Beverly Hills is not only a smallish affluent city adjacent to the larger Los Angeles in the state of California, it is also 'a state of mind,' an asylum of celebrity, elegance and sophistication. Or at least that is what the city fathers would want you to believe....and surprisingly, I do. I have been living in the city for some 15 years, having moved there from the Wilshire Corridor when rents went wild in my Donald Sterling building. I am ensconced in a nice garden apartment in a building adjacemt to a famous cosmetic surgery center, so all day long I watch private ambulances and limos bring and take privacy-seeking patients who have had a nip-and-tuck on those premises. I am one block from the world-famous Beverly Hills High School, where some of our brightest stars were educated (Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Shaun Cassidy, Carrie Fisher, Richard Dreyfuss, Candy and Tori Spelling, Rob Reiner, Jackie Cooper and...Betty White all went there.) I have never been in the school but I drive by its hidden oil derrick every day. On Sunday evening I went to the shopping hub of the city, Rodeo Drive, where the world's most renowned brands have magnificent shops. (2 Rodeo Drive is something else, a small cobbled street which rivals rue St. Honore in Paris or Bond Street in London.) I watched the seasonal lighting of the holiday scene, with some 150,000 sparkling lights illuminating the spectacular location. In celebration of their 250th anniversary, the world-renowned French luxury lifestyle brand, Baccarat, in partnership with the Geary Beverly Hills store, hung 15 full-size Baccarat chandeliers over the famed street. Yes, you heard me correctly, this posh city hangs crystal chandeliers outside, on the avenue. Additionally, the city has lit a string of birch trees on the mid-merididan running from Wilshire up to Santa Monica Bvd. with 42 irridescent palm treets and hundreds of vibrant red poinsettas. Now, that's what I mean by elegance. The fact that Beverly Hills features one of the most attractive mayors, Lili Bosse, in the nation doesn't hurt either.
All of this is prelude to a new book which its author dropped off at my home last week. A serious fella' named Robbie Anderson has made it his life's work to chronicle the history of Beverly Hills and its environs. Last year was a previous book, the 100th anniversary of the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, which Robbie's ancestors had founded in 1912. I eagerly read that and then gave my copy to Julian Fellows, the creator of Britain's Downton Abbey, urging him to do an American version centered around the hotel. (I have never heard from him). This new book is an enlargement of that tome, this one entitled: BEVERLY HILLS; THE FIRST 100 YEARS. I was amused by his chapter detailing how actors were banned from buying residences in the new community. That is until, as Robbie details: "Douglas Fairbanks was the city's first and most influential celebrity resident. In March 1919, an attorney named Lee Philips rented Fairbanks, who was not yet married to Mary Pickford, his Bnenedict Canyon hunting lodge. Fairbanks moved into the house." Anderson details how many snobbish residents hounded Fairbanks about living there but the star bought the property and - after marrying Mary - they built Pickfair (which I visited many yeares ago; it was rustic magnificence, destroyed by Pia Zadora and husband.) When talk heated up in January 1914 about Beverly Hulls being annexed to the city of Los Angeles, it was the celebrity occupants of the little city who would fight off the interlopers: they were Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, Rudolph Valentino and Wlll Rogers.
Robbie's previous book detailed how his relatives Mary and Stanley Anderson built the grand hotel and ran it for many years. I asked him how long it had taken him to write this fascinating city history, and he admitted that it had been over ten years of collecting material and assembling it it to make it happen. I was much more interested in the latter half of the book, the building up of the city, how its first Mayor was raconteur/cowboy Will Rogers, and things like the story of the horse bridle path and race track where Rodeo Drive now is. He does a detailed chapter on the many movies and television shows which have been focused on the city, from Beverly Hills Cop to the Beverly Hillbillies. Hundreds of them. After the TV show 90210 led the way there are now dozens of reality shows set in Beverly Hills. I shot much of my movie, W.C. Fields & Me (with Rod Steiger and Valerie Perrine) at the Harold Lloyd estate on Benedict Canyon there.
This book is just wonderful, a 100-year compilation of the scoundrels, tycoons and stars who built this internationally-famous city. It is a take on their struggles and triumphs, of not giving up and not giving in. It is like reading an entire book about the city-building movie adventures depicted in Chinaown and There Will Be Blood, only its all real. Anderson has provided a richly-illustrated tapestry of the city's storied past, brilliant present, and stunning future. My Huffington readers know that I have recently written many reviews of the city's newest restaurants, but Anderson has dug deep into the story of the fabled eateries which have graced and in some cases still grace the community, from Romanoff's, Perino's to Chasen's and today's Grill on the Alley, The Palm, and Ocean Prime. He pays tribute to Fred Hayman and his contribution to the Rodeo Drive shopping mecca with Giorgio's. We are inside the heart-and-soul of this fabled community.
Robbie will be doing a wonderful "Tea and Talk" presentation of his book on December 7th from 3-to-5 pm at the beautiful, historic Greystone Mansion, which gets its own chapter in the book. Everyone is invited to attend, and you will be able to purchase books there. They are also available at Geary's Beverly Hills, The Beverly Hills Hotel gift shop, and you can buy it online at www.thebeverlyhillscollection.com.
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