Last night I attended an event at the Hollywood Heritage Museum, which is located in the Lasky-DeMille Barn, said to be Hollywood’s Oldest Movie Studio. The Barn itself is a separate story that I’ll tell another day. Today I want to write about Mike Oldham, last night’s speaker, because his story is an inspirational story about following your passion.
The topic of the evening was “Movie Star Homes,” a subject on which Mike has written two books: Movie Star Homes: From the Famous to the Forgotten with co-author Judy Artunian and More Hollywood Homes. He began his remarks by explaining that his obsession began as a hobby ten years ago when he started collecting vintage postcards of movie star homes. The postcards featured watercolor drawings of the home and identified the star and the neighborhood (Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica), but some actually printed the star’s full address—something that would certainly give today’s stars pause.
As his collection grew, Mike became curious about which of the houses still existed and how they looked today when compared with the depictions on the postcards. The ones with full addresses were easy to find; others led to superior sleuthing on Mike’s part. He spent a lot of time going through city directories at various libraries in search of exact addresses. After searching through enough years, he usually found an address but when he didn’t, he still visited the area in search of landmarks that would identify where a star’s house had been (or if he was lucky, still was).
My favorite example of Mike’s hunt came at the end of the program when he described how he identified the location of the home of a silent film star named Bessie Love (1898-1986). The vintage photo he had of Bessie showed her in an automobile that would have dated to a little earlier than 1920; the photo identified the street where she lived but gave no house number. The only identifiable landmark in the picture was a small building (not Bessie’s house) in the background. Mike followed all the leads he had including the city directories for the appropriate years, but he found nothing. He still went to the street and photographed up and down it, hoping for some recognizable sign. Not until he got home and re-examined his photos, did he pick out the fact that the squat little building in the picture that stood behind Bessie’s car could be matched to a small building in one of his current pictures. From this, he was able to definitively conclude where her house had stood and what had been built to replace it.
Mike Oldham concluded the program with an inclusive invitation. He noted that there are still many more homes to identify and suggested others could join his pursuit. But honestly, I think the real take-away from the evening is “pursue what you love.” Your spirit will be the richer for it.
In the meantime, if you can get to L.A., these books make great guidebooks for the homes of the stars. If not, you can read them and enjoy the sites via Oldham’s pictures.