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!
FanTASTic post, Steve! What a fabulous house and what great information. Is the house still there?
Thanks Dee! Yes, it’s still there (at least for today). With L.A. you never know!
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My daughter’s godmother Jeanne Pletnik, lived in Beverly Hills, @ the same apt. bldg., only downstairs, from Martha Hyer, Martha had already moved out, but left behind a doorknocker, with her name engraved on it. I wish I would have removed it for a keepsake, but I didn’t want to steal it. I wonder if it is still there after these 51 years. Could be that the building doesn’t stand today. My sister was born 16 Aug, 1925, just interesting the “path” each of us take in life. She lived in California and was as pretty as a movie star. Now lives in Iowa. Martha is only a few weeks younger that Robert Horton, his B day is 29 July 1924. Martha was a sweet actress, and I hope she is in good health and enjoying her “fall” years.
Correction made on e-mail address. Hope you can correct it . P.S. isn’t it a shame that people can’t learn not to steal, how wrong, especially when one so nice has worked so hard to be able to enjoy something like art work.
The last was another comment. The first was probably eraced, My daughters’ godmother Jeanne Pletnik lived in Berverly Hills in the downstairs apt.,but the same building as Martha Hyer, but Martha has already moved out, On the door was a knocker with Martha’s name on it. I wish I would have removed it and kept it as a keepsake, but I didn’t want to steal it. Wonder if it is still there, or maybe the building is down by now after these 51 years. Martha is only a few weeks younger that Robert Horton, 29 July 1924. Interesting .
i am brazilian and i love martha hyear.. if i born in same time of martha i was marry with her… best regards from brazil martha
Great post Steve. For some more on John Lindsay, see my Krisel and Alexander in Hollywood at: http://socalarchhistory.blogspot.com/2011/01/william-krisel-and-george-alexanders.html.
What a fabulously interesting piece– so perfectly done, thank you!!!
Oh thank you, Sean! I sure appreciate that. I thought it was a fun story.
LOVED THE ARTICLE BUT MOST OF ALL LOVED THE PICS INSIDE ! LOVE IT THANKS! ☺
Thanks Jaime. Yeah, those pictures are great! I wish there were a few more in color. And Ms. Hyer had great taste in art too.
Hi there! I have a painting that Martha Hyer actually painted her self, oil on canvas. A family friend used to work for Martha Hyer and she gave it to her as a gift. I cannot seem to find anything about the painting. It appears to be a WW II shot of some destroyed buildings in the background and a woman in blue selling flowers in the foreground. I would love to learn more about it. Any advice?
Gosh Matt, I have no idea at the moment, but maybe somebody reading this blog will. The last I heard of Ms. Hyer I believe she was living in Texas. It sounds like an interesting piece and hopefully some info on it will turn up.
I always thought she was one of the most gorgeous women of Hollywood. She was born in Fort Worth Texas, anyone have an idea if a true Yellow Rose of Texas moved back to her hometown.
I believe Richard Donner now owns this house.
Ms Hyer started her career in B Westerns and worked a lot until she achieved a nominal stardom in a few important films. I knew her through her husband, Hal Wallis. Before her marriage to him, she was known to date the most prominent men in business. She was with attorney Jake Erlich, who lavished her with her art collection. As an actress, she could never have afforded even a Dali litho. She always was charming, a perfect hostess, and companion to some worldly types.
I think I was in love with Martha Hyer for many years! She is one of my favorites! She was so pretty and sophisticated. Man oh man!
Martha now lives in Santa Fe, NM. She is 88 years old. She lives not far from her ” Some Came Running” co-star, Shirley Maclaine.
Martha Hyer is the most beautiful actress I have ever seen. She has always been and will remain my favorite. I only wish she was still acting but understand why not. I do wish that there were today’s stars like her. She has class, dignity, poise, and is downright beautiful. Thanks to her for sharing her talent and beauty!
I have nothing but wonderful memories of Martha Hyer’s movies when I was a young man in the Fifties. I always thought she was such a beautiful and sophisticated lady.
Yet another example of bad things happening to nice people. I suppose there will always be people who would rather work at being thieves than good citizens.
I always liked Martha. In fact, she is almost as old as my mother, but I never really knew or cared I guess. I just thought that she was sooo attractive.
Good article and I enjoyed the insights into her personal life.
I just finished watching Show down at Abilene with Jock Mahoney and of course our favorite Martha Hyer and Lyle Bettger and a young David Janssen great movie . I had thought she had passed on I’m so glad I was miss informed. Since my injury I’ve been able to watch a lot more of my favorite movies . Oh and by the way no one gig me for spelling or anything else I’m still on pain meds . A Big Aloha to Mis Martha Hyer if she see this !!!!!!!!!!!
I would love to meet the lovely Miss Hyer! I just finished watching “The Sons of Katie Elder” with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Martha! She was so beautiful! I think she was the prettiest of all of my favorites and I could easily have fallen in love with her. She is so fine!
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Fantastic post! Thanks for adding all those great pics too. It’s a shame that in wanting to show off her collection she attracted thieves instead. I heard that Ms. Hyer lives in New Mexico ( or was it Arizona? ) in retirement these days. Most of her expensive “flashy” symbols of wealth, such as her Rolls, have been sold in the mean time. Funny how age changes ones perspective on the valuables of life.
Willing to bet that she is the best looking 89 year old ever.
I would be willing to agree with you. I have been in love with her forever!
A beautiful human being, a person with taste. Remarkable life that continues to bless.
I have met many stars and known a few but, unfortunately, never Ms Hyer. Still watch any of her movies that come on TV. Thank God for her longevity.
My Aunt Marty is doing well in Sante Fe. She loved all the comments.
Thanks for the update, Julie! As you know, she is much loved and never forgotten.
I’m almost 50 and was watching rawhide on ME TV and saw you and said WOW! Who is she and how is she doing? and I’m glad to here your well.
Hi, Ms. Martha Hyer, is also well known here in Austria, i believe she played in the 60s also in a German Production was a suspense Film, what an elegant beautiful women……..all the best from Vienna -Austria
Love to see a current photo of Miss Hyer
Bet she’s the best looking eighty-something woman on earth. But then, maybe our memories are best kept in her glory days.
Just watched an old Alfred Hitchcock Hour on ME TV with Martha and Gig Young. Martha, you were a stunningly, beautiful woman in your heyday! I wish you well in your golden years.
I am sitting here watching “some came running”
on TCM Martha was one of my favorates
Hi, Martha! This is your roommate from Fairfax days, Peggy Green. In clearing out the attic recently, I found the copy of “Finding My Way”, reread it , looked you up, and here I am! It has been so interesting to read about you after all these years and to know that we both have made it to age of nearly ninety! (My birthday was July 14, 1924). I still live in Birmingham, have outlived 2 husbands, have two children and three grandchildren. My life has not been as exciting as yours, but it has been a happy one…..what more could one ask? Would love to hear from you.
Just got done watching First Men In the Moon from 1964..as a young lad had a real crush on her…one beautiful lady.
My Mother-In-Law, Margaret Hall of Ft. Worth Texas used to be one of Ms. Hyer’s teachers. During her lifetime she used to talk about Ms. Hyer often & even kept in touch w/her after she moved to California. She was so proud of her.
I have many of Martha’s films. I was wondering if she was still alive and if so she is doing? So many actors/actresses are gone.
She is alive in Arizona.
I always loved Martha Hyer as an actress and now am thrilled to know she was an avid art lover and collector as well. Growing up with such great actors as she was, always made us ‘feel’ like we were a part of their lives, as well. God bless you Martha.
Greetings: Wonderful, beautiful lady. Fondly remember her perfomances. S. G.
Martha was the perfect cool, blonde beauty. I loved her in Sabrina. She was the best high society girlfriend.
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Dear Martha, I loved you in “Night of the Grizzly” opposite the most handsome actor ever, Clint Walker. How could you not have fallen in love with him? Would have made the perfect real-life couple ! From Serena
You are one of the most beautiful and classy ladies of our time. Todays actresses could take a few lessons
Absolutely wonderful home, and I am really in love with the mid-century decor – just a knock out!
A fascinating article. Congrats! I interviewed Martha and her husband Hal Wallis at their Rancho Mirage estate in 1982. She was very much unrecognized as a gifted actress. Check out her glowing Oscar-nominated performance in Some Came Running.
Wow, what great stuff! Here’s a little more on the lovely Ms. Hyer’s B movie career:
I had done some of the work on the house picture3d above. Miss Hyer was a beautiful and generous young starlet. She gave me a Steinway and numerous articles of furniture. I still have a Japanese print she had given me
Beautiful old hollywood~
Cant buy class nowadays
Reminiscing about the old actresses and actors, and realized that I am getting “down the road” also. Actresses like Martha Hyer,and others that have graced the screens are long gone, and in their place are such low level low class and trashy actresses, and have no where near the grace and poise as Martha and her contemporaries. Those were the best of the best. What we have now have a lot to be desired and do not hold a candle to Martha and friends!