Visiting Dolores and Bob Hope’s House in Toluca Lake
March 12, 2015 § 2 Comments
The Hopes were extraordinarily long-lived: Bob died in 2003 at 100, and Dolores in 2011 at 102. They commissioned the house and lived there from 1937 until their deaths. Given the number of years they spent there, and the ages at which they died, I assumed the house would be in dire need of renovation, but except from some old carpeting in the hallways, it was remarkably well-maintained, and had been updated at regular intervals. Originally a vaguely Norman, traditional house, it was substantially added to in contemporary style, befitting the Hopes’ interest in modern architecture. (Their renowned Palm Springs house was designed by John Lautner.) The broad covered terrace in back and glass entryway were mid-century additions that radically changed the appearance of the house. The airy downstairs rooms, all made for entertaining on a large scale, were also modernist, with glass walls facing the substantial garden, which included a pool and poolside guest quarters and party room. Dolores Hope, originally a singer, was an accomplished hostess, and the substantial kitchen boasted two pantries big enough to hold china, crystal and silver for hundreds.
The upstairs was as private as the downstairs was public. Most of the people touring the house with me were realtors who regarded the unconventional master suite with disapproval. Instead of a single master bedroom, there were interconnected his-and-hers bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and sitting area. Apparently anything out of the ordinary is considered a hard sell, but I found it refreshing to see a house whose owners aimed to suit themselves, not some theoretical future buyer.
Bob and Dolores led highly independent, very different lives. His involved work–including 50 Christmases spent on the road with the USO–and a not-very-secret extramarital social life that included several long-term affairs. Hers revolved around their four children and her religion. A devout Catholic, Dolores was only minutes away from her parish church, St. Charles Borromeo. (She poured millions into building St. Charles, a Spanish Baroque gem that replaced the original Spanish Mission-style church in 1957.) For all the realtors’ tut-tutting about their separate bedrooms, it’s worth noting that the Hopes were married for 69 years, until Bob Hope’s death, and that they now lie permanently side-by-side.
It was interesting to see Bob Hope’s bathroom, not only because it had a urinal but because it was nicely rebuilt late in his life to be wheelchair accessible. But (aside from the pantries), my favorite feature of the house was the little door leading from Dolores’s bedside to the larger of the children’s rooms, which allowed her to check on her youngsters in the middle of the night without going through the hallway. It showed her practicality and maternal concern, and made me feel almost as if I had met her.
Remembering Albert Maysles
March 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
As news of Albert Maysles’ death circulated yesterday, I remembered not only his and his brother David Maysles’ important body of work (including “Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens” and “Primary”) but two personal stories. The first was my only meeting with him, which took place at the International Documentary Association’s conference in 1998. At the time I was teaching myself to make documentaries by reading books, taking classes and, of course, watching lots and lots of films. The conference was part of my self-devised education, so when I came upon Albert standing with Werner Herzog in the hallway of the MPAA, I introduced myself and told him about my idea for “Jim Thompson, Silk King,” my future first film. As I wrote in 2009:
I asked him what he thought, and he said something like “I think that sounds like a good idea.” (Coincidentally, Werner Herzog was there, too; he merely said, “I haf heard of zis man.”) Delirious from Maysles’s encouragement, I nevertheless remembered to compliment “Grey Gardens.” Beaming, he said in his thick Boston accent, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
As endorsements go, Albert Maysles’ was hardly effusive, but it sufficed. I started preproduction soon afterwards and went to Thailand to film in June of 1999. I returned with enough footage for two films, the second of which was an art and architecture piece called “The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection.” (“Jim Thompson, Silk King” will be re-released shortly with new narration and two new DVD extras; it will be available on my website and on Vimeo. “The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection is available at http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com)
My second Albert Maysles story concerns “Salesman,” his and David’s 1969 film about white, working-class Bible salesmen and the desperate hard-sell tactics they employed on their mostly poor, often black clients. A classic of cinema verite, “Salesman” was filmed in the late 1960s but depicts an earlier era: no one looks or talks that way anymore, and when was the last time you saw anyone selling Bibles door-to-door? The most confounding feature of the documentary was the dialog which, I recall, was subtitled because the salesmen’s Boston accents were so heavy. But even subtitles couldn’t decipher the patois they spoke, which at times seemed a different language. Making things even worse was that I watched “Salesman” with a petulant Spanish guy who evidently thought I, a native speaker of English, would guide him through it. He kept asking, “What does that mean?” Darned if I knew, and I used to live in Boston.
The Maysles brothers called their technique direct cinema because of its naturalism: the camera kept rolling until the subjects forgot it was there, and what interviewing there was sparse and informal. The result was at times profound but not without its problems, chiefly length. “Grey Gardens,” for all its acclaim, has some incredibly tedious stretches–raccoons again?–that illustrate the pitfalls of editing your own work, as the Maysleses did (albeit with others). Still, there’s no doubt that they changed documentary filmmaking forever. Because David died in 1987, Albert got the laurels, but the best Maysles films were the ones they made together.
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