For sale: 4 bedrooms, Lombard ghost

July 30, 1993|By Amy Wallace | Amy Wallace,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- It has been 60 years since actress Carole Lombard rented a two-story French Provincial house on Hollywood Boulevard, threw wild parties and fell in love with Clark Gable. It has been 51 years since the vivacious blond comedian -- by that point a resident of suburban Encino -- died in a fiery airplane crash near Las Vegas, Nev.

But when it comes to selling real estate, especially Los Angeles real estate, no span of time is lengthy enough to dissociate a house from a celebrity occupant. That is why real estate broker Cristie St. James is talking about ghosts.

Ms. St. James doesn't believe in ghosts. She wants to make that clear. But there are some people who believe Ms. Lombard's spirit is present in the four-bedroom Hollywood home she rented from 1933 to 1937. And since Ms. St. James is now trying to sell that house, complete with roomfuls of Lombard memorabilia, the ghost seems worth mentioning.

"A couple of psychics have come into the house and, naturally, they felt her presence here," Ms. St. James says with only a touch of sarcasm. "One said, 'I feel her here in the bedroom.' . . . One saw her walking down the staircase in a long, dramatic red gown, going to meet someone with dark hair."

You don't have to be telepathic to feel Lombard looking over your shoulder in this house. In most rooms, framed photos of the "Profane Angel" (as she was known because of her colorful vocabulary) stare down from the walls. Crammed with movie magazines and mementos, the place is something of a shrine.

Sure, she admitted, "Some people come in and say, 'Who died? It looks like a funeral home.' " The velvet-draped windows and the rich jewel-toned carpeting (both chosen to mimic Lombard's original decor) are "very '30s, very Hollywood. Some people are more into it than others."

But whoever buys the house will probably have to be "into" Lombard, at least a little bit. After all, Ms. St. James said, "it still feels like she's really here."

Six years ago, when artist Mike McNeilly bought the Hollywood Boulevard house that Lombard had rented after she divorced William Powell in 1933, he promptly discovered that the actress's far-flung fans knew more about the dwelling than he did.

"I'd bought the house strictly as an investment. [Lombard] was not what motivated me to buy it," Mr. McNeilly says. But with the house came several photographs of Lombard in the house -- reclining in the living room, working in the study. Soon, Mr. McNeilly received more tidbits about the actress in the mail.

"People from across the country would send me things or write, asking about her," he says. Even before the psychics toured the place (they contacted Mr. McNeilly, he says, not the other way around), he found himself wanting to find out more. "I just started to read up on it and all of a sudden I was caught up. . . . This thing with Carole is contagious."

In the basement (which Ms. St. James, Mr. McNeilly's broker, says is perfect for storing wine), Mr. McNeilly found velvet window treatments and amethyst crystal doorknobs. In an old movie magazine, he found an article that detailed how Lombard had decorated the home in six shades of blue. He resolved to restore the place to its former splendor.

Along the way, he heard some great stories. According to legend, Lombard once moved the furniture out of her blue-on-blue living quarters, filled them with hay and farm animals and threw a indoor barnyard party. Screenwriter Bob Riskin ("Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "Lost Horizon") was said to do his most inspired writing on Lombard's back patio. And Gable -- well, rumor has it he frequented the house long before he divorced his second wife. Gable and Lombard married in 1939.

"But I entered it in the same mind . . . and the minute I got in there, I became one of her biggest fans," he says. "I'll put my money on Carole that she'll take over."

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