2/12/13

21 VIEWS OF BILLY WILDER'S APARTMENT--(NOT THE MOVIE!)


Yes, it's true. Billy Wilder's Wilshire Blvd. cooperative apartment--his home from 1957 until his death in 2002--is up for sale. In fact a deal seems to be pending on it as I write this. His wife, the glammy Audrey, stayed on for another ten years until her death last year and now whoever controls the estate is letting the place go for a very reasonable million bucks and change.

Click here to view the listing. And if you want to know why this is of special interest to me, click here to read one of my more obsessive and interesting posts. For years I wondered why the Wilders lived in this relatively modest abode--surrounded, of course, by his incredibly immodest art collection--and now that I've seen the place firsthand (confession: I pretended to be an interested would-be buyer and wasted a very nice real estate agents time one afternoon a few weeks ago), I can honestly say: I have no idea why they chose to live in this relatively modest abode. It's not that it's not a pleasant place. It's just so very...simple...of its time...even a little limited.

Indeed, there are larger (and frankly more suitable) apartments in the building that Audrey and Billy might have chosen and for some reason it frustrates me that they didn't. The building has penthouses with big terraces and views--a very suitable urban retreat for a world class filmmaker (see below video tour). But that isn't the apartment they went for. (They were among the initial buyers in the building, so we can't use the "maybe they weren't available" excuse). There are even larger units on the non-penthouse floors as well--several with front and side window exposures. But that's not where Audrey and Billy selected to live either. Instead, the Wilder's place is in the center of the building, thus allowing only front window exposures. Though there was a terrace, at some point it was enclosed. The kitchen is small, the living room modest and the views--though they at one time must have been semi-impressive--now look onto neighboring Wilshire Blvd. apartment buildings--and larger and newer ones at that.

The pictures you see displayed on the above link show the place "staged"--i.e., furnished by the realty company with rented stuff to give the environs a lived in, sleeked-up air. Interestingly they chose to stage it with pieces and paintings quasi-similar to the one's the Wilders owned--though I hasten to add that the stuff pictured is entirely knock-off quality and the attempt at emulating Wilder's impressive taste falls quite seriously short. However, several portraits of Wilder were hanging in the place when I paid my visit a few weeks ago and there was a charming framed picture of Audrey and Billy from the late fifties in their bedroom--about the time they moved there.

Perhaps the most notable (and charmingly eccentric) feature of the place was the master bedroom/bathroom suite. Apparently the Wilders purchased a small adjacent apartment and turned this into their bed/bath commode. The dressing room takes up most of the space (it's well documented visually above). An enormous tub. Counters and closets galore. Dressing areas. Walk-ins. Seating areas. And then, off of all of that, a smallish bedroom. It made me smile as I thought of one of my favorite Wilder anecdotes. While shooting "Love In the Afternoon" in Paris (in 1957--the year they moved into this apartment), Audrey--back in LA and decorating the place--wrote to Billy to bring back a bidet for their luxe new bathroom. Wilder wired back: "UNABLE TO OBTAIN BIDET. STOP. SUGGEST YOU DO HANDSTANDS IN SHOWER."







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4 comments:

  1. It's a nice enough apartment, but you're right to say it's limited, especially in the way it can be arranged given the layout. It looks like a high tier Manhattan apartment, not an LA one.

    The bathroom is a lovely size but the tile and counters would drive me mad. My mother redid her house and opted for a huge bathroom off her small bedroom, too, and I can understand the impulse.

    I will laugh forever at the bidet telegram.

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  2. The Wilders apartment is indeed wierd and awful. Windowless white kitchen (wonder what period it's from - hard to tell from pictures) and a bedroom that's all bathroom and closets. Oh, and that staging thing of stacking up books in bookcases in piles - ugh. But the lobby and the unit the realtors are showing off is even wierder. The building is late 50's kitch modern. The lobby and unit are in faux french period decor. With sliding glass doors. Yikes.

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  3. Yes Stacia, the bidet joke has been making me laugh for thirty years (think I read it in the Zolotow bio first) and still hits me hard whenever I think of it.

    Emjayay, I suppose the realtors were counting on a kind of "Mad Men" ruboff effect...the kitsch being appealing to a newer generation of enthusiasts of that period. Unfortunately it would have to all be redone in much more severe mid-century modern tones to have the desired effect.

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