HGTV special could just as easily have been named "The Homes That Made Beverly Hills," because several of the featured properties were built there on speculation to lure rich film folk; when they took the bait, others soon followed, and a gilded community was born.

Screen idol Rudolph Valentino was one of the early homeowners there. In 1925, he purchased the hilltop mansion he dubbed Falcon Lair as a love nest he could share with his new bride.

Alas, the dream was not to be; the couple divorced before they could move in.

Now that's Hollywood.

*

"The Homes That Made Hollywood" can be seen at 9 p.m. Sunday on HGTV.

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