11/22/13

609 ST. CLOUD ROAD: THE GABLE/LOMBARD/HITCHCOCK/DMYTRYK CONNECTION



What do Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Alfred Hitchcock and Edward Dmytryk have in common? Well, quite a few things if you really want to parse this out. Hitchcock and Dmytryk were both directors. Dmytryk worked with Gable. Hitch worked with Lombard.  Both worked with the stars in equally forgettable movies--Hitch made "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" in 1941, Dmytryk made "Soldier Of Fortune" in 1955. But they all shared something else and attentive readers of this weblog--both of you--will have probably already figured out what that something was: that's right, a house. Or perhaps the fact that I used an address in the title of the post helped give things away.

In any event, welcome to 609 St. Cloud Road (left), in expensive and lovingly maintained Bel Air, California. Located west of Beverly Hills and north of Sunset Blvd., Bel Air has always had an extra-shiny patina about it. The properties are large, secluded, gated. The neighborhood resides behind pearly but oddly unrestricted gates (pictured top). The roads are bosky, wooded and exotically named--Copa De Oro Rd., Strada Vecchia Rd., St. Pierre Rd.  (was there actually a Saint named Pierre? If so, was he played by Franklin Pangborn?) Developed in the 1920's, Bel Air has always maintained an air of exclusivity, refinement and snotty-ass specialness. The houses aren't next door to each other, as they are in Beverly Hills. Rather, the properties adjoin one another.

Built in 1926, the French Norman-style house at 609 St. Cloud Road sat on three acres of land and--given the relatively undeveloped surrounding areas of West LA--must have made you feel like you truly were living in a another country. At some point in the late 30's, the property was purchased by Carol Lombard--this is after the William Powell marriage--and it was here that she and Gable first did...whatever they did. Pics of the couple announcing their marriage were taken in the garden of the house.Dig:

But the supposedly macho Gable wanted more space, more outdoors, more nature. Don't fence me in, he apprently told his ribald bride, and so they decamped to a ranch in Encino, then an unspoiled area filled with orchards, barns, horses etc. Encino, at that time, was utterly unlike the disastrously icky suburban wasteland it is now. Here's the ranch, as depicted in a period postcard:

But Lombard couldn't quite bring herself to sell the Bel Air house--was Gable's sexual performance already proving a disappointment? ("I love him, but the King ain't much in the sack" she was rumored to have told somebody). So Lombard leased the house to the freshly disembarked from England (and just in time, given the new and exciting war that was on its way) Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma. The Hitch's liked Bel Air--presumably it reminded them a bit of the rural countryside of England that they'd left behind. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Lombard in 1942 left the Hitch's landlordless and they were forced to move on. But they stayed in the neighborhood, finally buying their own little slice of Los Angeles heaven on the boringly named Bel Air Road. Viz the somewhat too-modest home that the Hitch's occupied for the rest of their natural lives:
But now the story gets interesting. Really! Keep reading. You see, I was actually in the house at 609 St. Cloud quite a few times--and not by pretending to be an interested buyer, as with my visit to Billy Wilder's apartment. For the house was purchased by director Edward Dmytryk ("The Caine Mutiny," "Crossfire" etc.) at some point in the early 1950's and was home to him, his wife Jean and their children well into the 1970's. My parents were close friends with the Dmytryks and I have vague but nonetheless pleasant memories of being at the place and quite liking the smell of the lushly planted garden (strange how smells are so much at the center of childhood memories). I recall Eddie having a separate detached office behind a rather large motorcourt. I also remember Richard Widmark coming to the front door to drop a script off for Eddie and my being relatively frightened, having recently seen him push a wheelchair- bound woman down a flight of stairs in "Kiss Of Death". Watch out!:

I'm not sure when the Dmytryk's moved on from 609 (or why for that matter) but by the late seventies I recall spending time at a ranch-ish property in Malibu Canyon that they then occupied (was there something about the Bel Air house that drove owners into a fit of ranch-envy?) In the last years that I knew Eddie (he died in 1999), they'd moved to a one-story, sixties contemporary in the hills of--guess where--Encino. And it was not the ducks and cows and horses and pigs Encino of the Gable/Lombard years. No, it was the smoggy, dirt-in-your-mouth, glaringly awful ickfest of a suburb that now exists (and for some reason contains some of LA's most expensive properties). Which I suppose makes the moral of the story: "don't sell a really nice house in a very lovely area with a nice historic pedigree if you can manage it...otherwise you'll wind up in Iraq..."(last line courtesy of John Kerry). I'll leave you with a look at the Hitchcock's Santa Cruz vacation home, a quite elaborate estate that now produces a fussy brand of Merlot, a fact which no doubt would have pleased the gourmand/director.

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