Wednesday, July 25, 2012
What do Michael Nesmith (star of "The Monkees" and Liquid Paper heir), rocker Joe ("Life's Been Good To Me...") Walsh and Fritz Lang (genius German Expressionist/American Film Noir Master) have in common? The answer is: 1501 Summit Ridge Drive, a Spanish styled house perched on a precipice overlooking Pickfair. Built in 1936, the house was acquired by Lang in 1945, when he was finally successful and established enough in America to claim a hilltop overlooking Beverly Hills for himself.
The house is something of an oddity. It's rather grandly set at the top of three acres of descending walkways, gardens and grounds. But the interior measures a modest 2635 square feet and, according to most listing reports, contains only two bedrooms. Indeed, in Kevin Thomas's LA Times remembrance of Lang, he calls the house a "Spanish cottage with spacious rooms sleekly redesigned by Richard Neutra." Do cottages normally have spacious rooms? Are cottages generally redesigned by Richard Neutra?
Things get stranger. According to Lang's official biographer Patrick McGilligan:
"Hungarian expatriate Paul Laszlo...was chosen by Lang to coordinate the design and decor...a stark whiteness, startling visitors, predominated. The living room was carpeted in white; a large, abstract coffee table stood in front of a long curved couch."
So far it sounds like a set from an RKO 30's musical, a studio and genre antithetical to the director. But pray continue, Patty:
"Unlike the director's Berlin home, with its morbid masks and skulls and primitive art, few artworks decorated Lang's Hollywood walls: visitors remember one or two of Kathe Kollwitz's sketches, maybe a Matiesse line drawing. The dining room doubled as Lang's study."
Was Lang so pressed for space that he ate and worked in the same room? Or did he only work while he ate? Or perhaps it really was a cottage. And what about those masks and skulls that he left behind when the big heat came to Berlin? Weird. Next comes the coup de'...whatever.
"There was a large bedroom with an animal skin throw, as well as a sun room and perhaps the most individaul feature of the house: a small bar with a linoleum floor. On a shelf behind the bar Lang kept his collection of miniature carvings, statues and crystal animals. On the wall was a mural painted by the director, of bare-breasted women dancing out of martini glasses."
We can only pray the mural was preserved by Messrs. Nesmith and Walsh. Somehow I doubt it.
Lang lived in the house until his death in 1976, after which it was bequeathed to USC who sold it to Nesmith in the mid-eighties. I believe another owner came between Nesmith and the current occupant, perpetually recovering addict and rock genius Joe Walsh.
Six excellent photos of the interior can be found at Tina Stern's website (she was the listing agent during the Nesmith sale I believe).
Here's a very good overhead view (with alternate N/S/E/W angles) from the always reliable Homes.com
Finally an article on the Nesmith sale.
Access to the house is gained via a private road (now gated) that is shared by several different properties and that is so narrow and bosky that I'm surprised 1930's and 40's vehicles maneuvered it without coming apart at the seems. According to Lang's neighbor, screenwriter Charles Bennett, the narrow road was the scene of a memorable confrontation between the director and another neighbor, the Honorable Cecil Howard, son of the Earl of Suffolk. Howard lived in a house beyond Lang's.
"The approach for either of them was a one-way one...I adored Cecil but I knew him to be a stiff-necked aristocratic Englishman. One day he and Fritz met head-on in the alleyway. Fritz's car on the way out, facing Cecil's on the way in. It was a clash of wills. One had to retire, back away, to allow the other to pass. An arrogant German versus an equally arrogant Englishman. The tie-up lasted an hour. Finally it was Fritz who yielded...he and Cecil never spoke again."
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 4:21 PM