Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Walk in Hollywood

For those of you who have signed on today, I do realize it's only Sunday and Monday is actually the day for author interviews, but, my office will be no more as of tonight and I will not have computer access tomorrow while they're installing carpet in our house.

This is a good one though. Judy Artunian, co-author of "Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten" tells us about the painstaking research needed to find the former homes of the stars and the challenges of co-authoring.

Tell us about yourself. I’m a freelance writer in Southern California. I started freelancing in 1991 after about 12 years in corporate communications and public relations. I wrote about technology almost exclusively for several years, then branched out to cover everything from small-business issues to silent movie stars.

Tell us about your book. “Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten,” which I co-wrote with Mike Oldham, shows you where movie stars have lived in the Los Angeles area dating back to the mid-1900s. The book features homes of 350 stars. All of the homes are still standing. One of our criteria was that the basic structure of the building had to be the same as it was when the actor lived there. We have a photo of each home, along with the address, a brief bio of the actor and an anecdote or two about the actor’s home life or the home itself.

How did you come to co-author such an interesting topic? Do you cover celebrities or have an expertise in their homes? I’ve been interested in old Hollywood since I was a child. But I was more interested in the actors and the movies than their homes. Then, in 2000, while looking in a 1916 Los Angeles City Directory for my maternal grandfather’s home address (as part of a genealogy project) I stumbled across the home address for Lillian Gish. She was—and still is—one of the most famous and respected silent film actresses. Back then, the city directories listed the householder’s profession. For Gish it said “photo player” which is what film actors were called in 1916. I checked directories for other years and found more home addresses of famous stars. One of those addresses was for the house that Buster Keaton bought in 1921. Mike and I are big fans of Keaton’s silent films so we decided to check out the house one day. It’s in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles. As we stood in front of the charming, white, two-story house, Mike commented that it was interesting that one of Hollywood’s most innovative filmmakers lived here, but hardly anyone knows. We realized that there had to be other homes like this—homes where famous stars have lived; homes that aren’t featured in coffee table books about movie star homes, nor are they on the maps of movie star homes or on the star-home bus tours. We called them “lost homes.” We envisioned a book that would document as many lost homes as we could find.

How did you find your agent/publisher? We were familiar with Santa Monica Press and felt that they would appreciate the concept. It was the first publisher we queried. We didn’t seek out an agent because we didn’t think the book would be commercial enough to interest an agent. Jeffrey Goldman, the president of Santa Monica Press, did like the concept. But he did say that to make the book more marketable we’d have to include more recent stars, even if their homes were already known. Mike and I considered turning him down but we realized that Jeffrey was right. Not that many people today even know who Lillian Gish is.

What are some of the challenges of co-authoring a book? The biggest challenge is probably the division of labor. We had only about six months to get the manuscript and photos to the publisher so we just sort of fell into a routine. Our division of labor was probably too informal, at least at first. Mike shot all of the photos, which means he was on the road, often seven days a week, for about five months. When the sun went down he would research the actors and the homes at various libraries. He would tell me what he learned and I’d incorporate it into the manuscript. I would do library research on the weekends. After I finished the first draft of the manuscript, Mike edited it. We had a few differences of opinion about what should be included, but overall we were in synch.

How does a book make it into a second printing? Our first printing was for 5,000 books. When they were just about all sold, our publisher asked us to submit any updates we had so that he could print another 5,000.

What is your best writing time? Why? I’m at my most productive in the morning. I’m just a morning person.

How did you conduct your research? What were some of the challenges to doing that? We became library rats. We would comb city directories and actors’ memoirs and other relevant material at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, The Beverly Hills Public Library and The Santa Monica Public Library. We checked property records at the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office and consulted their online records. We also took advantage of the great resources at the Margaret Herrick Library, which is part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One of the highlights of doing research there was looking through personal address books of people like Sam Peckinpah and Cary Grant, who had donated their personal papers to the library. Our greatest challenge was fighting fatigue because so much of our research had to be done after the business day was over, and on weekends. Mike has said that if he had to do his marathon photo shoots over again, he’d invest in a computerized map program to speed up the time it takes to find his way from one house to the next. Then there were the handful of actors whose personal lives were hard to crack. Mike had the biggest victory in that arena. We were determined to include in our book, all of the major players from The Wizard of Oz. Two homes that had belonged to Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, had been torn down. Out of desperation, Mike tracked down her son, Hamilton Meserve, who now lives on the east coast. He helped us locate the Hollywood apartment building where he and his mom lived in the late 1930s. Thankfully it’s still standing so it’s in our book.

Is there a celebrity home that didn't make it into the book that you thought should? There was a bungalow on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood where Rudolph Valentino lived with Natacha Rambova. We couldn’t confirm that he actually lived there until after the book came out. Sadly, it was torn down a few months ago.

Where can people find your book? The major bookstores carry it and if it’s not on the shelves they’ll order it for you. You can also find it on


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