Not without reason is the centre of the US film industry known as Tinseltown. For, while it may have a shiny and rather crackly kind of glamour, no-one would ever suggest that it represents the last word in chic decoration. Beverly Hills has become known the world over as the place where an aesthetic mutant has been sired from nouveau-riche excess and attention-seeking garishness; in its heyday, adobe haciendas, Neoclassical manors, Swiss chalets and even more incongruous pastiches sprouted, side by side, in the newly irrigated desert. These absurd juxtapositions seem somehow appropriate in a city where actors and scenery from sword-and-sandal epics, film noirs and Busby Berkeley musicals would commingle on the same backlot.

The photographs in this book all date from Hollywood’s golden age, when big-name stars and big-cheese directors were unafraid to make brash statements of wealth. (Ah, how times have changed: it was recently reported that one of today’s leading celebrity couples had filled their multi-million-pound home with flatpack bargains from MFI and Argos.) The word – or euphemism – that could best describe the interiors collected here is “theatrical”: from the panelled baronial hall at Harold Lloyd’s home, Greenacres, to George Cukor’s Rococo-esque drawing room, they imitate other times and places in the same broad-brush manner as the sets where the occupants earned their riches. This being Hollywood, of course, historical accuracy is never achieved, and rarely even attempted. Thus we see that the cue rack in Henry Fonda’s billiard room was used to store halberds and pikestaffs, and that Gypsy Rose Lee had a Pompeiian loo that would turn any Classicist a matching shade of pea-green.

In some photos, the owners are only a ghostly presence – in the case of silent-western star William S. Hart, his cowboy boots, hat and gun rest quietly in front of a bed with a “WSH” sampler cushion on it, yet the actor himself only appears in a painting on the wall – but many of them are right there, beaming and all too willing to invite us in. There are, for example, no fewer than four Natalie Wood portraits, and a rather terrifying spread of Charlton Heston relaxing in his steam room. As for Tony Curtis, who sits with a cigar in a zebra-skin armchair and a brown Mao suit, the effect is not so much “Welcome to my lovely home” as “I’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond”.

Kirk Douglas, too, seems to aspire to world domination – a gigantic sliding map covers one wall of his secret base (or “living room”), while stuffed fish and antelope heads look on. It is as if a star is never off-duty, living in a house that resembles a film set; in most cases, it is the mansion from Sunset Boulevard done up like the calculatedly vulgar apartment from Pillow Talk.

First published in World of Interiors issue 263. Reproduced with permission.

Hollywood Life: The Glamorous Homes of Vintage Hollywood

by Eliot Elisofon  (Greybull Press)

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it