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."
Subscribe in a reader
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 4:21 PM
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The extraordinary Dateline NBC one hour special on Booker Wright and our search for the story of his life took all of us by surprise. It's depth, sincerity and detailed examination of the case were truly impressive. Beyond this, the piece was impeccably crafted--a fine example of modern broadcast journalism at its peak standard. If you missed it click here to go to the MSNBC site where you can find the whole thing in six parts.
Here's a nice article that appeared over the weekend in The Arizona Republic--a publication straight from the hometown of Yvette Johnson, Booker's grandaughter.
Finally, for those of you who've seen either our movie or the Dateline NBC piece, you'll know that Lusco's Restaurant was the establishment where Booker Wright worked when he made his "infamous" speech in my father's documentary. I've eaten there several times while in Greenwood and it's a fabulous place with the best Steaks in the world. Alas, they've taken extreme offence to the movie and its depiction of their restaurant. Good God. I didn't invent the wheel. What happened happened and I reported it. Nonetheless, Lusco's Facebook page has exploded with mostly negative comments about our film. I hope once the initial sensitivity provoked by the digging up of old ghosts dies down, those who were offended will watch our movie again and try to see that we were telling a very large story--the story of the changes in the South in the 1960's--and that Lusco's played an important (and by no means negative) part in that history.
Subscribe in a reader
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:54 PM
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
On Sunday July 15th, Dateline NBC will air a special extended segment devoted to the story we've unearthed and explored in our film "Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story". This is a major bit of business for an indie doc such as ours and we're thrilled that the people at Dateline decided to do it. Of course, NBC aired the original doc that my father made back in 1965 and the producer of the segment, Tim Beecham, knew of my father's film for awhile. Indeed, he pitched Dateline on updating the film for a segment awhile back. But with the emergence of our film and the research that it uncovered about Booker Wright's life and death, the segment became a much bigger story. David Zellerford (producer), Yvette Johnson (Booker's granddaughter) and I went to Mississippi a few months ago to work with Lester Holt and Tim on filming new material specifically for this segment. My father, Frank De Felitta, also will appear in the segment. For a preview of the Dateline segment, click here.
And by the way: "Booker's Place" is incredibly easy to see. You can download it by clicking here.
Here's a perfectly wonderful TV appearance I did on Steve Abudato's WNET talk show.'
If you're interested in the role that legendary advertising giant Ogily played in the making of our doc (and I know you are) click here to read all about it.
Oh and another thing. Guess what movie (according to IndieWire) is so far rated as the best indie doc (are there any other kind?) of 2012? Click here to find out.
And now for something completely different...
Subscribe in a reader
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 1:31 PM