Tag Archives: beverly hills

Greed, Graft & Greystone

Have you ever wanted to go inside one of the Vegas casino-sized mansions that are sprinkled around Beverly Hills?

There is one mansion that us commoners can explore called Greystone which the city of Beverly Hills has maintained as a park for the past 40 years. The massive 55,000 square foot behemoth sits on sixteen acres of prime real estate north of Sunset Boulevard.

While the mansion is often used as a setting for films, photo shoots, videos, and television shows, it could star in its own Hollywood blockbuster, based on the dark history of scandal, suicide, and murder which took place within its walls.

Greystone was originally the home of Ned Doheny, the only son of the massively wealthy L.A. oilman Edward L. Doheny. If you want to imagine the character of the senior Mr. Doheny, think of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There Will Be Blood, which was loosely based on him (the bowling alley scene at the film’s conclusion was actually shot at Greystone).

Doheny got rich by drilling wells in what is now downtown Los Angeles. He also had huge leases in Mexico that were protected by his own personal army of 6000 men. Between the years of 1910 – 1925 he earned an average of $10 million per year and used three-million of those dollars to build Greystone, which he gave to his son Ned as a wedding present in September, 1928.

In the 1920s, greed got the better of Doheny, as he was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal, which soured the public on the administration of President Warren G. Harding.

In case you don’t remember the specifics from your high school U.S. History classes, the scandal went down like this: the Navy had oil leases in an area of Wyoming called Teapot Dome, as well as in the San Joaquin Valley in California. Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall, a close friend of Doheny, talked the Navy into transferring the leases to his department, which he then turned over to Doheny and another oil man for kickbacks totaling over $400,000. Doheny had his son Ned and Ned’s secretary Hugh Plunkett deliver the bribe to Secretary Fall.

When the scandal eventually broke, it was rumored that the Dohenys tried to get Plunkett, who was said to be displaying signs of mental illness, to agree to be institutionalized in a sanitarium to be kept free from testifying.

On this date in 1929, only six months after Ned Doheny and his family had moved into Greystone, Plunkett appeared at the mansion with a gun and shot the 36-year-old Doheny to death before turning the gun on himself.

At least that’s the official story. After the murder-suicide, the papers hinted at other scenarios, including the possibility that Plunkett was in fact Doheny’s lover, and that Ned’s wife had shot them both. Another rumor suggested that the murder-suicide was carried out by Doheny. This story was given credence when the two men were buried within a few feet from each other at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, and not in the consecrated ground of the Catholic cemetery where Doheny’s parents were eventually interred, as this cemetery would have been off-limits to someone who had committed suicide.

Doheny’s widow continued living in the mansion until 1955, when she sold it to the owner of the Empire State Building. It eventually became a city park in 1971.

Some of the movies filmed at Greystone include The Social Network, Spiderman, The Prestige, Ghostbusters, All Of Me, The Big Lebowski, X-Men, Batman and Robin, The Loved One, as well as the aforementioned There Will Be Blood.

Greystone today.

Death By Unlit Cigar

Everyone is aware that a regular habit of tobacco usage can lead to a slow and painful death, but occasionally, smoking can prove instantaneously fatal.

Take for example the case of zany television comic and innovator Ernie Kovacs.

On this date in 1962, Kovacs was driving home from a party at his friend Milton Berle’s house when he took a turn too quickly at the corner of Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Boulevards in Beverly Hills, skidded on wet pavement, and crashed into a telephone pole. He was thrown from the car and died almost instantly.

It certainly didn’t help that Kovacs was speeding at the time, or that the pavement was slick, or that he happened to be driving a Corvair – a car that Ralph Nader later deemed “unsafe at any speed.” But the cause of his death could have just as easily been listed in the coroner’s report as “death by unlit cigar” because it was believed that Kovacs was trying to light a cigar when he crashed. Photos of his wreckage show an unlit cigar on the pavement just inches away from his outstretched arm.

It’s appropriate that cigars may have contributed to Kovacs’ death, since they were such a large part of his life. He smoked them constantly, and used them as sight gags for many of the characters he created that later influenced the likes of David Letterman and Chevy Chase.

Cigars even figured prominently into Kovacs’ funeral. During the eulogy, the pastor quoted Kovacs’ own words to sum up his life: “I was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1919 to a Hungarian couple. I’ve been smoking cigars ever since.”

Kovacs is buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills beneath a plaque which reads “Nothing in moderation – We all loved him.”