Friday, January 15, 2016

The Beautiful Jean

Central Park. 5:10 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, January 15, 2016. Cold and grey, with forecasts about a “winter storm” (rain) hanging around little ole New York. We shall see.

The Beautiful Jean. One of the great things about the internet is the information that is out there in terms of other people’s knowledge and experiences. The Diary we wrote on Wednesday which was ostensibly about Jean Howard, and about Gore Vidal evoked some interesting emails.

Regina Drucker, a reader in Southern California, wrote to me about her “Jean Howard” experience, which came after Jean had died in 2000:

“... What a wonderful home (Jean’s house) on Coldwater, still looks the same outside but has certainly changed within. I met Tony (Santoro, Jean’s husband who survived her) back ... after he listed the house for sale. I had purchased and restored Penny Bianchi's home in Pasadena a couple of years before and was looking for another house to restore."
Jean's living room. From Architectural Digest's June 1978 issue.
“Jean’s was still intact, and was the One for Moi! We had a buyer for ours, so excitement filled the air. The house on Coldwater was filled with all the original furnishings by William "Billy" Haines and then some. "Beegle" Duquette, the talented artist wife of Tony, painted the walls of the Powder Room with murals. Denning and Fourcade had touched the dining room.

“Haines created the iconic living room topped off by a most unusual Chinoiserie chandelier with 5 gilt China Men astride gilt dragons — the highlight of the room. Tony Duquette designed those banquette sofas set so low where once upon a time those famous Golden Hollywood legends sat. John Elgin Woolf had worked his architectural magic within as well with the crown moldings and double door entrance. That Coral color so evocative of the period was sublime on lacquered chests."
Entering the living room at 2000 Coldwater. The last decorators who "contributed" were Denning and Fourcade.
“Duquette had created bronze Snail doorstops for the doors to the bedroom wing. The chinoiserie chintz upholstered Haines sofas and Seniah (Haines spelled backwards) chairs were finished off in trapunto detail in the sun room overlooking the patio towards the pool and cabana.

“She still had her original 1930s Magic Chef 6 burner with 2 ovens and a warmer, still in the original kitchen which was divine. This house is the only one I've ever known of that was touched by these other was. They all loved working with her. Tony was divine, so real...over several visits he told me many fabulous stories of Capri and Cafe Society but sadly he was forced to move."
"Tony Duquette designed those baquette sofas set so low where once upon a time those famous Golden Hollywood legends sat."
“In the end, our buyer changed his mind...'the moment passed' he said. I was devastated and surprisingly, Tony, a really sweet soul, called me to ask if I would like to buy some of the furnishings as a memento. He knew I was madly madly over the house - the legend. Of course I bought a bit, an early Aaron Shikler about which Mr. Shikler was so kind to give me the backstory; an 18th century Venetian mirror 7 feet high given as a marriage gift to Jean and Tony by her friend who was an antiquarian whose life was the basis for the movie “In the Garden of Good and Evil.

“I foolishly passed on Le Deux Magots, the Chinese Nodder floor lamps created by Haines against the curtains in the dining room image you posted. Tony (Santoro) was diagnosed with cancer around that time, and so he was moving back to Italy to be near his family. He missed Jean. He called me up and asked me to come over, and as a parting memento, he gave me Jean and Charlie Feldman's little film poster of Marilyn in her famous billowing dress pose of “The Seven Year Itch” Billy Wilder film, a Charlie Feldman Production."
The dining room first designed by Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl. Settings on the round table were bequeathed to Jean by Cole Porter. Later Denning and Fourcade made some alterations.
The table.
“A couple of years later I listed our Pasadena house again, as I had a chance to buy the Pavilion San Rafael, a property but just 3 blocks away where we live now. The old millionaire came back who had been our original buyer (and backed out last minute) when I wanted Coldwater...he was really old, and old money -- used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it. He made a generous offer again, flew his lawyer daughter in from D.C., offered to pay in gold, and I declined by saying “The moment has passed.” His, a lesson learned, he bought the house around the corner for more money. C’est la vie! Loved that Tony!”
The master bedroom designed by Lady Mendl.
DPC: I wrote back to Ms. Drucker:

We’ll never be able to recreate Jean’s charisma and sultry beauty that was UNDERSTATED and yet very obvious. She became very difficult in her later years. After 75 it really began to bother her. She wasn’t so nice to Tony who was the tower of patience, a sweet, gentle man devoted to her. She threatened to divorce him and even went to a lawyer about it. It would mean she’d moved in the world of California community property. Fifty-fifty. Uh-uh; no way. It turned out to be a good thing that she didn’t. He cared for her to her last day. And he was a very gentle, soft spoken man, quietly responsible.
A publicity shot of Jean on the beach at Santa Monica before she signed a movie contract.
She’d told me once that she was never self-conscious of her age and always admitted her real age as she was getting older. Until. Sometime in her 70s she said she wished she’d said nothing before. She laughed in recalling but I think it was frustrating for her. Her long youthfulness had gone and left her without some inner satisfaction.

In a way it was shocking for her. She was frank about it, intelligent in her self-assessments, but lamenting as well. A number of people in the industry, including – most prominently in her mind – Billy Wilder who remained to the end unkind about her leaving (forty years before) Charlie Feldman whom he loved working with. When she came back from her (sort of) exile from New York and Europe after their divorce, and returned to Beverly Hills with a very handsome young guitarist by her side, a certain social set (what was once call the “the A Circuit” in Bev Hills, Bel Air and Malibu) snubbed her.
Now under contract to MGM, a publicity shot of Jean. The young Jean and Charles Feldman.
I met her for the first time at a dinner party at Merle Oberon and Rob Wolders’ at their house on the beach in The Colony. I was well aware of her because her name came up in so many instances in biographies of various individuals that I had read  – including Cole Porter. I was reticent with her but I was quietly thrilled to meet this persona, this “adored” and kind of legendary figure. For me, it was like someone emerging from the pages of a fascinating book.

She had that other-worldly quality that some of the movie stars had still mid-20th century. It was quiet but magnetic and yet almost ordinary. Charisma. She had arrived at the Oberon-Wolders house with Tony in a small, old Volkswagen just as I happened to be pulling up to the hosts’ parking spots. It was noticeable only because cars are very important objects of stature in the community, and this old VW inferred the other side of paradise, or, more succinctly, “I don’t give a damn.”
Jean in Capri with Watson Blair and Tony Santoro.
I later got to know her well and learned that she was “practical” and didn’t give a damn about “stature.” Especially in a town where you’re only as good as your last picture. She was well beyond that.

She was a most amazing woman, and it is no accident that all of those designers -- including notably, Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl -- had a place in her house because Jean had TASTE like nobody’s business. And I think she learned it. Because she was smart and ambitious to learn. That’s why Cole Porter loved her, I’m sure. Or, at least, one of the reasons. “The beautiful Jean” was his inscription on his photo portrait that she kept placed on the baby grand piano on which Judy was singing and soaring (with Richard Burton) that wild night at 2000 Coldwater.

Contact DPC here.