Monday, March 4, 2024

The Road To Heaven

 Back when I was researching something related to all this, I stole this image from Cielodrive. 

The photograph immediately intrigued me. The intrigue had nothing to do with that guy on the ladder reaching for the phone wires and wearing a short sleaved white business shirt like my father used to wear in the sixties. It also wasn’t because of the wall where Atkins, Krenwinkel and probably Kasabian hid while Watson murdered Steven Parent. It is behind the uniformed officer. It wasn’t the really nice striped pants on the guy pointing at the camera or even the question why one guy showed up in a tee shirt. It wasn’t the cat, either. It was the wagon in the junk pile. Why was there a wagon at Cielo Drive? 

A Bit About JF Watkins


We all know Michele Morgan (Simone Renée Roussel) built the house. Well, it is actually more accurate to say she had it built and then bought it but that’s a technicality. She bought the house from “M.M. Landon”. That would be Minnie M. Landon. Minnie had been married to Arthur Landon who was a contractor. He bought the lot several years before. He passed away sometime in the 1930s. They had a daughter named Opal who married a guy named John F. Watkins. He’s the guy who built the house.


Far from being a small-time operator, the J. F. Wadkins Company appears repeatedly in real estate advertisements in the LA Times in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Several have him advertising multi-home subdivisions. In fact, in 1942 he got in trouble for violating the regulations that limited production at the start of World War II by starting a 36-home subdivision without authorization. 

Wadkins passed away in 1943 after a horseback riding accident. Ed Sanders might add an oo-ee-oo, here: horses…Wadkins…Spahn Ranch. I was not able to find the location where Wadkins was injured. It obviously was not at Spahn Ranch.



The Michele Morgan Ghost Story

I don’t think Michele Morgan actually sold the home because of the creepy factor as she claimed in her autobiography. That story can be found, here.


Later in her autobiography, she seems to contradict her own claim. She says that she sold 10050 Cielo Drive because her new husband, William Marshall, refused to live in a home owned by his wife. Obviously, Mr. Marshall was a modern, open minded and progressive male. Ok, he wasn't. However, apparently, he wasn’t above using the money from the sale of his wife's home to buy a home in his name. A home he was awarded in their divorce.


Bill Marshall never lived at Cielo Drive. However, Michele Morgan’s good friend, Madeleine LeBeau, was her roommate at Cielo for a time before Michele married. You might recognize her. She had a small role in the film, Casablanca. 


Morgan was supposed to get the role of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, but RKO, her studio, wouldn't release her for the amount of money Warner Bros. was offering and Ingrid Bergman was cast instead. That is a bit of a shame because Morgan’s flight from occupied France is straight out of the movie. She escaped occupied France (Normandy) and first crossed Vichy France to Spain. She crossed Spain and left Europe from Lisbon, Portugal. 


Rudolfh Altobelli bought the house in 1963. There are several deeds changing ownership in the 1950's. But the various deeds all involve a guy named Louis Clyde Griffith (“LC”). Griffith was a theater tycoon in Oklahoma in the 1930’s and 1940’s and from what I could tell he was a pioneer of drive-in movie theaters. Everyone on the deeds from 1949 to 1963 (and there are several) are either business associates of Griffith, his attorney, or his stepson. I believe the transfers are related to a debilitating stroke he suffered in 1946 which led to him relocating to LA in 1949. Eventually the house landed with LC and LC Griffith sold it to Altobelli. The deed is dated October 17, 1963.


Despite the various deeds LC Griffith lived in the home throughout the 1950s. The available Los Angeles city directories consistently show LC Griffith as the occupant of Cielo Drive during this time period. The 1950 census places him at Cielo Drive with a nurse. 


The Tenants

Here, in order, is everyone I could confirm rented Cielo Drive or the guest house after Altobelli purchased the home until Terry Melcher and Mark Lindsay. 


Henry Fonda rented the guest house for a couple of months in 1964.



"One of the houses I sublet and lived in with Shirlee for a couple of months was on Benedict Canyon in Bel Air," Fonda says. "Does that street name ring a bell? Remember the place where Sharon Tate and her friends were massacred? Remember the guest house? That's where we stayed during the summer of sixty-four. It was a pleasant place. I did a lot of painting there. I had to drive in and park in the area where those violent people parked that night. I'd walk down the same path below the main house to the guest house. That's where the young guy was murdered when he made an exit at the wrong time.”

"My God, timing is everything, even outside the theater."


My Life by Henry Fonda and Howard Teichmann, Book Club Assoc., page 295, 1982.



For two years after Henry Fonda George Chakiris rented first the guest house and then the main house. 


"By now [1964]I was renting a charming guest house at the end of a pretty little tree-lined cul-de-sac off of Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills. The guest house and the main house, which I eventually moved into, were owned by a talent manager named Rudi Altobelli. One of his clients, Henry Fonda, had preceded me in the guest house. Henry Fonda was a talented artist, and a painting he’d been working on was still there on an easel.



I didn’t want to leave Paris. No one ever wants to leave Paris. But I had some packing and moving to take care of back in L.A. The lease was up on the Rudi Altobelli house I was renting off of Benedict Canyon. I’d lived in the two-thousand-square-foot guest house for a year, and then in the thirty-two-hundred-square-foot main house for another year. I’d loved it there. It was quiet and just secluded enough, very French Country, on three acres, with a pool, lots of pine and cherry trees, and a private driveway. I knew I’d miss it, but it was way more space than I needed, and I had too much traveling ahead to justify staying there anyway. Sadly, I’d see that house again, a few years later, on the news. So would the rest of the world.



Some time after the horror on Cielo Drive, I mustered up the courage to finally visit Rudi Altobelli, who’d cleaned up the house and the grounds and moved back in with a couple of guard dogs. It was eerie and uncomfortable. I didn’t stay long, and I never went back again. I’ve been told that Rudi finally sold the property, the structures there were demolished and replaced by a 12,000-square-foot mansion, and the street address has been changed to discourage the nonstop stream of trespassers, tour buses, and curiosity seekers. Some part of me likes knowing that nothing that was there in August of 1969 is there anymore, not even a single brick or stick of wood or blade of grass.



I also became socially acquainted with the extraordinary film actress Michèle Morgan. She has too many acting credentials to even try to list them here, including a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, and she was utterly charming. One night Michèle told the story of how she moved to Hollywood during World War II. She designed a French Country-style home to be built there, fairly private and only a short distance away from the heart of Beverly Hills where most other movie stars were living. But in time she was frightened to live there because she kept hearing what she described as “sinister noises,” and she eventually sold the property. 


The house Michèle Morgan built, the house full of “sinister noises” that frightened her, was 10050 Cielo Drive, my former residence and, of course, the house where the murders occurred. What are the odds that I would just happen to become acquainted with her, through a chance encounter with a Greek singer at an Athens I?"


Chakiris, George. My West Side Story (p. 118, 133, 149 and 151). Lyons Press. Kindle Edition.



I believe Samantha Eggar was next. That’s her on the cover of the April 2, 1966, edition of Hola magazine near the pool.  Here’s a couple more blurry images from that magazine. 


By the way, that’s Samantha Eggar in the top right photo, not Candice Bergen as most online sources claim. 

This is Candice Bergen and the source claims that it was taken at Cielo Drive.


I left out Cary Grant. I don’t think he ever lived at Cielo Drive. The source of the ‘Cary Grant had a bad acid trip while renting Cielo Drive’ story, as far as I can tell, originates from this gossip column I pulled from the Miami Herald (September 1, 1969). It cites Dyan Cannon as the source. 

I have five Cary Grant biographies. I am kind of a fan. Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.

One of the biographies places Grant at Cielo Drive in 1940. That, of course, is not possible. The rest do not mention Cielo Drive. They mention the murders either in connection with Grant hiring a full time bodyguard for his daughter after the murders or to mention Grant being on Manson’s Hollywood Hit List.  


Dyan Cannon says this. Again, no mention of Cielo Drive.

"And so, Cary left for Tokyo, and I was left with the task of finding us a house to live in as fast as possible. I spent weeks looking at houses with Cary’s real estate agent. I airmailed photos to Tokyo for Cary to see. We wound up renting a home off Benedict Canyon recently vacated by the Beatles."


Cannon, Dyan. Dear Cary (pp. 225-226). It Books. Kindle Edition.



The Beatles House is located at 2850 Benedict Canyon. When it is listed for sale the Beatles and Grant are usually mentioned. The Beatles rented the house in August 1965. George Chakiris was renting Cielo Drive during that time-frame. 

The Newlywed Murder-Suicide 

The Melcher-Lindsay period gives us the murder-suicide myth. I am sure everyone has read this. 



"Rudy said that one of the first couples to occupy the house had been newlyweds, and on their wedding night the bride somehow learned that the groom had cheated on her in the recent past. Supposedly after the marriage was consummated and he was asleep, the new lady of the house took a large knife from the kitchen and stabbed him to death in bed. She then put a bullet in her brain using the small "lady's pistol" that he had given her for protection as one of her wedding gifts.


Rudy told us the whole affair had been hushed up and was never talked about because it would reflect negatively on the real estate value. He said that although the femme fatale's spirit still lingered, she probably wouldn't bother two guys -- although he warned that she didn't seem to tolerate beautiful women very well. "As long as you don't let your girlfriends stay over too long, you should be okay," he warned. And then he went back to his residence, leaving us to ponder."




It never happened. No newlyweds ever lived in the home and there were only three owners prior to Altobelli. All three lived in the house and/or the guesthouse the whole time they owned the home. 

The Wagon

I am sure most of you know most of the above information. This post is about that wagon but if I had not added the other stuff the post would be really short which would be out of keeping with my post history. 

And that brings us back to Doctor Hartley Dewey and his wife, Louise. Hartley was this guy’s cousin. 


The Deweys bought the house from Michele Morgan in June 1943. They had three sons all of whom served in World War II. One, a bomber pilot over Europe, was missing in action for several months. 

The Deweys came to LA from Yosemite National Park. 

"Doctor Hartley G. Dewey opened the new W. B. Lewis Memorial Hospital during Christmas week 1929. The services to Yosemite rendered in this fine hospital were much needed as the increase in visitors, as well as permanent and seasonal employees, had doubled during the past decade. Dr. Dewey needed additional help so another doctor and more nurses were added to the staff. A permanent Dentist Office was also established for full time work, with Doctor Raleigh Davies in charge.

Doctor Avery Sturm joined Doctor Dewey at the Lewis Memorial Hospital in 1935. This team practiced until 1942 when Doctor Sturm entered Military Service during World War 2. Doctor Dewey’s contract was up in April 1943, so he, too, left the Park."

After they purchased Cielo Drive, the Deweys converted the barbeque pavilion into the guest house. They added a dressing room for the pool off the back of the house and redecorated the home. 

Their friend, Walt Disney, hand rendered images of Mickey Mouse on the walls of the bar. I don’t know if the drawings were still there in 1969. I couldn't find anything about them after the Deweys. I find that sort of surreal if they were there in August 1969.


The Deweys make multiple appearances on the society pages of the LA Times in the 1940s. I believe Louise was good friends with Lucille Lambert who wrote the column Confidentially. Here is an example. 


Ms. Lambert even wrote an article about the remodel for the Times. 

Lillian Gish rented the main house from the Deweys in 1945. 

She later sued the Deweys for over $11,000 for violating the wartime rent restrictions. She won. 


The Deweys moved to Carmel in 1949 and sold the house to Henry Griffing. Griffing worked for LC Griffith at the time. Later he attempted to launch what we would now call cable (pay) TV. In theory you could drop coins in a box on the TV and watch movies that had recently been in the theater. It didn’t catch on. Griffing died in a plane crash in 1960. 

I periodically stop at antique malls looking to replace the vinyl I sold to fund one of my obsessions when I was in college. I later married her, but I digress. 

On one such trip I wandered into a stall filled, in part, with sixties memorabilia. They wanted too much money for the 1964 GI Joe and they didn’t have any Moby Grape albums. 


They had a whole section of magazines dating back to the 1920s including the Manson Life magazine. I already have that one. They had several Look and Life magazines from the sixties including the walk on the moon, the assassination of Robert Kennedy and even the Mets 1969 World Series win. 

My eye, however, was drawn to another magazine less prominently displayed and sort of tossed aside with some other obscure pre-sixties titles. 


Here was the August 1945 edition of American Home. There on the cover, in full color, stood Louise Dewey. She was standing in front of the garage at 10050 Cielo Drive and there in the background of that photo.... was the wagon. 


August 1945. Ed Sanders might add an oo-ee-oo here too. Here is the whole American Home article. The text on the last page is not about Cielo Drive. In fact, aside from the image captions, there is no text.  Louise took the photographs. I also included the LA Times article about the remodel which mentions the Disney characters and, oddly, a garage 'at the foot of the hill'.



One more thing. 

I think most people have seen this image. It originally appeared in the November 15, 1969, edition of Paris Match magazine. 


The photograph was likely taken in October 1969. The photographer was standing off the north end of the porch, to the right of the walk, just about in front of the window Watson entered that night. Kasabian would have been standing about five feet to his left that night according to the trial exhibit. This is as close as we will ever get to seeing what she saw that night. How many still think she saw the pool from here? 



Pax Vobiscum