In December 1957, beautiful blonde actress Martha Hyer paid $95,000 for an ultra modern hillside hideaway at 8688 Hollywood Boulevard high above the Sunset Strip. Hyer’s stylish new home proved to be a perfect metaphor for her carefully cultivated on-screen persona – cool, poised, sophisticated and elegant – an image that caused Universal-International to tout her for a time as their answer to Grace Kelly, which, as it turned out, she wasn’t. The problem wasn’t looks or talent, she had both, but for some reason her career never caught fire and even an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for Some Came Running (1958) failed to bring Hyer the type of roles that would elevate her to a new level in motion pictures. As it was though, she had a long if not entirely distinguished career in both television and in films that lasted from 1946 all the way up to her retirement in 1974. Ironically, Hyer is remembered by many today for a famous role she was up for but did not ultimately get – that of the doomed “Marion Crane” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
Hyer’s purchase of her new Hollywood Hills estate coincided with the high watermark of her career in films and it was to remain her showplace residence until shortly before her marriage to producer Hal B. Wallis in 1966. Hidden behind a high privacy wall and accessed down a long winding driveway, the new Hyer home had been designed by the well-known and well regarded Los Angeles architect William Krisel of Palmer, Krisel & Lindsay in 1952 for Los Angeles socialite Gina Janss.
In his design of 8688 Hollywood Boulevard, Krisel made certain to take full advantage of the home’s hillside location with its jetliner views of the whole of the Los Angeles Basin from the Palos Verdes Peninsula all the way to Santa Monica and Catalina Island beyond. To make sure every room had a view, Krisel arranged the home in the form of an “X” including one wing that he cantilevered out from the hillside. The split-level interior was innovatively laid out with an open floor plan, narrow slit windows on the hillside section of the facade and, of course, wide expanses of glass on the city view side. One of the home’s most charming features was its step-down living room that featured a cleverly designed off-center stone fireplace.
Immediately upon taking possession at the end of 1957, Hyer engaged interior designer Anthony Forsythe A.I.D. of the Barker Bros. Studio of Decoration to completely do over the home’s interiors which he did using a variety of muted colors. Forsythe wisely did not want to bring in too vivid of a color scheme as it would compete with not only the breathtaking views out every window, but also Hyer’s rather impressive collection of paintings gracing most every wall of the house. Hyer’s longstanding interest in art had begun in her childhood and blossomed to such a degree that she had for a time considered becoming a painter before finally settling on acting as a profession. As it was, she found a way to marry the two, telling Hedda Hopper “I spend half my salary on paintings.” After more than a decade in pictures, Hyer had managed to amass a startlingly sophisticated collection that included Renoir’s “Head of Gabrielle” and “L’Eglise De La Ferte Milon” by Maurice Utrillo.
Hyer was justifiably proud of her beautiful new home and she opened it up to the press for several extensive layouts including a ten-page spread in Life. Although it was good publicity it may have also attracted an unexpected and unpleasant side effect. At 8:15 PM on the evening of Saturday, November 1, 1959, the elegantly gowned Hyer departed 8688 Hollywood Boulevard to attend a party being thrown by Merle Oberon. No sooner had the red tail lights of her Lincoln Continental disappeared into the night an unseen intruder or intruders forced their way into the home through the kitchen window and went to work. By the time Hyer returned at 3 AM her house had been ransacked of valuables to the tune of more than $79,000. Gone were furs and jewelry, but to Hyer’s true horror so were her most prized paintings, the Renoir and the Utrillo. “The furs and jewelry can be replaced,” a distraught Hyer told the press, “But it would be criminal if anything happens to the paintings. They are masterpieces. It would be a great loss if thieves damage or destroy them.”
The secluded home had been a perfect spot for a well planned robbery and it was clear the thieves took their time. “Whoever did this apparently acted as invited guests,” related Hyer. “It was a slow, meticulous task.” The police launched a manhunt that included alerting authorities in the art world to be on the lookout for the purloined paintings. In September 1960, a suspect was arrested in the case, but it did not result in the return of Hyer’s stolen property. It took two years, but just before Christmas 1961, a man walked into the Hollywood Police Station carrying the two masterpieces under his arm. He was not arrested and his identity was not revealed by the police who stated the man was acting as an “intermediary.” It was later reported that Hyer had paid a $40,000 “ransom” for the safe return of the paintings, a “no questions asked” transaction that involved no arrests. But Hyer appeared not to care, just being so relieved to get her prized paintings back, “There seems to be little that can be done about it,” she said with a shrug.
In the end, it was her burgeoning collection not security concerns that caused Hyer to ultimately leave 8688 Hollywood Boulevard. There was simply no more wall space to be had with Hyer telling the press, “It’s very embarrassing when you are forced to hang an original Renoir in the bathroom.” I know just how she feels. I hate having to do that!