Many years ago, “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson asked legendary star Bette Davis what was the best way for an aspiring starlet to get into Hollywood. Davis quickly replied, “Take Fountain.” It’s safe to presume that Davis “took Fountain” many times as she spent her final years in a fourth-floor apartment at the Colonial House, a seven-story building designed by Leland Bryant.
Built in 1930, the historic building located at 1416 Havenhurst Drive has been home to many Hollywood names from Clark Gable to Jennifer Lopez. In its early days, the Colonial House would have been conveniently close to the area’s party central, The Garden of Allah, and just a few miles from the movie studios in Hollywood. In the late 70s, pal Roddy McDowall introduced Davis to the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath unit where she would live until her death in 1989.
It’s pretty well-known that Davis was a longtime resident of this West Hollywood neighborhood but her archrival and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” co-star Joan Crawford also lived for a period in a nearby unit – on Fountain.
For many years, Crawford lived in a palatial Brentwood mansion, her home when she won her Oscar for “Mildred Pierce” and raised her four children. The actress moved to NYC during her marriage to Pepsi CEO Alfred Steele but returned to Hollywood after his death. In 1960, Crawford rented unit D in an apartment building at 8313 Fountain Ave., between Sweetzer and Flores. At the time, this building was owned by actress Loretta Young and located just behind her own home at 1308 N. Flores Street. After the sale of her Brentwood home, Crawford used this apartment as her base when she was in L.A. for business and continued to reside there until 1972. Discreetly tucked behind high hedges, this cozy unit was the ideal place for a famous actress to live while working in Hollywood.
At this time, in the early sixties, both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had reached the lowest point in their careers but all that would change with their first and only film collaboration, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.” Shot in the summer of 1961, most of the film was shot at low-rent Raleigh Studios at 5300 Melrose with a Hancock Park mansion at 172 South McCadden Place providing the exteriors of the home inhabited by the Hudson sisters.
As we all know, “Baby Jane” was a huge hit, making $3.5M from an investment of $980,000 and re-energizing the careers of its stars and launching a film genre inelegantly called “hagsploitation”, referring to low-budget horror films starring middle-aged leading ladies like Tallulah Bankhead, Shelley Winters and Agnes Morehead.
“Baby Jane” director Robert Aldrich planned another starring vehicle for Davis and Crawford called “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” but Joan later got cold feet about doing another film with her rival and dropped out claiming illness. Aldrich responded by hiring a private detective to stake out Crawford’s Fountain Ave. building to find out her activities when she was allegedly too sick to work. Aldrich ultimately failed to drag Crawford back to his film which went ahead with Olivia de Havilland in the role of Charlotte’s conniving cousin Miriam.
Crawford would later move back to NYC, living in Imperial House at 159 East 69th Street until her death in 1977. Davis’s Colonial House condo went on sale in 2009 for $2.45 million.
At the time they signed to do “Baby Jane” these “over the hill” actresses were in their early 50s, a decade younger than the most recent Oscar winners in the female categories. Maybe if they had been born a few decades later, they wouldn’t have had to spend their last years doing low-budget horror movies.
This was a very fun read!
Charles Pollock, who had a high-end antique store on Melrose Place for decades, lived close by on Orlando. Bette Davis stayed in his guest house for long stretches of time when she wasn’t doing well financially. Oh the stories he would tell….many of them too lewd to post here.
Please note your sources..that is if you’re using Bryan Johnson’s work mention it. Only polite to do so.
Thanks for NOT crediting “The Concluding Chapter of Crawford” website as the (obvious) source for the majority of the data information on the Fountain apartment in this article.
I linked to it in a comment here.
BD died October 6, 1989 (aged 81)
I remember it well. I was walking home on SMB and saw “RIP Bette Davis” on the marquee of Circus of Books.
I love it!
The Mamas and The Papas lived on Flores in WH when they posed for the iconic album cover photo in the the bathtub.
Pictures! Where r the pix? Not the broads, the buildings.
Imperial house is at 150 East 69th Street in NYC, not 159.
Bette Davis was living in Waterbury, CT when she died (though she died at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside Paris) not at the Colonial House in West Hollywood.
No. Davis’ last home was the Havenhurst apt at Colonial House, as stated here – along with her devoted assistant Katherine, who lived with Davis & was with Davis when she died in France.& to whom Davis left her whole estate.
This will require further research on my part. My dear, late friend
and Bette’s agent Robert Lantz, told me that she had moved from the Colonial House a year before she died to Waterbury, CT.
Love the article! I went to a a party years ago at a friend’s house who lived in Bette’s floor. I spent the whole party at the door hoping to see her. No such luck
Linda Cauthen is a WeHo treasure. Her pieces bring joy. Thanks!!!
Thanks! I’ve been hooked on old Hollywood lore since I bought a paperback copy of Hollywood Babylon at Woolworths when I was in high school.
Wow, Madonna and Lady Gaga look so glamorous in that photo!