Inferno put stars in real-life drama Blaze threatened rich and famous

November 04, 1993|By Shawn Hubler | Shawn Hubler,Los Angeles Times

MALIBU, Calif. -- It was the sort of disaster in which Zsa Zsa Gabor offered to bed down homeless horses and Anthony Hopkins offered sanctuary to Dick Van Dyke. Trace the flight from destruction, and you might meet Burgess Meredith exiting the gated Malibu Colony, a look of concern furrowing his face.

Like the monstrous brush fires that have become a hallmark of Southern California life, Tuesday's tragedy was quintessential Malibu. The stories of survival and awe, of concern and relief, featured -- like most things in this rustic celebrity enclave -- a sort of who's who of Hollywood.

The flames that swept down consumed, among other things, the $4 million home of Sean Penn. The hacienda, which the actor had shared first with then-wife Madonna and later actress Robin Wright, was destroyed, said Mr. Penn's publicist, Carol Stone.

Also leveled was the house of actress Ali McGraw, who nonetheless issued a statement through her publicist thanking firefighters "for their extraordinary efforts in saving so many peoples' lives."

Ms. McGraw's publicist said the actress was driving home when she was stopped by roadblocks and told she could not go farther. Leaving her car, she walked up the highway to her home to save her pets, only to find that neighbors had already rescued them.

Not far away, the home of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore was virtually unscathed, despite a hot report on the Hollywood rumor mill that "Demi had lost half her house." Neighbors said the two stars -- he of "Die Hard," she of "Ghost" -- evacuated the area Tuesday night with their two children.

Also spared was the home of Mr. Van Dyke, who was evacuated from his vacation house in the exclusive Serra Retreat area, and who "spent the night assuming his house had been destroyed," according to his publicist.

In fact, the publicist, Bob Palmer, managed to network Mr. Van Dyke some overnight accommodations, thanks to a fortuitous phone call. Actor Anthony Hopkins had called from London to find out about the fires, Mr. Palmer said. When he learned that Mr. Van Dyke had been evacuated, he offered to let the colleague use his vacant apartment, where Mr. Van Dyke spent the night with his companion, Michelle Marvin (of Lee Marvin palimony fame.)

But Mr. Van Dyke, the publicist said, paid a price for the relief he felt when he learned his $2 million home was still upright.

When they pulled up to blockades in hopes of getting a glimpse of the property, "someone from 'Inside Edition' spotted them and offered to take them in" if they would consent to an interview, the publicist said.

Actors Charles Bronson and Gary Busey also managed to keep their homes, which earlier had been reported razed by flames. Mr. Bronson, in fact, spent most of yesterday morning driving up and down Malibu Road, thanking firefighters for their valiant defense of his property.

Tuesday night, he said, had been spent shuttling between his ranch house in and a second, beachfront property.

Although Malibu has long been distinguished by its roster of movie star homeowners, most of the houses there are vacation homes. Residents of the fabled Malibu Colony said that only about a quarter of the beachfront estates were occupied when the brush fire hit.

"We're parked right in front of Mel Brooks' house, and that's Bob Newhart's house down there on the other side of that blue car," said firefighter Ray Szymanski, 30. "But neither one is home. We were hoping Mel would come out and entertain us for a while."

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