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From the stunning success of Grease and La Cage aux Folles to the spectacular failure of the Village People’s Can’t Stop the Music, as a producer Carr’s was a rollercoaster of a career punctuated by major hits and phenomenal flops — none more disastrous than the Academy Awards show he produced featuring a tone-deaf Rob Lowe serenading Snow White, a fiasco that made Carr an outcast, and is still widely considered to be the worst Oscars ever.
Tracing Carr’s excess-laden rise and tragic fall — and sparing no one along the way — Party Animals provides a sizzling, candid, behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood’s most infamous period.
ALSO BY ROBERT HOFLER:
The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
Variety’s “The Movie That Changed My Life”
And the Phone Rang
July 5, 1999. The phone call came early that Sunday morning.
“Can you see the house today?” the real estate agent asked. “It’s the Ingrid Bergman house. She used to live there. I think it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for. It goes on the market tomorrow, Monday. But I can show it to you today exclusively.”
Brett Ratner assured his realtor, Kurt Rappaport, that he would be right over. He wrote down the address: 1220 Benedict Canyon Drive. The house was available, suddenly, because someone had died, suddenly. Someone named Allan Carr, said Rappaport.
Ratner wondered: Could it be that Allan Carr? The very same Allan Carr who produced the top-grossing movie musical of all time, Grease, as well as the most absurd movie musical of all time, Can’t Stop the Music starring the Village People in their first and last big-screen appearance? Was this the party-central house that Ratner read about as a kid—this virtual pleasure arcade of 1970s hedonism that rivaled Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion—that is, until 1980s reality hit hard and Allan Carr produced what Hollywood vets were still calling the worst, most embarrassing Oscars telecast ever? Was he about to enter the Beverly Hills home of Allan “you’ll-never-throw-another-party-in-this-town-again” Carr? That Allan Carr?
In addition to its illustrious, and sometimes infamous, film-world pedigree, the house at 1220 Benedict Canyon Drive carried an evocative, cypress-scented name. Hilhaven Lodge rested on the side of a steep hill a mere mile from where Ratner had recently taken up residence, at the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and Crescent. He could walk there in half an hour, but since this was Beverly Hills, the custom dictated that he drive. And besides, he could get there faster if he took his Bentley.
In Billy Wilder’s last film, a 1978 box-office disaster called Fedora, William Holden plays Wilder’s stand-in: an old-time movie producer, who, because he can’t finance his latest opus, is forced to complain, “The kids with beards have taken over! Just give them a hand-held camera with a zoom lens!”
Wilder, of course, was referring to such hirsute, relatively young upstarts at the time as Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and George Lucas, who had revolutionized the entertainment industry. But twenty years later, it was the boyish and brash Brett Ratner who sported the big beard and the even bigger box-office success, Rush Hour, starring Chris Tucker, a stand-up comic with few Hollywood credits, and Jackie Chan, a martial-arts star from Hong Kong with absolutely no Hollywood credits. That cop comedy made back its $33-million budget in its first weekend and went on to gross five times that much. Sometime around that film’s second month of release, when Rush Hour hit the almighty $100-million mark, Ratner moved into the Beverly Hills Hotel and promptly began to think about realizing his dream of living in an old Hollywood house. And not just any old Hollywood house. He didn’t want, for instance, Norma Desmond’s mansion on Sunset Boulevard, to bring this story back to Billy Wilder. That manse, which actually stood across town in Hancock Park before it was unceremoniously plowed under to make way for a much-needed filling station on Wilshire Boulevard, looked too monstrously Gothic by half. Ratner didn’t want Nathaniel West’s idea of Hollywood grandeur gone bad. Ratner wanted a place like Woodland, Bob Evans’s estate, where Greta Garbo once slept and, momentarily, achieved her ultimate dream “to be alone.” The Rush Hour director recently attended a party at the Chinatown producer’s sixteen-room house, and had fallen in love with its understated French Regency style.
With fewer than half as many rooms, Hilhaven Lodge was far less grand than Evans’s Woodland but more storied in movie history, because Ingrid Bergman (and Kim Novak, too) didn’t just sleep there. She owned the joint. Ratner could only hope that Bergman’s extraordinary talent for acting extended to picking houses. As he was soon to learn, Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick bought the Benedict Canyon house for Bergman when he feared that his moody Scandinavian star might return with her husband, Dr. Petter Lindstrom, to Sweden. As his gift of enticement to make Bergman stay put in Hollywood, Hilhaven Lodge made good business sense for Selznick, despite the reported $40,000 price tag. With Ingrid happily living there, he could continue to loan his star to other studio chiefs for four times the amount he was paying her in 1944.
Although the address reads 1220 Benedict Canyon Drive, Hilhaven Lodge anchors itself not on that serpentine road but rather at the top of a cul-de-sac that runs off the east side of the drive and up a narrow evergreen corridor to the house. Racing along Benedict Canyon Drive, Ratner nearly missed the turnoff on the right that leads to this cozy enclave of three addresses, one of which is the Ingrid Bergman house. That’s what Rappaport called it, “the Ingrid Bergman house,” although its present owner was a man named Allan Carr, who, at this point in his life, was as dead as the Swedish movie star had been for the past sixteen years.
It was a legendary house, because legendary things had happened there to legendary people.
Beyond the gate, the driveway makes a steep upgrade to the house on the hill and its adjacent cottage. It was here on the driveway that Ingrid Bergman, in typical Hollywood style that was so atypical for this otherwise introspective Swede, rolled out a thirty-foot red carpet to welcome her future paramour, director Roberto Rossellini, to the West Coast in 1946. She admired his films Open City and Paisan, destined to be classics of Italian neorealism, and when that latter title won the New York Film Critics award for best foreign film, he cabled her in mangled English I JUST ARRIVE FRIENDLY, to which she cabled back WAITING FOR YOU IN THE WILD WEST. They would make five beautiful movies together and nearly as many beautiful babies.
By the time Ratner first saw Hilhaven Lodge, the red carpet had long been rolled up and a yellow Mercedes-Benz now occupied the driveway. It carried a curious designer license plate: CAFTANS. Ratner walked up the flight of flag-stone steps to the front door. Built of chiseled fieldstone and redwood, the house came topped with a wood-shingle roof and looked like a hunting lodge out of Rebecca or some other Daphne du Maurier novel set in Cornwall-on-the-Pacific. To Ratner’s immediate right on the grounds, the rectangular pool came courtesy of Dr. Lindstrom, but the small stone cottage nestled beside it was very much part of the lot’s original 1927 design. If Rossellini had been impressed, or more likely dumbfounded, by the red carpet, it was the cottage by the pool that won his heart: It was here that his affair with Mrs. Lindstrom began shortly after the Italian director’s benefactor, producer Ily Lopert, stopped paying his bills at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Dr. Petter Lindstrom invited Rossellini to live free of charge on the grounds near the big house, which Ingrid affectionately called “the barn.”
Rappaport greeted Ratner at the barn’s front door, and after the potential buyer took one step inside the foyer, he succumbed to a severe case of décor whiplash. The charming hunting-lodge façade gave way immediately to froufrou white lattice, gold mirrors, a grotto-like stone fountain, and an altar of sorts that featured a silver-framed portrait of Ingrid Bergman, circa Notorious. Ratner stepped closer to read the inscription:
I’m glad to see the Swedes are still paying for this house.
Allan Carr and Ingrid Bergman. Never had one Hollywood residence linked two more disparate personalities. How ever had the ebullient Jew from Illinois gotten the cool Swede from Stockholm to inscribe her own photo? Less of a mystery were “the Swedes” who paid for the house. In addition to Bergman, there was Ann-Margret, the erstwhile kitten with a whip whom Allan Carr had groomed from Las Vegas stardom to Oscar-nominated film glory, if, in fact, rolling around in a small mountain of baked beans and screaming “Tommy” was anyone’s idea of glory.
With Rappaport pointing out the architectural details, Ratner’s aesthetic disorientation continued to spin his bearded head around and around. As he would later observe, “The bones of the house were solid, but Allan Carr kept peeking out.”
As in life, and now in death, nobody could miss him.
At Hilhaven, the low-ceilinged foyer leads to an explosion of space in the living room. No wonder Ingrid had nicknamed it “the barn.” A vast beamed and vaulted room, its peak rises to an awesome thirty feet, and straight ahead, the granite fireplace with its old scroll inscription HILHAVEN LODGE could have been lifted from Citizen Kane’s Xanadu. To the right, a sweeping bay window with an equally extensive window seat offers a panoramic view of the pool and cottage. No doubt about it, thought Ratner: This is classic, elegant Hollywood architecture. But what about the chandelier that dripped crystal over a Lucite grand piano, and high above it, as if ready to swing through the oak rafters, a life-size portrait in painted plywood, by Gary Lajeski, of the recently departed master of Hilhaven Lodge—Allan Carr himself!—his avoirdupois badly disguised in a signature caftan as the breeze wafts through shaggy blond-streaked hair, his plump left hand placed in proud ownership over a violet-filled urn? Allan must have posed for the portrait at the pool outside, as if he were the reincarnation of Hadrian on a summer retreat to Capri—or was it Mykonos?—with the guys. In case anyone didn’t know the once proud owner of Hilhaven, there was another Allan Carr portrait, this one in oil on canvas, placed in honor over the bay window. It showed a somewhat younger and slimmer man, this one decked out in white suit and Jew-fro.
The living room contained only a few pieces of nondescript furniture. It was, after all, a party house to be filled with famous people, not intimate conversations, and expensive tchotchkes. But if the now-deceased owner of Hilhaven Lodge had skimped on sofas and chairs, he made up for it with a stunning display of Lalique and Baccarat crystal that sent the room swirling with light that reflected off dozens of photos under silver frames, most of which featured Allan with the stars he’d managed over the years—entertainers like Peter Sellers, Mama Cass Elliot, Rosalind Russell, Sonny Bono, Dyan Cannon, Tony Curtis, Petula Clark, Herb Alpert, Marvin Hamlisch, Joan Rivers, Marlo Thomas, and Melina Mercouri, as well as a wide range of personalities who made sense only as a Dadaist collage: Sophia Loren, Che Guevara, John Travolta, Mae West, Placido Domingo, Jayne Mansfield, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the Village People, and Roy Cohn. “There were more photos of Roy Cohn than you can believe,” Ratner would later note. Or, as Allan Carr himself used to put it, “Walk around the house and you’ll see my life on the shelves.”
If the bones of the living room were solid and untouched, the steps leading up to the bedrooms had run afoul of a 1970s disease known as Mylar strips. At the top of those stairs, one bedroom sported a small bronze placard on the door. It read: THE OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN ROOM, and sure enough, it looked very much like a movie set. In fact, decked out in pink and beige, the room replicated the movie set where its designee, together with Stockard Channing and Didi Conn, dreamed about high school boys in the musical film Grease. Long ago, it had been Bergman daughter Pia Lindstrom’s bedroom. Fifty years later, only one thing spoiled the delicate tableau of lace and chintz. A shiny dialysis machine kept company next to the frilly double bed.
The three upstairs bedrooms were beautifully proportioned and cozy, and once he removed the wall-to-wall carpeting and animal-skin throw rugs, would really be rather lovely, in Ratner’s opinion. They were nice guest rooms, but the prospective owner required something a little more spacious for himself.
Rappaport pointed his client back downstairs to the “master suite.”
The careful architectural play of the grand and the intimate at Hilhaven Lodge impressed Ratner. After the tremendous space—both lateral and horizontal—of the living room, the adjoining dining room and country kitchen, with its copper bar-grill, offered a less imposing, friendlier place in which to relax. Even the familiar, old-world charm of the kitchen, however, surprised with an eccentric touch, in this case, a neon sign that beamed MAKE AND DO, MAKE AND DO. On his way back through the living room, Ratner noticed something he missed on his first pass through: There on the back wall, framed and under glass as though the shroud of Turin, rested a fancifully embroidered white caftan.
Finally, Rappaport welcomed Ratner to the master bedroom. He emphasized the word “master.”
If the Lucite grand piano, the rough-hewn portrait in plywood, the opera chandelier, and the veritable forest of Lalique and Baccarat objets were mere fingerprints of camp humor, the master bedroom fairly suffocated the visitor in an aesthetic that could only be described as disco by way of Louis XIV. Bathed in colors of royal red and papal purple, a heavily fuzzy and mirror-striped Mylar wallpaper literally enveloped the room. Even the floor oozed an intensely layered feel of faux animal skins stacked on top of blue shag carpeting, the color of which crawled up the stone fireplace. The room’s centerpiece, logically, was a bed, but not just any bed. Here was a super-king-size four-poster that belched forth enough matching red and purple velvet pillows to keep all of old Europe’s monarchs in robes for centuries. As Ratner immediately described it, “My God, it’s a gay version of Bob Evans’s house!”
The laughter, however, never left his throat. At the foot of the four-poster waited two red velvet slippers that would never make another early morning call of nature to the bathroom. It wasn’t much of an exaggeration when Ratner remarked, “They’re still warm.”
Amidst the room’s deep, oxygen-deprived plushness, only one element of the décor seemed as jarringly out of place as the dialysis machine in the upstairs bedroom: A modern stainless refrigerator stood like a military guard next to the king’s bed, its chrome handle padlocked shut.
If life isn’t fair, then it’s downright berserk in Hollywood, where a couple of ill-placed fiascos can not only negate one’s successes but define one’s life. It’s what happened to the man who owned Hilhaven Lodge. Brett Ratner, a Miami Beach schoolboy, had yet to crack his first box of Trojans when Allan enjoyed his twin hits, Grease and La Cage aux folles, which seesawed perilously amidst the titanic blunders of Can’t Stop the Music and the 1989 Academy Awards telecast, which featured a tone-deaf Rob Lowe serenading an unknown actress in Snow White drag, among other widely alleged affronts to the film community’s sense of its own dignity and self-importance.
A bookcase next to the four-poster contained the brutal evidence: a loose-leaf of typewritten sheets titled “Production Notes, the 1989 Academy Awards, Producer Allan Carr” and, beside it, photos of Allan posed next to the cowboy, the construction worker, the cop, et al., from Can’t Stop the Music.
But those distant remnants delivered less than half the man. Other photos and memorabilia spoke to his greater legacy: Allan Carr was Hollywood’s premiere party giver during the town’s most indulgent era, and it made no difference that he was often obese and always gay and considered himself very ugly for as long as he could remember. His party invitations shone like gold in the most beauty-obsessed, homophobic city in America. Just as he gave each of his homes a name—Hilhaven in Beverly Hills, Viewhaven in Manhattan, Surfhaven in Hawaii, and Seahaven in Malibu—Allan titled his gala fetes as if each were a full-blown production worthy of an Academy Award: the Rolodex Party, the Rudolf Nureyev Mattress Party, the Truman Capote Jail House Party, the Elton John Horse Party, the Night on the Nile Party, the Cycle Sluts Party, the AC/DC Disco Party, as well as the opening-night party for La Cage aux folles, the most expensive in Broadway history, and the opening-night party for Can’t Stop the Music, which required the north plaza at Lincoln Center to fulfill Allan’s fantasy.
The bedroom’s bookcase also told the story of a man at war with his own body. Like a movie that alternately fast-forwards and flips into reverse, the photographs captured a man who could look boyish well into his middle age and then, only a month or two later, turn grotesquely fat, his flesh obliterating not only his large brown eyes but the features of what was a delicately chiseled face.
Rappaport motioned to Ratner. He wanted to show him something special.
As the realtor explained it, there used to be his and her bathrooms in the Lindstroms’ day, but that was before Allan Carr converted one of those lavatories into a mammoth closet, which (in addition to housing a Barney’s supply of men’s clothes) was the fabled residence of over a hundred designer caftans. They ran the gamut from understated beige linen to Mexicali-mirrored-medallions-with-fringe muumuus to the wedding-white ensembles that Allan, after nine or ten costume changes, often slipped into for a party’s final hour as if to announce, “The bride has arrived so it’s time to say goodnight.”
Rappaport also showed off a bit of modern gadgetry. At the flick of a switch, the two closet doors slammed shut, activating an alarm system that not only signaled the Beverly Hills police but jump-started the closet’s individual ventilation system. With the doors automatically locked, the closet functioned as a vault with its own air supply and no visible phone lines. Allan had hired the very best, Gavin de Becker, who designed the security systems used to screen threats to the senior officials of the CIA, as well as the Supreme Court justices and members of Congress.
As Ratner later described it, “You press the panic button and 911 comes. I’d never seen so many cameras. This man was paranoid.”
Hilhaven Lodge impressed, but it wasn’t until Ratner visited the basement that he experienced architectural love at first sight.
It was a fairly nondescript low-ceilinged basement by Beverly Hills standards: One room contained a high-tech chrome gym, the other a pool table with a cheap imitation Tiffany lamp overhead. But that was before Rappaport turned a switch and a yellow-and-red neon sign lit up to announce his entrance to the ALLAN CARR DISCO. The sign led to a narrow room with an even narrower bar, the requisite glass shelves behind it stocked with liquor bottles, sphinx-embossed drinking glasses, and intriguingly, yet another neon sign, which spelled a bit of exotica in ice blue lights: BELLA DARVI BAR. And beyond that, through yet another doorway to his right, Ratner beheld Studio 54.
Or Studio 54 as imagined by an ancient Egyptian midget. Ratner estimated the room to be not more than eighteen by eighteen feet, and although small, it crammed in a pharaoh’s tomb’s worth of ersatz antiquities that ranged from two life-size gold-dipped Egyptian spear carriers, who guarded the front entrance, to a lapis lazuli table retrieved from some sarcophagus of the deeply drugged imagination. Wall murals reflected the overall pyramid-disco motif in its presentation of veritable armies of chariot riders and bizarrely winged hieroglyphic characters, completely unashamed to put their sizable erections on display. One life-size mummy sported an anachronism: A coal miner’s light beamed from his forehead. As for the dance palace itself, the requisite disco ball dropped amidst golden palms and a sky of tiny blue Christmas tree lights that reflected off the copper-floor earth below. Maybe Allan Carr couldn’t make up his mind what to call his mini-pleasure-dome. After the two neon signs in the antechamber, Ratner spotted yet a third on the room’s back wall, this one in understated white. It read simply CLUB OSCAR. Framing the DJ’s booth, two raised gold leather banquettes floated above the mirror of a copper floor. Even the banquettes sported names—REGINE, MALCOLM FORBES, STEVE RUBELL—names that recalled an era redolent with platform shoes, coke spoons, and popper headaches. Multicolored pillows were strewn about to polish the copper floor, and Ratner almost tripped over them, accidentally brushing his leg against one of the booth’s small black tables, which caused it to spin, spin, spin. This time he did laugh out loud. Here was the perfect temple for snorting a line of coke and, with half a revolution of the table, giving your friends a toot, too. He looked up. Overhead, a black “eye” in the ceiling spied down at each table. These mini-cameras, in turn, fed back to a TV set in the master bedroom. With a flip of the channels, Allan and his inner circle of close friends and one-night boyfriends could watch, from the comfort of his four-poster, Hollywood’s most famous noses stuff themselves with blow. How many infidelities had he witnessed? How many tales of indiscretion had he launched just for the fun of it?
For Ratner, it was as if the $3.6-million asking price were an afterthought.
“I’ll take it!” he said, standing in the middle of Allan Carr’s basement disco. “I’ll buy Hilhaven Lodge.”
Ingrid, Kim, Allan
In late April, Allan sent out invitations for his party on May 26, 1973. This was Beverly Hills, and Allan wanted to make sure that his famous friends—and they included famous people he wanted to make his friends—would have time to adjust their schedules for his fete on Memorial Day weekend.
That spring, the Hollywood community looked upon Allan Carr with bemused curiosity, especially after gossip columnist Rona Barrett revealed that all 200-plus pounds of him had “streaked” through Chasen’s restaurant one night in March. Allan protested Barrett’s report with a nondenial. “It was a private party and I gave them a little bare shoulder with a slip of my mink coat,” he told people.
Allan could have sued the gossip columnist, but her timing was so impeccable that he invited Rona to his party instead. The event melded two momentous occasions: his purchase of Hilhaven Lodge and his thirty-third birthday, which was actually his thirty-sixth. If either milestone left anyone unimpressed, Allan designed an inducement that made Hilhaven Lodge, not its new owner, the ticket. He needed only to showcase its legendary status—first, with his fairy-tale sketch of the house, and second, by borrowing some storybook copy. Allan believed wholeheartedly in first impressions. “If your invitation isn’t fabulous, then your event isn’t going to be fabulous,” he decreed. Printed on an elegant cream-color rag-cloth paper, the party invitation for his housewarming showcased Allan’s newly purchased four-level manse together with a smiley-face sun gleaming in the sky above and an equally smiley-face duck floating in Dr. Lindstrom’s pool below. It took Allan hours to find just the right script, which could best be described as King Arthur font, and even more hours to tweak the prose that would establish him forever in the Hilhaven firmament:
In the fabled hills of Beverly, there was an enchanted castle (see illustration) nestled neatly in a sunlit canyon of the kingdom. And this castle had been built in a bygone age, when there had lived in it a famous and exceptionally photogenic princess. Many years later, a man passed by. He was a man who managed well, and his name was Allan, and he said, “Hoohah, such a castle,” and he moved in. Upon settling in, he proceeded to invite the worthies of the kingdom to aid him in the warming of his house.
The invitation went on to describe the castle as “Hilhaven Lodge” and the “Occupants of the Castle” as “Ingrid Bergman, Richard Quine, Kim Novak, James Caan, Allan Carr.”
The more vital information was relegated to a few words:
And that is how you happened to be invited to Allan Carr’s Birthdayhousewarming open house. Sat., May 26, eight p.m. 1220 Benedict Canyon. Cocktails and buffet RSVP 274 8518.
Allan’s business manager, Daniel Gottlieb, had found the house, and though its $200,000 price tag in 1973 dollars proved daunting, Allan felt he couldn’t afford not to buy it. “Ingrid Bergman lived here!” he exclaimed, as if his owning it sealed his destiny in ways that only money could buy. Allan knew better than anyone: Nothing announces a person’s ascendancy in Hollywood like a historic Hollywood house.
Before he actually owned Hilhaven Lodge, Allan first needed to see Hilhaven Lodge, and for one of his initial tours he enlisted a new friend to accompany him there. Richard Hach was a TV Guide columnist, who, in time, would position himself to even better advantage for Allan’s filmland ascendency when he migrated across town to the Hollywood Reporter. “James Caan was renting the house at the time,” Hach recalls. Caan had just scored his greatest triumph by playing the testosterone-drenched Sonny in The Godfather, but he spent none of his newfound lucre on furniture. “There was a mattress on the floor in the living room, and a basketball hoop nailed to the wall there,” adds Hach.
Allan described the Caan aesthetic with less charity. “It was pig city,” he said. “Caan turned Ingrid Bergman’s house into a Jewish gymnasium.” The basketball hoop was the first thing to go. If Caan didn’t take the mattress with him, Allan kept it to indulge his favorite sport: watching young men wrestle.
Allan also approved the master bedroom’s four-poster bed with overhead mirror, the legacy of Kim Novak’s brief occupancy of Hilhaven in the 1950s. (The actress lived there with her Bell, Book and Candle
- On Sale
- Mar 2, 2010
- Page Count
- 344 pages
- Da Capo Press