How Hollywood Stars Really Lived

General / People / Places / November 12, 2018

Finally, we have a book about Hollywood that’s not celebrity-obsessed.

Instead, “Modern Hollywood” addresses the contemporary houses the stars lived in.

“They’re all modern, but it also shows how wide a range modern architecture is,” says Alan Hess, the architect who co-authored the book with Michael Stern. “There’s everything from organic Frank Lloyd Wright, to very severe Richard Neutra, to warm and welcoming, homey architecture.”

Neither author is star-struck. Instead, they’re intent on showing the human side of architecture – not the theories and abstract aesthetics, but the real people living real lives, raising real families amid the high-pressure business of Hollywood. “It’s about how people lived and how modern architecture was an intimate part of that,” he says.

The pair also wants people to appreciate the architects who did the work. They’re not all starchitects. Some, like the Johnny Carson house by Edward Niles, the Frank Sinatra house by Stewart Williams and the Groucho Marx house by Wallace Neff, are from less-familiar names. “They’re not well-known architects, but they are high-quality designs,” he says.

And rather than show the architect’s work as picture-perfect houses, Hess and Stern deliberately chose to depict the homes as places where people spent their private lives. “People don’t really live like they do in the pages of Architectural Digest,” Stern says. “We tried to get snap-shotty photos of them at home, to contrast them with the illusion of their profession.”

They’ve also included some interesting stories about why they chose their architects. “Josef von Sternberg was known as kind of a dictatorial director – and his house (by Richard Neutra) is severe, with a moat,” Hess says. “Carson’s (also by Niles) is an escape, which is how he actually wanted to live.”

Faye Dunaway, though, teamed up with Charlie Gwathmey to make a statement with her 1969 avant garde New York apartment. “It’s a revival of the International Style of modernism – very Corbusian, in a traditional building,” Stern says. “For a female star to choose that is a combination of celebrity and architecture.”

Not to mention a great sense of style.

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Michael Welton




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