Beverly Hills (Oct, 1952)
Irving Stone was a prolific and successful novelist who wrote Lust for Life and The Agony and the Ecstasy.
Slim Aarons was known as the “king” of Hollywood photography and described his job as “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” He has nice spread of Marilyn Monroe on pages 8 and 9.
I don’t know much about present day Beverly Hills, but I’m guessing it makes the one described here seem downright quaint and pedestrian. Well, maybe not pedestrian, since no one in town went anywhere on foot even in 1952.
You’ll be fascinated by this full and intimate story of what it’s like to live in the movie stars’ home town
by IRVING STONE
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SLIM AARONS
BEVERLY HILLS is the place where the man with the three-day beard next to you at the delicatessen counter is Robert Taylor; where the rear half of the horse on the stage of the grammar school during a Cub Scout show is Keenan Wynn; where the Cub Scout den meetings have a rule that no food may be served to the boys by butlers; where the daughter of the M-G-M attorney came home from her first day of school crying, “I’m underprivileged: the other kids in my class have four parents and I only have two.” It’s the place where the eight-year-old member of a car pool, missing every Thursday morning for months, finally confessed that she had been seeing the family psychiatrist; where parents of ambitious boys drive them through the streets in the family Cadillac while the youngsters heave newspapers onto the front lawns; where in my block, the 700’s on Maple Drive, there are twenty swimming pools out of twenty-four houses (No, I don’t have one); where at the May Day dances at the Hawthorne Grammar School a billion dollars’ worth of talent sits on folding chairs in the street watching their young hopefuls with glowing pride.
Beverly Hills is a community of thirty thousand people and thirty thousand magnificent trees, one for every man, woman and child in the town and ten for every dog.
It is the town where police cars stop all people walking the streets after ten o’clock at night, and with the utmost courtesy ask if they are residents or just going somewhere. If they can’t properly identify themselves, the strangers are cordially given a lift to the nearest bus. Neckers have a difficult time of it: they have no sooner parked their car in front of the girl’s house than a police car draws alongside. Not a word is said, nor do the officers turn their light on the parked car; they simply sit there in discouraging silence. It was a peaceful community until some few gangsters fell in love with it and moved in; my next-door neighbor, Dr. Mark Rabwin, who saved Tony Carnero’s life after he was shot in Beverly Hills, and who was summoned too late to save Bugsy Siegel, said to me the morning after: “Every doctor should be a specialist in those diseases endemic to his community, so I am going back to Johns Hopkins to take a course in gunshot surgery.”
It is a town of frequent quick-rich and quicker-poor. People get movie contracts for $3000 a week, buy enormous homes, put in a swimming pool, throw a party for a hundred—and six months later are gone, their options dropped, their houses and swimming pools sold for what they will bring.
It is a town of amazing cultural contrasts. In one house you have a newly arrived movie queen who can hardly read the captions under pictures in the newspapers, while immediately next door you will find Eddie Robinson’s great art gallery or Jean Negulesco’s superb collection of contemporary French paintings, Robert Sisk’s library of rare books or Jean Hersholt’s fine first editions and Hans Christian Andersen bibliography. It is a town literally bisected by railroad tracks: houses on the south side, sometimes as well-built as those on the north, selling for only half as much. A friend who was shopping for a house and was puzzled by this phenomenon asked a passing milkman why it was so.
“Well, lady, on this side of the tracks live the peasants, on that other side live the pheasants.”
Physically, Beverly Hills is one of the most beautiful residential garden spots in the world. It is a community separate unto itself, a special, privileged island in the vast and growing sea of Los Angeles, but having nothing whatever to do with the Los Angeles school system, police or fire departments, culture, mores or government. It is one of the richest per-capita communities in the country, families averaging $10,000 per year of fluid spending, most of it earned in the entertainment field and from the attendant professional services such as doctoring, lawyering and agenting. Its high school has a larger campus than many colleges, and just to indicate how them as has gets, Beverly Hills High has a producing oil well on its campus which nets the school $1500 a month.
It is a community in which it is impossible to escape the movie-radio-television influence: George Burns and Gracie Allen live across the street from me, and a dozen big Tanner buses draw up each day, disgorging their passengers to take pictures, while hundreds of private cars prowl slowly up and down the street looking for Gracie’s house. Not once in the seven years that I have lived here has one tourist turned around to gaze idly at my house: it’s not that my feeling’s are hurt (much) but only that I am afraid this may be an authentic sign of the low estate to which American letters has fallen in this age of micro-airwaves.
Beverly Hills is only thirty-eight years old, still in the flush of its youth. The old-timers who planned and laid out the town are today prosperous and unhappy, dreaming nostalgically of the good old days before the advent of Saks Fifth Avenue, W. & J. Sloane, Robinson’s. The man who first established the community refused to sell a lot to a merchant who wanted to build a market, saying, “This is going to be a residential district; when the people want to shop let them go somewhere else.” Today its shopping district, centering on Wilshire Boulevard, is one of the most sophisticated west of Fifth Avenue. A fait accompli, with only a few building lots left in the five-square-mile area, Beverly Hills has turned out to be the most fabulously successful real-estate venture in America.
It’s a Republican town whose only newspaper, the Citizen, owned by Will Rogers, Jr., is Democratic; it went seven-to-two for Herbert Hoover over FDR in ’32 and for Alf Landon in ’36, but today the margin between the parties has narrowed to eight-to-six. It is the only known town west of the Mississippi in which a bank refused to close on FDR’s order in the spring of ’33.
To the early industrialists and the merchant princes such as J. W. Robinson, Edward Doheny, Jr., King Gillette, Beverly Hills was sanctuary, a place remote from the noise and hustle of the workday; to the early movie stars such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Pauline Frederick, Gloria Swanson, Charles Ray, it was glamour, the set for a Rolls-Royce and a swimming pool; to the butcher and baker it was the ground floor and to the real-estate broker it was gold for the taking. To give an idea of how rich the “take” was: purchased originally as a single Spanish ranch in 1906 for $670,000 by the newly formed Rodeo Land and Water Company, it has brought in scores of millions to its original investors. Today Beverly Hills is one of the best-known communities in the world. And one of the loveliest.
Present-day Beverly came into being on January 23,1907, when the former Hammel and Denker Lima-bean ranch was subdivided by the Rodeo Land and Water Company, headed by Burton E. Green and Henry E. Huntington, among others. It was named Beverly Hills, after Mr. Green’s Beverly Farms, in Massachusetts. One of the founders of the city, who had been an oil prospector, said, “I’ve been looking at the rear end of a jackass long enough; I want to look at something pretty, so let’s plant thousands of trees.”
A landscape architect, Wilbur Cook, from New York, laid out the city; he made the streets between Santa Monica Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard curve in graceful arcs, and lined each street with its own special tree: maple, palm, elm, magnolia, acacia, eucalyptus, oak. The first private home was built in November of 1907, along with the four or five company houses with which to impress tourists who saw the big advertisements in the Los Angeles Evening Express. Residential lots in the most exclusive area south of Sunset were priced at $1000, or $800 if one paid cash and improved the lot within six months.
The life of the Beverly Hills pioneer was not quite as luxurious as his present-day descendant. Winter winds coming over the north canyons blew dust and tumbleweed across the expanse of empty lots; along with the noise of the night winds in the canyons was the howling of the coyotes in the hills; as late as 1910 the original settlers were just about ready to give up.
The community was saved by a daring move on the part of its founders: they built a resort hotel, the Beverly Hills, on Sunset Boulevard at the foot of the mountains. The hotel was at once successful, attracting many wealthy eastern tourists who found that they liked the hot, dry climate and began building large homes in the vicinity. But it was not until Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford bought a magnificent knoll on Summit Drive in April of 1919 that the future of Beverly Hills was assured: for Miss Pickford and Mr. Fairbanks were the undisputed leaders of the motion-picture industry. Fairbanks wanted to build a wall around the entire town and make it a kind of Italian hill village, but he was persuaded to content himself with a wall around his own estate. Very quickly others in the motion-picture industry built baronial estates in the neighborhood: Harold Lloyd, Carl Laemmle, owner of Universal Studios, Thomas Ince, Charles Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and the beloved Will Rogers. Quickly following this era of bright stars came other rising actors and actresses and such studio executives as Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer. The rush was on.
Within the past three decades Beverly Hills has increased its population over 4000 per cent, from 674 to 29,032. One reason for this influx is the warm winter sunshine and the Mediterranean-blue skies; another is the beauty of the location, with the level plains extending up into the gently rolling foothills. Adolph Menjou says the early rush of the movie stars to Beverly Hills took place because “it was the thing to do, like building a beach house at Malibu and a desert house in Palm Springs; however, Beverly Hills had a lasting quality which the others did not, and by now it is our beloved home town.”
That lasting quality is due in part to the magnificent quiet, against the beauty of the gardens and trees. By 10:30 at night, or 11:00 at the latest, there is hardly a light to be seen; the actors and actresses have to be out of their homes by six in the morning in order to be made up and on the sound stages at eight, and what was once thought of as a Babylon is now conservative and responsible. Thus you have an almost sylvan retreat in the midst of a noisy and dynamic metropolitan area, enjoying the benefits of smallness with the benefits of bigness—a symphony orchestra, opera, a legitimate theater and a first-rate university, U.C.L.A., all within a few minutes’ drive.
Within its five-mile area Beverly allows no movie studios, radio or television broadcasting stations, no country clubs or golf course or night clubs; but you have only to go a few blocks to be at Ciro’s or Mocambo on the Strip, to play golf at the Los Angeles Country Club or Hillcrest, make yourself a motion picture at Twentieth Century-Fox (which is just across the street), Paramount, RKO, Columbia. The National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting System are ten minutes away.
Part of the attraction to Beverly Hills is its extremely important address. Mention the name in the tiniest hamlet in America or in any town in Europe and people’s faces light up. Beverly Hills represents the country’s movie royalty, glamour and mythology. Many people feel that once they have moved to Beverly, they have arrived. Bel-Air and Brentwood carry equal prestige, perhaps even on a higher level, but Beverly is known to contain both the heart and the power of the movie industry. A successful radio writer put it this way: “I like Beverly Hills because living there gives me a feeling of status; I do not mean the snob appeal for clerks when you give a Beverly Hills address, nor the snob appeal for the plumbers or electricians who tack an additional twenty per cent onto their price. What I like about Beverly is that it is a genteel community but at the same time constantly replenished by colorful people from everywhere. Life is never boring here.”
The town is known as the most dangerous place in America for thieves and perverts. A great asset of Beverly, oddly enough, is its police system. Outsiders say that Beverly is overpoliced because the prowl cars go by every few minutes, but we prefer it that way. In Beverly the police officers are our friends, and in particular are close to the children. If you close your house for a week they will clear papers and packages off your porch, turn on the front light at night, and guard your property. If you are having a big party for your high-school daughter with perhaps fifty to a hundred kids coming in, a police car stands by all evening to make sure no strangers crash the party. Two patrol cars stand guard outside the high school every afternoon at 3:10, and nothing is sold to the youngsters except ice cream; when the Cub Scouts gather in busses to see the Los Angeles Rams football game, police cars keep the traffic away from the school block when the busses take off and return.
If a lady of facile virtue should set up shop in the small bachelor apartment region at the southeast tip of the town, the police know about it within a matter of days simply by watching the number of strange men going into the apartment house. They find out that the lady’s name is, say, Sadie Thompson. Then an officer rings the bell and asks Miss Thompson politely, “Are you Miss Pearl Paramour? We understand that Miss Paramour is seeing too many strange men at night, and we wanted to warn her to move.” By morning Sadie Thompson is gone.
The town is wonderfully peaceful. All solicitors for so-called “good causes” must apply to the police for a license, with 80 per cent being rejected; door-to-door soliciting is controlled. One bookie is picked up every month, but he is generally of the street-corner variety; one gambling house was opened in a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and invitations were sent to Beverly Hills residents who had patronized the gambler in Las Vegas. One of his suckers promptly reported him to the police, exclaiming, “O.K., O.K., so I gamble in Las Vegas; that doesn’t mean that I want the gambling element operating in my home town.”
Unquestionably the greatest lure of Beverly Hills is its public-school system, one of the finest in the United States. El Rodeo, one of the near grammar schools, is built on a seven-acre tract and looks like a college campus; the three others—Hawthorne, Vista and Horace Mann—have modern buildings in the midst of playgrounds.
Each elementary school has a full-time physical-education teacher and a nurse. There is also a full-time teacher who goes into the homes of children who are sick, to keep them up with their work, another who works with problem children, most of whom come from broken homes. There are also courses in family relations.
Beverly Hills High School attracts the best teachers trained in California and literally thousands of applicants from out of state. The campus is as large and beautiful as any of the surrounding colleges of Pomona, Occidental or Redlands. The kids can’t win football games—they’ve been too gently reared to compete with the more rugged characters from the surrounding schools; but they have a swimming pool, lessons in tennis and golf, even a course in automobile driving.
Beverly Hills High has a formal or informal dance every few weeks, with name bands and singers. In order that no girl may be left out, every second dance that is held is a girl-ask-boy, with the girls paying for the tickets. For the first formal of the year my fourteen-year-old daughter went in a beige-pink, strapless bouffant evening gown and an orchid brought by her current admirer. I bought my first orchid when I was thirty, on the day I learned Lust for Life had been accepted, and rushed up to Jean’s house, orchid in hand, to tell her we could be married. But even if I wanted to be stuffy about my daughter it would do little good; most of the freshman class girls wore low-cut gowns and orchids.
There is a big-sister and big-brother system, with seniors taking incoming freshmen out to lunch before school opens, and then guiding them through the first day of classes. But there is a minimum of confusion at Beverly Hills High because each student is assigned to his classes during the summer and his program is mailed to him weeks before school opens. The student finds his proper books in his classroom and homework is assigned the first day. The school has not only gone to every college in the country to find out what they demand from high-school graduates, but actually follows the student through his freshman year of college to learn whether he has been adequately trained in all subjects, shoring up any weaknesses that are discovered. Classes are small; every student has a faculty counselor who watches his grades week by week. The Beverly Hills schools have been criticized for being reactionary, for pounding the three R’s too heavily, for putting too much emphasis on Skills and Drills. But the school principals say: “We are training leaders; all our children will go onto the universities, and the sooner we give them academic discipline, the better off they will be.”
Beverly Hills is divided into four separate and distinct parts. From Sunset Boulevard far up into the hills are the large estates: Pickfair, the enormous Harold Lloyd dacha, and the sprawling twenty- to thirty-room mansions occupied for so many years by the late William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies, by Louis B. Mayer and such prosperous 10-per-centers as Sam Jaffee. In a two-mile quadrangle extending from Whittier on the west to Doheny on the east, and only three long curving blocks wide, from Sunset to Santa Monica, lies the residential heart of the city. The larger houses are Spanish, Mexican, English, Colonial, Hawaiian and Neo-Contractor. In the early days the mansions came out of oil, lumber and steel fortunes, but the two most beautiful and expensive homes of the past year were built by men who own the popcorn concessions in the theater lobbies of America. In this fine residential quadrangle there are no electric poles, no electric wires, no trucks on the streets, and no native Californians. From Santa Monica Boulevard south to Wilshire is the business district, and from Wilshire south to Pico is the South section—the smaller home or bungalow area, with a few blocks of two-story apartment houses.
The palatial area between Santa Monica Boulevard and the Hills (it used to be called movieland’s Gold Coast) contains three disparate groups of Beverly Hills society: the old California families; the movie, radio and television people; and the newly arrived and prosperous businessmen from the East and Midwest. Each group moves inside its own distinct circle; each is shut out from the other two.
The first group represents exclusive Beverly Hills society, cultivated, aristocratic, patron of the arts. Apparently, however, it does not consider the motion picture an art form, for of the thousands of motion-picture people living in Beverly Hills only a handful have been accepted: Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Joe E. Brown, Irene Dunne, George Murphy, Loretta Young, Adolph Menjou. Top society here centers around the Beverly Hills Women’s Club, which has a little over four hundred members, conducts an active book-discussion group and works steadfastly for the Hollywood Children’s Hospital, the Needlework Guild, and the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers. To the best of my knowledge no one connected with the motion pictures is a member of the club.
The movie people would probably be astounded to learn that they are being excluded from exclusive Beverly Hills society, for only a few have tried to enter it. They associate with no one except other movie makers. Instead, they have set up a rigid caste system of their own: top executives, producers, directors, actors and writers, for example, associate with no one beneath them in the motion-picture hierarchy, and certainly with no one earning less than their own $2500 to $15,000 a week.
The third stratum of Beverly Hills society aspires to associate with the other two, but neither will give it a tumble. For the most part it consists of the newly wealthy businessmen who have moved to Beverly Hills to hobnob with the stars and enjoy the exclusive parties. Now it is true they can rub elbows with the stars night and day, for the streets, shops, and restaurants are filled with them. (Only the other day I was shopping for a gift robe for my wife at Saks, and while it was being displayed for me by one of the svelte Saks models, Ava Gardner stood watching my every move, hoping I wouldn’t take the robe, so she could have it. (No, she didn’t get it.) The stars are in the enormous, brilliantly lighted supermarkets every day, pushing their wire baskets, dressed in the simplest clothes, frequently in jeans, and stopping at every different shelf of canned goods to chat with friends.
This much contact with stardom the new Beverly Hills resident will get, but that’s all. He will join the golf clubs and participate in civic functions hoping to meet the movie people, but it will do him no good; the gates are firmly closed. “We joined Hillcrest,” one woman unhappily remarked, “because we knew so many movie stars belonged and we thought we could become friends. Now, after five years, the most I’ve been able to say to any of them is ‘hello.'”
The town is jammed with doctors who practice skillful but expensive medicine. A Beverly Hills medical address has the professional glamour of Park Avenue; there are half a dozen blocks of stunningly designed medical buildings, with only 15 per cent of the practice coming from Beverly itself. When I first moved here seven years ago there were exactly four qualified psychoanalysts; today there are close to one hundred. An absolute stranger, if he be a qualified psychoanalyst, can open an office in Beverly Hills and within thirty days have his appointment book filled solid for six months ahead. Two years ago Beverly Hills women took up the psychoanalysis fad like a new Christian Dior skirt length, and ever since then the psychoanalysis couches have been heavily laden.
While the movie industry contributes most of the patients, you almost never find a studio executive, producer or director needing psychiatry or psychoanalysis. Their power is too great and the opportunities for self-expression too omnipresent. (However, you’ll find plenty of their wives haunting the psychoanalysts’ offices.) But mostly the patients are actors and writers: the writers because they are made to write what other people want, and develop a guilt complex because they can’t bring themselves to quit and create Literature; the actors and actresses because although they are presented to the world as the modern-day royalty, and their faces are known in remote Turkey or China, they realize that they are not only replaceable but almost interchangeable; that the real brains behind them, moving them about like puppets, are the producers, the directors, the cameramen. Perhaps this accounts, too, for some of their socially amoral conduct.
Yes, Beverly Hills is an interesting town, with interesting virtues and vices. In one sense it’s like a Hollywood set: the fronts of the houses are beautiful and well tended, while the rear alleys, still unpaved, are potential breeding spots for disease. Its people are basically democratic, yet there is a strong strain of snobbery which percolates down to the boys who park the cars at the expensive restaurants and shops; they have a special area for Cadillacs, and I could no more persuade them to park my Oldsmobile there than I could Darryl Zanuck to cast me in a romantic role opposite Linda Darnell. On Halloween, kids pour in from all over Los Angeles for their trick or treat; they know that the pickings in Beverly are lush. On Christmas Eve bands of young high-school boys, also from outside the area, ring doorbells and then sing Christmas carols for dollar bills. The biggest meat market, Elgee’s, has its windows set up like Tiffany’s in New York, the best cuts displayed like diamonds, with comparable prices. Recently one of their butchers commented to Groucho Marx, who was buying spareribs: “Your ex-wife was just in here and she bought a big roast beef.”
“Sure,” replied Groucho, “she got all my money.”
In Beverly, a Brooklyn boy by the name of Harry Gerguson could take the name of Prince Mike Romanoff and run a restaurant drenched with coronets. Only in a community largely dominated by artists could Gerguson have earned respect as a Thespian who has created a difficult role, and plays it like a professional actor. Because it is a town of sudden wealth—a writer who has only a hundred dollars in the bank today can sell his new novel for a hundred thousand dollars tomorrow—you will find new white-wall tires among the articles donated to the grammar schools for their annual bazaar auctions.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of Beverly is that not one resident in a hundred is a native Californian. At best they have shallow roots here; their main emotional attachments belong to the East or Midwest or South from which they come. The success of the local Communists in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in Beverly Hills was due to this rootlessness, and to the further harsh truth that many of the incoming families were without an authentic educational or cultural background.
The old-timers don’t care for Beverly any more; they hark back to the good old days when they stood around in front of Gunther’s Drugstore or went on excursions to Catalina and Del Monte, when Mrs. Marco Hellman, wife of the banker, kept two cows on her estate, while Lucien Hubbard, one of the first motion-picture writers to live in Beverly, saddled his horse in the stable at the rear of his home on Hillcrest, rode across the hills to Universal Studios for his day’s work, and then rode the horse home again at dinnertime. All are gone—the cows, the horses, the chickens and ducks, even the bridle path on which the movie stars rode for so many years on Sunset Boulevard.
But many of the older stars still live in Beverly Hills. Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd are millionaires with vast real estate and business holdings. Corinne Griffith bought property south of Wilshire when it was an open and apparently worthless field, and now has four matching buildings at what is called Corinne Griffith Corners at South Beverly Drive, the newest and smartest part of town. It is a strange feeling to stroll down Canon or Rodeo and see someone you are sure was a good friend many years ago, and then suddenly realize that it is Herbert Rawlinson or Norma Talmadge, Francis X. Bushman or Theda Bara. The actresses were smarter than the actors; they invested their money more wisely; and in many instances they married extremely well.
Entertaining in the days when Mary Pickford or Mrs. Basil Rathbone were Beverly Hills hostesses was a matter of white tie and tails; today the black tie suffices and even the mundane dinner jacket is slowly disappearing. Dinners for sixty and garden parties for two hundred, under specially constructed tents, with orchestras playing, were common before World War II; today a dinner party of ten is considered the proper size.
When I returned home to California in 1936, Mrs. Stone was able to feed our guests well for a dollar a head. Today the same dinner party costs ten dollars a head, and so the big casseroles have come out of storage and a good many of the hostesses have gone back into the kitchen. With the movies having suffered a five-year slump, resulting in a quarter to a third of Beverly Hills being unemployed, and with the continued rise in income taxes, the servant who was considered standard equipment for every house in Beverly is vanishing from the domestic scene. It has become easy and accurate for a housewife to say, “We just can’t find the right help”; but it is more difficult for the women in the Beverly Hills caste system to explain away last year’s suit, hairdo or automobile.
In the early years, too, big parties were delightful because of the impromptu entertainment: Rubenstein playing I’m Just Wild About Harry, the only American jazz he knew; the town’s comedians, George Burns, Jack Benny, Georgie Jessel, Ben Blue, falling into comedy routines that left you weak with laughter; the rising musical stars singing their hearts out before a guest list which included half of the important producers and directors in town. Today this is almost entirely gone; troubled conversation about Korea, Iran, the Security Council and the Bomb has replaced laughter and music. The spirit of gaiety has given way to an over-all anxiety, not only about the continuation of the motion picture industry (will it be put out of business by TV or will it absorb TV?) but about the continuation of our human and physical world.
A startling aspect of Beverly Hills life is the rapidity with which houses change hands; several on our block have had five owners within five years. To confuse things more, no one who buys a house is content to leave it alone or merely do a paint job; every new owner rips down walls, adds rooms, tears out arches, kitchens and baths. The Beverly Hills building contractors now ask permission to put the new walls on ball bearings and zippers, since they know that they will be moving them again in six months to a year. However, this constant change of ownership has had one salutary effect: Most of the old Spanish houses have been converted to Neutra-Frankl-Davidson-modern.
The town still carries the resort atmosphere the Beverly Hills Hotel created back in 1912. The immaculate cleanliness of Beverly, the newness of practically all its buildings, its unified, low-slung architectural scheme, make it more like a resort than a home community. The town is filled with gorgeous girls who come from all over the world to crash the motion-picture studios; few of them do, for any length of time, but a surprising number find wealthy husbands, and they can be seen driving the streets of Beverly in their open, light-blue convertibles, dressed in slacks and gay colored blouses, matching ribbons in their hair. How rich the pickings can be for these girls is seen in the fact that Beverly, really a hamlet in terms of population, has twenty-four stock brokerage houses, one for roughly every thousand men, women and children.
Beverly Hills seems to be the answer for a number of its inhabitants who want to live in a small community where they can be identified with the P.T.A., the Cub Scouts, the League of Women Voters, the Delphians, school bazaars and carnivals, and yet be able to shop in a business district three or four blocks away which has the elegance of Paris’ Rue Faubourg St. Honore. None of the adjoining luxury communities has this companionship, comradery or local self-government. In Beverly Hills a woman can enjoy a social life in its most bouffant aspect while being a good mother, a good housekeeper and a good wife.
It is a community dominated by the automobile. Absolutely no one walks in Beverly Hills; I have spent hours in the early afternoons and evenings walking the residential streets without seeing a soul. Sometimes I feel that I am threading my way through Oliver Goldsmith’s deserted village, for Beverly’s residents get into their cars in their rear garages and disembark later in the day in the same privacy. The only time I see my neighbors immediately across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Franklin, is late at night when I take my wirehair for a walk and find them in their pajamas and dressing robes, walking their French poodle.
Unlike a resort town, there aren’t many restaurants in Beverly Hills proper: Romanoff’s if you want to be seen and spend a fortune, Mama Weiss’s for cheese blintzes, the Tropics for Cantonese food, Peppino’s for veal scaloppine, and Armstrong & Schroder, the Copper Room, the Gourmet for honest middle-class eating. La Cienega Boulevard, which is Southern California’s restaurant row and the boundary of Beverly, has Lowry’s Prime Rib, Sarnez, Richlor’s. The best restaurants in the neighborhood are Dave Chasen’s, immediately across from Beverly at Doheny Drive, and Scandia, on the Strip, which has the most delicious Danish food this side of Europe. The Beverly Hills Hotel, after a moribund period during the war, now attracts all the society gatherings, and the high school and college functions as well.
Today Beverly Hills has a truly international aspect, with residents from every country in the world enriching its culture. It is more like Carmel than any other town in California, with a great deal of going and coming, to London, Paris, Rome, Berlin. In some aspects Beverly Hills is more of a suburb of New York than of Los Angeles; the air editions of the New York Times and Herald-Tribune are delivered to many homes by special truck at noon of the day of issue, and it takes me less time to get Double-day, my New York publishers, on the telephone than it does to reach my mother-in-law around the corner.
Despite the fact that the town is so young, and without deep-rooted tradition, it has a broad cultural base. The chamber of commerce underwrites the symphony seasons, the Forum at the high school attracts everyone from Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to the Sitwells. There is a first-rate public library, used by many of the writers of the community and by a public well trained in the search for material. The town supports three bookstores, Martindale’s, Marian Hunter and the Beverly Hills, and a charming rare-book shop, Hunley’s; but by way of contrast, two art galleries recently failed, the public Museum of Modern Art, and the Associated American Artists. Apparently Beverly Hills wants to see its exhibitions in New York and buy its oils in Paris.
There is little land still available, but the city is still growing at a fabulous rate. Where there were vacant lots on Rodeo a year ago there now stand such elegant shops as Don Loper and Dunhill; on what was an obscure triangle on the outskirts, used as a tree nursery, there is today the beautiful new J. W. Robinson’s Beverly department store, and a site for the new Beverly-Hilton Hotel.
Beverly Hills is probably permanent now, with a substantial part of its population outside the entertainment industry. True, it will always be a little temperamental and dominated byoption stomach
; friends who threw their arms around you when they last saw you in the street will walk by the next time with eyes averted because they are not at the moment working on a picture; but you get used to this kind of aberration, and excuse it on the grounds of the unholy highness of the stakes, not only in money but in excitement and glamour.
There has to be something wrong with every town; merely having un-paved back alleys isn’t enough. Beverly Hills’ burden is that it has to hold tranquilly on its trim bosom artists whose excesses and foibles make profitable scare headlines for the rest of the world. We are hurt when good neighbors whom we love get their lives in a mess, and we grieve for them. But when you are surrounded on all sides by world-famous people, you are bound to get rather too much publicity—and some of it is going to be bad.
By the same token, you are also bound to live an exciting life. Over and above its beauty, its climate, its enclosed patios where the families live around their pools, barbecues, tennis and badminton courts, this is Beverly Hills’ greatest asset: it is always intensely and colorfully alive.