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How Warren Beatty Ruined Dino De Laurentiis's Escrow

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Unreal Estate by Michael Gross came out Tuesday, dishing all the dirt on the births (and coming of ages) of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and Holmby Hills. To celebrate, we'll be sharing some of the most fun and juicy stories all this week. Here's Tuesday's story about how developers tricked the UC regents into moving UCLA to Westwood, Wednesday's story about the odd suicide of the man who built the Beverly Hillbillies house, and Thursday's story about what happens when Cher and David Geffen team up.

In 1929, oil heir Ned Doheny was murdered (or possibly committed suicide) under mysterious circumstances at his enormous Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. His wife Lucy remarried and eventually the kids grew up and she and her husband decided they wanted to downsize. They built The Knoll next door to Greystone--a 27,000 square foot house on ten acres designed by Roland Coate Sr. In the seventies, she sold it to Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis (Nights of Cabiria, Serpico, Conan the Barbarian). But it wasn't his first choice:

"Quite early on," De Laurentiis told his biographer, " we found a splendid villa in Bel Air." It was actually [original Westwood developer] Harold Janss's house on North Carolwood in Holmby Hills, which had been sold to a developer, who'd renovated and put it back on the market. after De Laurentiis put down a deposit against the $1.5 million price, he delayed his move to do some further renovations. Then, when he showed up to close, "we had an unpleasant surprise waiting for us--a surprise by the name of Warren Beatty," he recalled. According to De Laurentiis's account, Beatty had "taken possession of the property to shoot interiors for his film Shampoo." A friend of production designer Richard Sylbert's says the unpleasant surprise was even worse than that. Sylbert had dug up the back lawn that Beatty's costar in the film, Julie Christie, says "looks like it goes on forever," and installed a grotto complete with an outdoor Jacuzzi for a long party scene that included pot smoking and nudity. "The owner was greedy; Dino was out of the country and they figured they could get away with renting it," says Sylbert's friend. But De Laurentiis found out. "This irritated me beyond measure," he said, "for two very specific reasons. First, I've always refused to allow anybody to shoot a film in my house, and that includes me, too. And second, Mr. Beatty hadn't even bothered to alert me, let alone obtain the necessary permission." Though the sale was in escrow--meaning all the documents had been signed and De Laurentiis's deposit paid--he was able to cancel the contract and get his money back. Gregory and Veronique Peck soon bought the house, and Dino and Silvana went looking again.

They ended up paying $2 million (cash) for The Knoll. Five years later, he sold to Kenny Rogers for $14.5 million. The house sold to tool and die magnate Eric Smidt in 2005 and he's doing a practically-down-to-the-studs remodel.
· The Trick That Landed UCLA in Westwood in the 1920s [Curbed LA]
· Beverly Hillbillies House Builder's Strange Smog Suicide [Curbed LA]
· Cher and David Geffen's Siege on Sunset Blvd. [Curbed LA]
· Beverly Hills' The Knoll: Sequel to the Dohenys' Greystone Mansion [Curbed LA]