From the Library: 1712 N Crescent Heights
A collection of photos shines a spotlight on a special moment in LA history.
At ten-years-old, I visited my grandmother, Brooke Hayward, in her house in Connecticut. I will always remember when, at the end of my visit, she gave me pouches and pouches and pouches of brooches. Some, she explained to me (in her signature authoritative tone) were the most fabulous pins, gifted to her by cutting-edge brooch designers; Gold panthers, crabs, and horses (oh my!) embellished with pearls, diamonds, and emeralds. Others, she had found at flea markets in Connecticut, a variety of tarnished silver bugs with faux stones. Of course, at ten, I was utterly bewildered. What was I supposed to do with this wildly wacky assortment of pins?!
As I’ve grown up, though, I’ve come to love the perfect Brooke-ness of them, her ability to find and curate a delightful storm of high-and-low, from jewelry to homes, some of which she did in collaboration with my grandfather, Dennis Hopper.
To me, 1712 North Crescent Heights captures exactly their spirits and philosophy towards decorating. Pop art paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and Frank Stella hung next to thrifted barber chairs. Bathrooms were wallpapered in cuttings from Downtown LA billboard factories, which my grandfather frequented because most pop artists moonlighted as billboard painters to supplement their income.
And of course, hanging above it all was a twenty-foot papier-mâché clown, made for the Master Works of Mexican Art show at LACMA (which ran from 1963-64) by Pedro Linares, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s favored master papier-mâché sculptor. As the show came to a close, my grandfather fell for the sculpture and managed to wrangle it from LACMA. Because who doesn’t want a gargantuan clown on the ceiling of their home?
But somehow, it was the perfect addition to the living room.
During that same trip to Connecticut, my grandmother recounted one of her first conversations with my grandfather after a rehearsal for the play “Mandingo,” where they first met. One night, they shared a taxicab going down Park Avenue, in which he proclaimed that they would fall madly in love by the end of the play and that they would be married. In turn, she commanded (I imagined in her same authoritative voice) that the taxi pull over at once and that my grandfather get out for his impudence.
Little did she know that only a few weeks later, he would be proven right. And so the story begins...
In the spring of 1961, Dennis Hopper, Franchot Tone, and I starred on Broadway in a potboiler of a play named “Mandingo”. Though the play quite rightly closed after a week, Dennis and I had fallen madly in love. Shortly thereafter we married, and I uprooted my two small children (Jeffrey and Willie, from my first marriage) and their Scottish nurse, Miss Mac, and we trekked out to Los Angeles. A year later, in the summer of 1962, our daughter Marin was born there.
Although I too was born in Los Angeles (in 1937), and spent the first ten years of my life there, after my return in 1961, I never quite shed the sense of being a transplanted New Yorker. Every morning I suffered a few minutes of what I call “Transcontinental Blues” – not knowing exactly on which coast I belonged. I was totally ambivalent about my life. I missed the seasons, New York City, my apartment overlooking the planetarium, the theater, museums, friends. In particular I missed my father, Leland Hayward, who so disapproved of Dennis and our move to Hollywood that he had more or less written me off.
Shortly after Dennis and I had set up house on Stone Canyon Road, the infamous Bel Air fire burned it down, which left us truly uprooted, so to speak, for several years. I remember calling my father in New York City right after the fire to ask his advice; I could just picture him with his feet up on the desk in his office at 655 Madison Avenue as he shouted into the phone, “Goddammit! Why only Bel Air? Why didn’t the whole goddamn city burn down!”
But there were aspects of Los Angeles that I loved: a certain frontier quality and the sleepy, small-town charm of it, the palm trees, orange blossoms in the spring, the coffee shop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the avocado club sandwich at Schwab’s drug store, the nascient art scene on La Cienega, and most of all, the amazing variety of our friends. Because both my parents had lived there and worked in the movie business during the golden years of the 30’s and 40’s, I inherited a ready-made and ultra-glamorous extended family – their friends from the old days. Then too, because Dennis had worked there for years as an actor, he knew just about everyone in the movie and television business. And, as we started to collect art, in what were to become the glory years of that business, we knew everybody in the art world as well. In fact we were in a unique position to cross every strata of society at that time.
Los Angeles was also a fabulous place in which to buy antiques because nobody there liked the idea of anything old or used – copies of antique furniture and rugs were all the rage, because they were untainted. We bought priceless signed Tiffany lamps and magnificent Art Nouveau pieces for nothing. There was a wonderful shop up on Highland called “Scavenger’s Paradise” where Dennis and I found hundreds of gorgeous stained glass windows, and another, an old fire station called “Firehouse Antiques”, very unfashionable, where we invested in a barber chair and several old street lamps that went into the house that we finally bought at 1712 North Crescent Heights Boulevard in the hills above the Sunset Strip.
Dennis was an inveterate collector of everything; he had then and still has a great eye for the beautiful and unusual. What he didn’t collect, he photographed. For his 25th birthday, while we were still in New York City after the “Mandingo” debacle, I spent my last $351 on a Nikon that was thereafter permanently slung around his neck. He never left the house without it. It turned out that he was as natural a photographer as he was an actor, constantly taking pictures of everything and everyone with whom he came into contact.
Recently, almost 40 years later, Marin uncovered a cache of her father’s proof sheets and negatives from roughly 1962-1968 – the year that Dennis starred in and directed, “Easy Rider”. Apparently even he had not seen them since then.
The splendid 1986 book of his photos, “out of the Sixties”, gives an overall view of what those years were like. But this book is far more personal; it captures our house and life style at 1712 North Crescent Boulevard. Dennis compiled an astonishing visual record of our family and all the other people who passed through our lives – the artists, actors, musicians and friends who created a unique and remarkable scene.
Because of the meaning this book has for Marin, who has carefully nursed it through all the stages of it’s publication, and because it really is, in it’s way, an intimate portrait of her early life, I was delighted when she asked me to introduce it. After all, having written my own memoir “Haywire” in 1977, about my family, I could well appreciate her compulsion to go back to the beginning – to where we started.
Brooke Hayward New York, 2001
“1712 North Crescent Heights” was published by Greybull Press in 2001.