One of the great pleasures of collecting old books is finding interesting things in them that were left behind by their former owners. Like old houses, old books often retain pieces of those who once owned and loved them and these pieces, be they drawings, notes, pictures, dried flowers, or what have you, just make the books all the more interesting and gives you a tangible link to the past. Picking up a dusty old book and finding a gift inscription from 1857 on the inside suddenly turns that book into a time machine. You can picture the person going to a bookseller and picking that book out for their friend three years before the start of the Civil War. Buchanan was president! Holding it in their hands. Smiling. Thinking of the person it was meant for and how they knew they’d enjoy it. Going back out into the dusty street and getting into a carriage with it, or mounting a horse, or bringing it home on foot. And then the excitement of giving the gift. Was it Christmas? A birthday? Something for a sweetheart? A child? You picture the book being read by firelight or by an oil lamp or candle. And what of the journey? A book published in New York and purchased in Los Angeles had to get here somehow. There wasn’t even a railroad back then. In a wooden box bouncing in the back of a Conestoga wagon on an emigrant train across the plains? By sailing ship around the Horn? Carried in a satchel? And what journey did it take from there to somehow, 150 years or so later, wind up on my bookshelf. And where will it go next? The mind reels. You can keep your Kindles, thank you! I’ll stick with my little time machines even if they keep me in a perpetual state of financial chaos.
One of my favorite finds in old books are the great book-plates people used to put in them to mark their libraries. Today, it seems like the practice of using book-plates is a lost art. I rarely, if ever, see anyone doing it these days. It’s a shame because book-plates could be and often were real works of art. Recently, my friend Jim Lewis was kind enough to send along some of the wonderful book-plates he has found in books that once belonged to famous Hollywoodians and I thought you might like to see them. I added a few of my own and, as this site is principally about Hollywood houses, I tied these plates to their homes when I could. You can picture these books sitting on the shelves of these great houses or their famous owners sitting in an overstuffed chair perusing their pages. And where will these books go next on their journey? To your house maybe?
CECIL B. DE MILLE
Cecil Blount De Mille, the most successful filmmaker of all time, lived for most of his life, from 1916-1959, in a grand mansion in Hollywood’s exclusive Laughlin Park district at 2000 De Mille Drive. The mansion was the very first home constructed in the district during its subdivision into private homes. It had been designed in 1914 for Los Angeles businessman Charles F. Perry by architect B. Cooper Corbett. Not well-remembered today, Corbett was actually a pretty successful designer of mansions from the West Adams District to Pasadena and even San Francisco. DeMille had an enormous and exceptional library that included many rare books on history, costumes and architecture that he used in the preparation of his many super spectacles. In 1924, noted French artist Paul Iribe designed a book-plate that was as bold and dramatic as De Mille himself with a phoenix (symbolizing knowledge) rising out of the flames of ignorance.
EARLE C. ANTHONY
For his book-plate, Los Angeles business icon Earle C. Anthony chose a stunning pueblo scene, an interesting choice considering how he was otherwise always on the forefront of modern technology. The man who introduced neon lights to L.A. and founded radio station KFI with a five-watt transmitter on his kitchen table, Anthony was definitely a man of the future. But it is with the automobile that Anthony left the most indelible impression on L.A. Way back in 1897, when he was still in his teens, Anthony converted a buckboard into L.A.’s first “electric car.” Calling his wonder creation “Anthony’s Special Runabout,” the self-taught mechanic startled passersby with his half-horsepower machine that was able to do a thrilling 6 miles an hour, which is about as fast as today’s drivers make on the 405. Anthony also has the distinction of being involved in L.A.’s first car accident, when his Runabout ran about into a pothole on Beaudry Hill. Anthony parlayed his love of these infernal machines into an automotive empire that included a chain of Packard dealerships, gas stations and even a bus line.
Anthony was also a patron of great architecture, hiring both Greene & Greene and Bernard Maybeck to design homes and car dealerships for him. The estate Maybeck designed for him at 3431 Waverly Drive was one of the greatest homes ever built in Los Angeles.
Although not exactly a household name today, Monte Blue was, back in the 1920’s, a major figure in motion pictures. “Dependable Monte,” as he was nicknamed, was a reliable leading man capable of turning in a solid, if not spectacular, performance in whatever role he was given, easily moving from period pieces to drawing-room romances to the back of a horse in a shoot ’em up western. Literally working his way up in pictures from the ground up (He was a day laborer on the Griffith lot before being “discovered” by the great director) Blue rose from extra to star and during his peak years he appeared opposite such Hollywood legends as the Gish Sisters, Mae Murray, Gloria Swanson and Clara Bow. In later years, he uncomplainingly worked his way back up from bit parts to character performer and remained a familiar face to both moviegoers and television viewers all the way up until the 1960’s.
Monte Blue was an avid reader and had well stocked libraries in his various homes. He may have selected this particular book-plate in memory of his early days as a circus clown. This home pictured above was where he was living in his heyday of the mid-1920’s, a charming but relatively modest English brick house in Beverly Hills. Although I have researched a number of Monte’s homes, I’m embarrassed to say, I have yet to find this one, which is/was most likely, somewhere in the “Flats” of Beverly Hills.
An Oscar win may have eluded him (although he was given plenty of honorary ones), but Bob Hope bagged well neigh every other award ever given in his unprecedented career in show business. He remains, in fact, literally the most honored entertainer of all time, with some 1,500 credited awards, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, including 58 honorary degrees, a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by the Queen, the Order of St. Sylvester by the Pope and the Medal of Freedom by the President. He has had three theaters, a ship, an airplane, an airport, a hotel and a golf tournament named after him, was put on a U.S. postage stamp, and was given the singular honor of being the first and only civilian declared by Congress to be an “honorary veteran” for his untiring efforts on behalf of American service personnel from World War II to the first Gulf War. For most of the 20th Century, Hope was one the best known and best-loved figures in the business, a potent force in motion pictures, radio and later, television. He sang Oscar-winning songs, danced, did a stint as a professional boxer, wrote best-selling books, hosted or co-hosted the Oscars 18 times, and became one of the world’s most famous (if not best scoring) golfers. He was part owner of a baseball team and a bottling plant, owned huge chunks of the San Fernando Valley, and played court jester to 11 U.S. presidents from F.D.R. to Bill Clinton.
How Hope managed to find any time to read is unknown and he may have chosen this book-plate as an irony or as a wistful reminder of the all-too-few nights he and Dolores may have been able to spend in such quiet pursuits. Hope had built his handsome English-styled home at 10346 Moorpark Street in 1939 and it remained the main Hope base until his death at 100 in 2003. The whitewashed brick home was designed by well-known Los Angeles architect Robert Finkelhor and sited on a multi-acre plot overlooking eponymous Toluca Lake. It remains today one of the areas best known landmarks.
ROD LA ROCQUE
The name sounds today almost a parody of the overheated classic silent screen “Latin Lover,” but unlike fellow silent screen star Ricardo Cortez who in real life was the decidedly unromantically sounding Jake Krantz, Rod La Rocque was, in fact, really named Rod La Rocque. Tall (6’3″), dark and handsome, La Rocque was a popular figure on the silver sheet in the 1920’s, having been brought to the forefront of the screen by Cecil B. De Mille, who gave him major roles in some of his biggest productions, not the least of which being the original The Ten Commandments (1923). If Rod La Rocque is remembered at all today, it may be more for his off-screen romance and marriage to beauteous Hungarian silent screen star Vilma Banky. Their 1927 marriage was one of the most important and star-studded nuptials of the period, an event that took on more of the look of a movie premiere than a wedding thanks to the intervention of Samuel Goldwyn who “produced” the wedding to aid in the publicity for Banky, who was one of his biggest contract stars at the time. In spite of the overdone Tinseltown ceremony, the love affair between La Rocque and Banky was real and they remained together long after their names became trivia questions, ending only with La Rocque’s death in 1967.
During the height of their silent screen fame, the pair lived in a big handsome colonial home right in the center of Hollywood at 7056 Lanewood Avenue, a home, which, like so many other beautiful old Hollywood houses, has since vanished into memory.
EDWARD EVERETT HORTON
One of the “greats,” of classic character performers, Edward Everett Horton brightened more than 120 movies with his presence between 1922 and his death at 84 in 1970 with some of his best being Top Hat (1935), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), among many, many others. He also did a tremendous amount of theater, radio and television work during his long and rewarding career with his very distinctive voice instantly recognizable to any fans of Fractured Fairy Tales from Rocky & Bullwinkle of the 1960’s.
In 1926, the Brooklyn-born Horton went country, buying six acres out in the then rural San Fernando Valley at Encino where he began constructing a charming home he bestowed with the humorous name of “Belleigh Acres.” Horton’s estate at 5521 Amestoy Avenue was one of Encino’s best known landmarks for decades with many famous visitors paying a call. For a time, F. Scott Fitzgerald even lived in the guest house. Belleigh Acres was ultimately a victim of progress in the form of the Ventura Freeway. As a consolation, the City of Los Angeles renamed a small section of Amestoy near the site of the Horton Estate “Edward Everett Horton Lane.”