I was recently contacted by Teresa Peters who told me that her grandparents, Cletus and Della Peters were the caretakers of that mansion and would I like to see some family photos of their time there. Naturally, I told her that I’d love to see them. I was expecting 3 or 4 shots, but she sent me 25 photos, all of which appear to have been taken when Sunset Boulevard was being filmed, which dates these shots somewhere between April and June 1949. At the time, their son, Bernard – Teresa’s father – would have been 13 years old. What an amazing place to grow up!
It took a lot of people to film those scenes. Here’s the crew on a meal break:
Norma Desmond’s magnificent luxury car in the movie was a 1929 Isotta-Fraschini 8A . You can learn more about it here.
Sunset Blvd didn’t come out until August 1950, fifteen months after these photos were taken. Little did 13-year-old Bernard know what a soon-to-be-iconic car he was sitting in.
Paramount released Streets of Laredo, also starring William Holden in May 1949, so I’m guessing it was one of their big releases when Sunset Blvd was in production. Never one to miss a publicity opportunity, the studio put the poster on one of their crew trucks. I don’t know what’s on the back of the truck – I’m guessing maybe some sort of power generator? – but if anyone reading this can tell us, we’d love to know:`
The story I’d always heard was that when Paramount wanted to use the exterior of the mansion in their movie, the owner at the time was an ex-wife of John Paul Getty, the oil baron. Teresa told me that she’d heard that Getty used the house as a place to store his artwork. The place was so big that both could be true at the same time.
I also heard that Getty’s ex-wife agreed to let Paramount film there, but only if they built her a pool. Presumably the one that Joe Gillis (William Holden) falls into after Norma Desmond loses her marbles. Here is Della taking a relaxing float in one of filmdom’s most famous pools.
Teresa said her grandparents moved out of the mansion when they bought a house in 1954, and assumes they gave up the caretaking job then as well. In 1955, the house was used again for filming, this time for Warner Bros.’ Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. And in 1957 it was demolished.
I’d like to thank Teresa Peters for sharing these precious and rare family photos and letting me post them online for all of us to enjoy.
The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull
Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits
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