Issue: Issue Summer 2002
Norma Talmadge's Cedarhurst
She was at the core of an elite group of early silent film stars that included Harold Lloyd, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., John Barrymore, Clara Bow and Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge’s home sat on a hilltop not far from the studios that gave her fame. Seeing Cedarhurst, a 10,000 square foot architectural delight allegedly a replica of the Duke of Alba’s 17th century Florence villa, conjures up images of the grand excess of the 1920’s. No detail was spared an its cost of $500,000 was extraordinary for its day. The exact details of Norma Talmadge’s residency are unclear, but there is no doubt that this property was meant for a queen.
Yet this residence, as unusual as it is, is only one of many scattered among the hills of Hollywood as reminders of our illustrious past. The movie industry and the city of Los Angeles was growing rapidly in the ‘20’s. Early Hollywood stars first built in Los Feliz, and the list of legendary residents includes Cecil B. DeMille, Deanna Durbin, W. C. Fields, to name a few. Hollywoodland, source of our now famous landmark, sprouted homes of English Tudor as well as the white stucco Spanish and Mediterrean architecture that captured the romance and imagination of an era.
Norma Talmadge, her sisters, Constance and Natalie, and their mother, were abandoned by their alcoholic father on Christmas day in New York City. Peg Talmadge, who may have been the first “stage mother” worked tirelessly to gain attention and work for her beautiful daughters. Norma’s first success was in modeling and it wasn’t long before the family moved west. Norma Talmadge was one of the first actresses to gain fame in the movies. She married movie mogul, Joseph Schenck, who produced many of the Buster Keaton films, and created quite a sensation when, a mere 9 days following her divorce, she married George Jessel. Her sister, Constance, starred in D. W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” and sister, Natalie, was married to Keaton.
As legend has it, Norma Talmadge was the very first star to have her footprints placed in wet cement outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Norma Talmadge, her sisters and her mother never left Hollywood and are interred in the Talmadge crypt at the Hollywood Forever Ceremony.
Through the years the villa was the residence of notables, namely Jimi Hendrix, Marko Hellman, Ralph Bellamy, Alfred Heineken and Rod McKuen. Owned by a professor for the past 33 years, it was recently sold by Nevianna Christov of DBL Realtors.
Today, these treasures of a bygone era are being bought and restored by a new generation who appreciate the architecture and the beauty and charm of neighborhoods steeped in the history and lore of Hollywood and its industry.