03 February 2014

Marlene Dietrich's Beverly Hills Mansion: Then and Now

[Update: Thanks to Joseph's research  we've been able to identify Marlene's address in 1935 as 913 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills. See the comments section, below,  for more info.]

Let the tour begin ! 
(Click on any of the images to enlarge.)

Marlene lounges in the Sun Room, with its two-tone lacquered floors, a jungle mural by Charles Baskerville and moderne furnishings (including a mirrored backgammon table, white leather seating and animal print rugs).

Marlene rented the mansion from Countess Dorothy di Frasso in the early 1930s. 

Di Frasso, born in Watertown, had inherited a $ 12 000 000 fortune (her father had been in the leather goods trade) and married a title (Husband # 2). The marriages didn't last; her title did. 

She excelled however, as a society hostess and followed her flame, young Gary Cooper from  either Rome, or Africa (depending on who you listen to), to Hollywood, where she was an immediate hit, "in spite", of what Adela Rogers St. John called, her "unconventional tastes and overgrown sense of humour". 

These "unconventional tastes" later veered to her lover, the gangster Bugsy Siegel, whom she insisted was nothing of either sort. ("I don't know any Bugsy," she said, preferring to call him Benjamin and "a gentleman").

The Living Room, a fantastic concoction of Chinoiserie, mirrors and bamboo, designed in Elsie de Wolfe's signature style. "I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life," de Wolfe said, and she did.

The interiors were the perfect backdrop to show off its occupant: both were wildly exotic and chic; modern and timeless; audacious and elegant.

1935: Marlene, photographed at home:  posing for publicity photos "to make the fans drool," according to her daughter. She is photographed by Paramount's Eugene Robert Richee and his assistant, John Engstead. (The colour photos of the interiors, taken in by Simon Watson for the May 2007 edition of House & Garden, show how remarkably little they had changed in over seventy years.)

Tenant and Landlady at a 1935 4th of July costume party hosted by di Frasso, where Marlene memorably came dressed as Leda and the Swan (theme: the person you most admire).

A Mirrored Dining Room demands Lounging Pyjamas. 

Marlene gave up the ultimate movie star house around the time her career seemingly started to slip in the mid-30s, retreating to Europe for long summers on the Riviera. (1939's Destry made Dietrich Ride Again, too).

Di Frasso herself would sell the house in 1947, to M-G-M's diminutive virtuoso, Jose Iturbi, who lived there until 1980.

Master Bedroom

In December 1953, Marlene's career was reinvigourated  yet again when she was a smash in Las Vegas, the start of her concert career that would continue for two decades. The Countess was there with old friends, like Clifton Webb, cheering Marlene on. 

They spent New Year's Eve together, but di Frasso was feeling poorly (she suffered from a heart condition and was popping nitro-glycerin pills, "like pop-corn", according to one friend). Marlene spent the evening massaging her tired friend's neck, reassuring her: "You'll feel better tomorrow."

A doctor was called the following day; but di Frasso insisted that she wanted to return to Los Angeles.

"It's too bad that I am going to die so soon," she had said by way of excusing her fatigue at a party hosted in her honour. "I have been having such a good time. I won't be much company." 

She died on the Union Pacific en route to LA, on 4 January 1954.  Clifton Webb found her body in her compartment: she was dressed in evening gown and mink, and had  $ 250 000 in jewellery with her.

Fellow socialite and hostess, Elsa Maxwell remembered di Frasso to readers of her column as the "fabulous countess— who was the "great broncobuster of the banal, bathos, pathos and hypocrisy — that makes up what we call modern society." 

"She was a fabulous woman," Webb said.

In 2007, the house at 913 North Bedford Drive was offered for sale and it was announced that the furnishings would be auctioned. (Some furniture has shown up dealers' rooms, including this mirrored vanity table.)

[2007 House & Garden photos, by Simon Watson, from:

Further reading about Dorothy di Frasso:


  1. So stylish. Excellent post!

  2. Cool info. That bedroom is gorgeous; definitely giving me ideas about to decorate my future house! ;)

  3. Joseph,
    Loved this look back at some of Marlene's gorgeous homes. She certainly had great taste when it came to home decor. Anything Hollywood at Home related you can count me in.

  4. I found this post fascinating! How wonderful that the subsequent owners changed so little. It breaks my heart when people tear downor completely destroy these gorgeous art deco homes.

    1. DearMrGable, that all the interiors and furniture was kept (and in good repair) intact until at least 2007 must be something of a record for the renovation generations. Just discovered your wonderful blog, which I'm adding to our blogroll.

  5. what FABulous interiors, and yet there's nothing vulgar or overdone about it. it's all just perfect. oh, how the other half lives!

  6. What a gorgeous post - well researched and so much fun! Thank you.

  7. Love this post, Joseph, fascinating story and fabulous photos. More!

  8. Hi, all! I can't take any credit for missladiva's excellent research, photos, and post!--Joseph

  9. Was this not the house of Mercedes D'Acosta, who loaned it to MD (besides being her sometime lover...)

    1. I have never heard/read of de Acosta renting a house to Marlene Dietrich. By the way, I think that the di Frasso house was in fact at 913 North Bedford Drive, and that MD lived there maybe only during 1935. MD certainly moved to the 822 North Roxbury Drive in the early '30s (1931?), but it was not the house she rented from di Frasso. I don't have any strong support for this, but 913 N. Bedford is the only address on the Movieland Directory with MD, di Frasso, and Iturbi's names. Also, 913 N. Bedford is mentioned as the address of the home that MD rented from di Frasso in book called Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years
      by Cari Beauchamp.

    2. Joseph thanks for the correction, and your excellent research! Maria Riva wasn't kidding when she said Marlene was a gypsy. Do you know when Dietrich was supposed to have lived at the Colleen Moore House (345 St. Pierre Road). Seems Marlene spent time Marion Davies' Santa Monica beach house, too.

    3. (Answering my own question -- Paradise Leased said MD lived at the St Pierre address in 1934.)

  10. Very interesting such iconic house , the eternal hollywood glamour.

  11. Replies
    1. Good question! Does anyone know the answer? All I know is that the home was built in 1926 (search the L.A. County Office of the Assessor map).

    2. Almost a year later, but here's a proper answer! Thanks to a bit of research in the Beverly Hills Property Information (OBC) database, I've determined that the architect was named W.C. Schultz. Here is a copy of the 1926 application to erect this residence, which lists Schultz as the architect. If anyone has more information about Schultz, please share!

  12. This is a fine, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, "The Great Breening Blogathon:" It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn't have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan