A Who-Dunne-It – Can You Solve the Postcard Mystery?

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(Borrowed with reverence from Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey Also.)

It’s never happened before but the ladies of Paradise Leased are stumped! As you may know, these gals pride themselves on knowing EVERYTHING, but here they have hit a brick wall. I haven’t seen them this depressed since Sanjaya was voted off American Idol. This has become a real crisis here and nothing I drink seems to help. Clearly, something needs to be done and I am therefore appealing to our super sleuthing Paradise Leased readers to solve this mystery and get the girls back to work. Here’s the mystery – a set of postcards showing the homes of Wallace Beery in Beverly Hills and Irene Dunne in Holmby Hills. While no one would ever get these two mixed up in a bar their houses seem to be another matter altogether.

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Dunne, Irene 2

So did they simply both live in the same house at one time or another? Swapping mansions was, and remains, a favorite sport of movie stars. A logical explanation but an apparently incorrect one. No record I’ve ever seen has connected them to the same house. And I’ve seen a lot! Well then maybe they used the same architect who was lazy and just changed the dormers? Hey, it’s happened before. Check out these postcards.

Ray, Charles 1

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A perfect copy even down to the drain pipe!

Most people assume quite reasonably that Charles Ray and Betty Compson lived in the same house, but its not true. These are postcards of two entirely separate houses! Charles Ray’s house was located at 901 North Camden Drive in Beverly Hills and Betty’s was all the way over in Hollywood at 7315 Hollywood Boulevard. Now that’s a lazy architect! The house so nice they built it twice. Charles Ray’s home still stands, in altered form, but Betty’s, which was later rented by Sam Goldwyn, has gone the way of the Dodo.

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Another card showing the questionable Dunne house.

But back to the question at hand. It turns out both Wallace Beery and Irene Dunne built houses at exactly the same time. But did they build exactly the same house? In 1935, Beery built a French Colonial mansion at the corner of Alpine Drive and Sunset Boulevards in Beverly Hills and Dunne constructed a French Colonial mansion at the corner of Parkwood and Faring Road in the Holmby Hills. Aha! Well, not quite.  Here’s what they looked like as built.

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Beery’s looks like the card! (LAPL)

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Dunne’s doesn’t. (LAPL)

As you can see, the “Loveable Ole Cuss” Beery’s place perfectly matched his postcard, but Dunne’s…well, no so much. No lazy architect here. In fact very busy ones. The Beery house @ 816 North Alpine Drive was designed by Max C. Drebin, a prolific designer of the period while Dunne’s was designed by the venerable Sumner Spaulding of Webber & Spaulding.

Dunne, Irene 1

Could Irene Dunne have rented Beery’s house then? No! swear the ladies of Paradise Leased (and do they swear). The place was all Wally’s until his death in 1949. Dunne needed not the Beery house. She lived on Faring until her passing in 1990. Plus, if you look carefully at the two cards, they are not quite exact. There are several notable differences including the dormers and the sidewalk, etc.

So what gives? I was fairly ready to chalk this up as a trick/mistake of the post card vendor, but again, problems. The “wrong” Dunne house was printed on cards by both Western Novelty and Tichnor Art. We’re confounded, baffled, befuddled and bewildered. We need the Awful Truth here. What do you think?

Oh, and “Get a life,” has already been suggested. Thank you.

These are the kind of weighty issues that keep us up nights at Paradise Leased.

Beery Dunne

Well, they both wore similar dresses. Is it inconceivable they lived in similar houses? And who wore it better?

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14 Responses to A Who-Dunne-It – Can You Solve the Postcard Mystery?

  1. Steven Price says:

    Little design tid-bit: the Irene Dunne house was later updated by Lloyd Wright who created a curving front door to match its circular Entry Foyer, among other moderne touches. And i fear it’s fallen to “Holmby Hills Hacking Fever” and may be no more — i know it has been or was for sale for a while.

    Now, as to its similar appearance to the Beery, note the mailbox and sidewalk on the WB postcard; these are not found on the bucolic North Faring Road in Holmby Hills but are rather standard features in the flats of Beverly Hills.

    The Charles Ray residence on Camden was remodeled later to look like something in Deauville or Cannes; it’s landmark feature was a large white Rolls Royce perennially parked on the circular drive facing Sunset Boulevard. Such lovely landmarks (or Culture Kitsch, if you disapprove of such displays) are these days few and far between in Beverly Hills…hidden behind gates and hedges and no longer presenting as presents to the street as they once did.

    • Marvin Stone says:

      Hello Steve . . . several months ago after reading your great write-up on the beautiful Bing Crosby estate on South Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills, I wrote that I hoped you one day would be able to give us a similar article on the beautiful estate of Irene Dunne in Holmby Hills (also torn down for the Singleton mansion, like Crosby’s was), but this is not quite what I hoped for. Nevertheless, I appreciate that your piece includes a great photograph of the front exposure of the Dunne/Griffin residence. As to the postcard question (I have the Beery and incorrect Dunne postcards in my collection, as well as the correct Dunne postcard), which doesn’t answer your question. To further deepen the mystery of the mistaken postcard for the Dunne residence, I can pass on a comment from the IreneDunneSite that is attributed to Miss Dunne to the effect that the mixup was the result of a photographer taking his picture at a neighbor’s house . . . but the location of Beery’s home could not be considered a neighboring property to Faring Road. As I said, the mystery deepens. Steve, thanks for your great work on this blog.

      • Steven Price says:

        I’d have to double check but i don’t think the Dunne house fell for the Singleton; i believe they were across the street from each other. Delfern intersects North Faring on the east side (Singleton), while the Dunne residence is/was at 461 and therefore on the west side of the street. Here’s an add’l helpful diagram: http://wikimapia.org/6743961/Irene-Dunne-Residence-former

      • Steve says:

        Thanks SO much Marvin. I’d love to do a detailed piece on the Dunne mansion. Unfortunately I haven’t turned up the kind of photos I found of the McNaghten place. Maybe they are around. I’m so curious as to what’s up with these postcards. Thanks for your kind words and great info. too!

    • Steve says:

      Do you think Claudette Colbert turned Dunne on to Wright?

      And speaking of which, I had the thrill of a lifetime today when I was allowed to go into Wright’s abandoned Oasis Tower out in Palm Springs. It’s been sealed off for decades. AND I got to tour it with Loretta Young’s son. How cool is that? Hope the pictures came out.

  2. Dee says:

    I love a good mystery!

    • Marvin Stone says:

      Steve . . . I stand corrected. The Wallace Neff-designed mansion for the Henry Singletons was built in 1970 according to my information, while Irene Dunne did, indeed, reside in her Faring Road home until her death about 20 years after the construction of the Singleton residence. Sorry for the misinformation, and thanks for the prompt correction.

      • Steven Price says:

        Not at all! I should clarify that I’m not the Steve who is the impresario of Paradise Leased, however — though we are friends in real life and have actually met!

      • Steve says:

        It’s true. I WISH I were the fabulous Steven Price but alas there can be but one!

        This really is a weird little mystery isn’t it? If the postcards were clearly the exact same house I’d just dismiss it as a trick/mistake. After all, I’ve got a PC of the Fitzgerald Mansion on West Adams labeled as the home of Theda Bara. Lazy mistake or intentional, but at least it was a picture of one house. I can’t get over the subtle differences and even at least two angles of the “wrong” Dunne house. Bizarre.

  3. I don’t know if this helps but, based on two articles posted on a very devoted fan’s site, it sure SEEMS like Dunne had TWO houses, one in Bevoir Hills and one in Holmby Hills.

    The first article, titled “Irene Dunne’s ‘Dream Castle’ Crossed Continent Many Times on Paper Before It Was Built” was apparently printed in The Milwaukee Journal on August 9, 1937 (all emphasis mine):

    Last summer when my husband, Dr. Francis Griffin of New York, managed to find time for a few weeks in Hollywood, we began to look for a suitable site. After traversing what seemed like most of southern California, we chose a rolling, wooded two-acre tract in Beverly Hills. It commanded an magnificent expanse of Hollywood and the surrounding area, and had the advantage of being only 15 minutes by auto from my studio . . . ”

    “Once building began the house was rapidly finished, and became a modified English manor … of white brick. ”

    There follows a picture of the house seen in the postcard with the cameo of Dunne — followed by a tantalizing revelation:

    “One feature of the house that gives me no end of delight is a secret stairway. It connects the library downstairs with my bedroom above, and saved countless steps because one can go back and forth without passing through the outer rooms.”

    http://www.irenedunnesite.com/press/1937-irene-dunne-s-dream-castle/

    Movie star mansions are cool … secret passages are waay cool …

    But a movie star mansion with a secret passage ??? Incalculably cool — even though it was most likely used perhaps exclusively by a quiet, reserved, happily-married movie star in order to “sneak” from her bedroom . . . to her library !

    HOWEVER, the plot thickens with THIS article from Vanity Fair, March of 2004:

    “When Irene and her husband, Frank Griffin, who was a dentist, arrived in Hollywood in 1930, they bought a lot in Holmby Hills for $10.000 and built a two-story house on it for $40.000. No swimming pool. No tennis court. That is where they lived until Frank died in 1965, and where Irene continued to live for the rest of her life. ”

    The article also reveals that Dunne was a shrewd businesswoman when it came to real estate — her $200,000 investment in the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1941 ultimately became worth $10 million.

    But even better, the article includes other fascinating trivia including one of Dunne’s favorite dirty jokes, and even an anecdote which, to me anyway, suggests that wherever she is, Ms. Dunne is likely smiling that enigmatic, I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile at our confusion over her real estate:

    “Once, she even took the bus tour of the Hollywood homes, wearing a cotton dress, an old sweater, a mousy hat, and dark glasses, and accompanied by her African-American houseman, Melvyn. Not a soul recognized her, she told me that evening when we were having dinner together. I said, ‘Good God, why would you ever do that?’ She said, ‘I just wanted to hear what they had to say, especially about my house. Wouldn’t you like to do it sometime?’ I said, ‘No, I would not.’ She went right on: ‘We passed Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house, and Eva Gabor’s, and Frances and Edgar Bergen’s – all of them. Only about half of what they said was true. But it was fun!’”

    http://www.irenedunnesite.com/press/vanity-fair-march-2004/

  4. Dammit … hooked again by a Paradise Leased post !

    Here’s a “video tour” of 461 N. Faring as it stands today (and also an excellent example of what NOT to do with $26.5 million) :

    http://www.461northfaringroad.com/

    And HERE’s more to the mystery: a possible third, Mediterranean-style Irene Dunne house ???:

    http://www.irenedunnesite.com/press/architectural-digest-april-1990/

  5. stacy says:

    I also was going to add that tidbit of info that pollytickleparty already shared, about Irene riding through on one of the Hollywood homes tours, only I believe there is an actual article from around the time Irene shared the story of said event, that this one is referencing (unless my mind is filling in blanks here, but….) I seem to recall Miss Dunne commenting that they had pointed out a neighbors house as hers. So there definitely has been some confusion in Hollywood in terms of getting the Dunne/Griffin residence pinpointed!

  6. Todd says:

    I know this is a little late but did some research on Ancestry.com and found the following.
    In the 1930 US Census Wallace Beery lived at 921 N. Roxbury Dr. BH
    In the 1940 US Census WB lived at 816 N. Alpine Dr. He was divorced and living with his daughter Carol Ann age 9 and a foster daughter named Phyllis Riley age 1. The homes value was 40K and he listed that he made 50K plus a year.
    Also it was his residence in 1935.
    The postcard matches exactly with the current google street view..
    According to passenger list for the SS George Washington Sept 1927 Irene and her dentist husband Frances Dennis Griffin lived at 21 E 40th St NYC.
    The 1930 US Census has the Griffins living at 39 E 64th St NYC
    A 1932 Los Angeles City Directory has Irene Dunne listed at 1837 N La Brea.
    I couldn’t find them in the 1940 Census
    but they had moved to 461 N Faring Rd. Westwood by 1955.
    Hope this is useful

    • Steve says:

      Thanks so much Todd for the research! Usually, there’s a logical way around these things, but this one keeps confounding at every turn. Thanks again. We’ll figure it out eventually!

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