©2012, Mirror Image Presentations
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I met a man named Jerry Schmidt who invited me to his home. I got in my car and followed him west down Sunset Boulevard toward Beverly Hills. At the 8200 block of Roxbury Drive, at what was the Roxbury Lounge, he turned north. I followed him up a winding road, and onto a large overgrown garden property. He parked in front of a large Spanish revival house that smelled of 1922, lit only by the full moon smiling through the clouds. I love architecture, and was immediately captivated by the moment, and the form before me. Jerry walked up to the portico, and inserted the key into the massive wooden door framing the small glass window.
“This house was once Fatty Arbuckle’s home,” he said, as he inserted the key.
I knew Fatty Arbuckle was one of the pioneers of comedy, he had once been the highest paid actor in Hollywood, signing a contract in 1921 with Paramount for an unprecedented one million dollars. In September 1921, Fatty Arbuckle attended a party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. At the party, starlet Virginia Rappe got drunk, and became ill. Four days later, she died. Arbuckle was accused by a (reputable) Madam, of raping the girl, then accidentally killing her.
Arbuckle was forced to endure three widely publicized manslaughter trials. His films were banned, and throughout the world, he was publicly ostracized. After the third trial, he was acquitted, and received a written apology from the jury. However, the trial’s scandal overshadowed his legacy forever, and as one can imagine, he was a ruined man, certainly in no condition to perform comedy. Though the ban on his films was lifted within the year, throughout the remainder of the 1920s, Arbuckle worked only sparingly. In 1933, he died in his sleep of a heart attack, aged 46, in the very house in which I was standing. I have never craved to see a ghost, so I did not ask to see the room in which the great misunderstood, persecuted then knighted comedy legend had died.
Jerry pushed the big, rugged door aside, and we entered a large tiled hexagon shaped foyer. I was standing on a work of art; a tile floor mosaic of cobalt blue tiles leading up the baseboard. A massive brass chandelier inlaid with colored stain glass, weighing what must have been a ton, hung twenty feet over my head. The dark wooden ceiling boards drew inwards, progressively narrower, until they came to a point at the apex of the dome.
Jerry pointed me toward the immense dining room on one end of the foyer then walked me over to the other end, pulled back a maroon velvet drape, and showed me the living room, everything shrouded in drapes and sheets. I stepped down the two marble steps into the large 20 by 30 foot sunken living room. A big fireplace dominated the far wall, a sconce on each side. The wall perpendicular was graced with a row of eight floor to ceiling French doors, all opening onto a large terrace, beyond which loomed a swimming pool.
Jerry opened one of the rusty old doors, and we stepped out onto the terrace, overlooking an overgrown garden and the forty by one hundred foot swimming pool, if it was filled with water is could only have been my imagination. All along the poolside, fairy tale statues guarded the walk down both sides of the pool. Through the overgrown brush, I could hear traffic whizzing by on Sunset, below us. I imagined how peaceful this setting must have been when it was built on this costly piece of real estate that had outlived its purpose. Seventy years had taken its toll. The neglect that followed the ruin of a man showed in the brick and mortar.
I wanted so desperately to move in and save the house, but Jerry had already tried that, and failed. It was only a matter of time before this piece of history would be gone. The best I could do was honor the memory.
Jerry walked across the terrace to a high-powered telescope, and focused on the moon. “Take a look” he said. I had been to observatories, looked through telescopes before, but never had I seen the moon in such detail. It was not just flat, it had life to it, though that life exists only in my mind. After my several, “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” he refocused.
“Take a look at Venus” he said. The planet, which I alone would never have even been able to locate, appeared, twinkling like a diamond suspended in the sky. Never would I forget this moment in Fatty Arbuckle’s overgrown garden, with Jerry.
Jerry escorted me back into the house and showed me the massive kitchen, which had apparently not been used in decades. It was an early 20th century kitchen, complete with ice box, and kitchen sink. Jerry closed the kitchen door. “Let me show you something real neat” he said, leading me back into the foyer, and up a grand circular staircase circling the Spanish style wrought iron chandelier, graced by a magnificently detailed gilded banister.
He walked me down a long hallway overlooking the open foyer below, then stopped at a 10’ round tower, all inlaid in cobalt blue, colored, gilded mosaic. I let go of the banister, entered the tower room, and looked up at the dome at the golden hand-painted constellations, set against a midnight blue sky.
“This is awe-ful” I said. My echo circled the room and returned over and again. “Amazing!” Jerry explained the benefits and uses of the dome, most of which I’ve forgotten, because I was so entranced by the energy and simple elegance of this early 20th century Spanish revival style mansion.
We exited the tower, walked past several dark wooden doors, all closed, inside the walk overlooking the foyer, and Jerry led me back downstairs. I looked upon the chandelier, casting its shadow upon the mosaic floor below. Except for the ceiling to floor red velvet drapes still guarding the living and dining room arches; and the butler’s room, downstairs, the house was empty, as if owners saw no value in the faded antiques.
Jerry led me back to the foyer, and we passed through a service corridor off the kitchen, and we stepped down into a large room at the garden level. Jerry was living in what had been the butler’s quarters, with two chairs and a table, a television set, a bed, and a nightstand. On it sat a lamp with a soft, forty watt bulb that lent a glow to the mystery of the room.
To the side was a full bathroom, with tile work done by imported Italian labor, that in itself was a work of art worthy of a museum. And this was the butler’s quarters.
“The house is in probate” Jerry said, a term I didn’t understand at the time. I did understand he was living there for next to nothing. Years later, after Jerry passed away, I drove by to take a look, but the mansion had been razed, the lot cleared. Several unremarkable homes now stand on the lot to replace what was once a handsome house, full of finely crafted work, all done with pride by imported European craftsmen.
I envision the fun times that may have played out there, before Fatty Arbuckle’s unfortunate demise.
I imagine pieces of the home, banisters, chandeliers, mantles, statues, fixtures and more found good homes before the wrecking ball put an end to the long forgotten dream of singing, dancing youth about the pool. Restoration was not dollar wise, and so down went another piece of history; a monument to an innocent man who was presumed
guilty until proven otherwise.
There is one life. This life is God. Sometimes, we apparently make mistakes in His name, and need to correct them. With each thought, I guide with precision. I chase my thoughts out of the cul-de-sacs of my mind, and send them back onto the Autobahn to speed to fuition. I know these thoughts are the truth. I accept my thoughts are divine creation. I give thanks, and release into the Universe that which will be, perfect, whole and complete.
And so it is.