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Behold Buster Keaton's Once-Lost Film Vault (and Gorge Estate)

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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

The LA Conservancy held its annual benefit at Buster Keaton's old Beverly Hills estate this past weekend and we don't like to throw the word "magical" around, but this place actually makes us feel, like, deep emotions, especially when it's all lit up for a fancy party (co-hosted by our girlfriend Diane Keaton and others). We're apparently not the only ones--besides Keaton, the house has been owned by Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, and James Mason (more on him in a bit). According to the Conservancy, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole shared the guesthouse when they first arrived in LA. B. Keaton built the house in 1926; it was designed by Gene Verge "with assistance from Keaton's special effects man, Fred 'Gabe' Gabouri, and Keaton himself."

Several sources say that the marble tiles in the verandah (you can see it through the windows in photo four up above) were installed because neighbor Rudy Valentino always insisted "There's nothing like tile for a tango" (this quote was later popularized by one Norma Desmond). But one of the coolest parts of the property is tucked in a dark corner around the side, by the site of Keaton's old editing shed--he'd cut his films and store prints in a small vault, which he apparently eventually forgot all about. The house changed hands a few times and ultimately landed with Mason and his wife Pamela (who lived there the longest, from the fifties to the nineties). They discovered the old film vault and drilled the lock: the found films' "combined value at the time was worth more than that of the estate." The stash included a superior print of The General and one of Parlor, Bedroom and Bath, which was shot on the property.

The house has been plenty messed-with over the years--that evil Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton installed a drop ceiling over the dining room's original painted beams and "In the 1950s, the Masons replaced a fountain outside the dining room with a carousel for their children." The property has also been subdivided--it used to extend beyond the patio, down a set of stairs to a pool that now belongs to the neighbors. (Unrelatedly: Cary Grant and James Mason in North by Northwest, James Mason and Peter O'Toole in Lord Jim, Cary Grant and Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus--someone get six degrees of this house going.)

Updated 10/9 to remove identifying info: Photography at Saturday's party was restricted to outdoor areas, but inside there was intricate wrought iron railing, an original ceramic stove (in the small original kitchen that abuts the huge new kitchen), and a completely bananas art collection. The current owners have done a really commendable job of restoring the house--they bought it in 1999 and did two (pretty sensitive and tasteful-looking) overhauls.
· LA Conservancy [Official Site]