How Hollywood Men Keep House (1934) 🇺🇸

Douglass Montgomery |

December 08, 2021

Adventuring with the male home-keepers of the film colony — Chaplin’s system — Edward Everett Horton’s rambling buildings — Jack LaRue’s solution of the dish problem

by Grace Kingsley

Charlie Chaplin’s house is run almost like clockwork. But there was a time, I hear, when Charlie lived in one room and did his own housework when you might have called the place Racketty-Racketty House and got no argument even from Charlie.

Charlie’s own hours are very irregular. Sometimes he breakfasts at seven, sometimes at noon. Nevertheless he is a careful housekeeper, and knows, his servants say, if there is a spoon out of place in the kitchen!

He loves the best silver, china and napery obtainable, and I can testify that his table is exquisite.

There are certain things that annoy Charlie greatly. One is the moving of the book he happens to be reading from the small stand by his bed. Charlie never goes to sleep without reading a little.

Charlie likes simple food, and leaves its preparation and selection to his chef. He likes vegetables, and fruit for dessert, with wine served when there are guests. But Charlie himself doesn’t care for wines or any kind of alcoholic drink.

The comedian keeps a retinue of five Japanese servants, all thoroughly trained both for gardening and for housework, so that one can slip into another’s place when necessary, for Charlie doesn’t like to be bothered with details. All five, too, are used to driving cars.


There is one inexorable rule in Charlie’s house. No matter what time he comes home, there must always be a bright fire burning in the fireplace in his room, if the weather is at all cold or gloomy. There are fireplaces all over the house.

Charlie abhors big dinner parties, but likes groups of eight or ten, and then there is always music on the big pipe organ and usually a picture is shown on the screen which lets down in the library.

His chef is really his housekeeper, and all details are left to this man, who is a genius at guessing the movements of his employer. And he must needs be, for Charlie is the most uncertain person in the world. Dinner is sometimes prepared, with no one to eat it, but not often, due to this head servant’s guessing powers, and due also to the fact that Charlie abhors waste, and usually remembers to telephone if he is not coming home to dinner.

George Raft has an entirely different point of view. “I’m so darned lonesome, I can’t stand it. No machines rattle past the door. None of the fellows or girls drop in to turn on the radio and dance, except at week-ends. No elevator men to talk to because there aren’t any elevators. I’m going to give up this house!”

That’s what George Raft said when he moved from that house at Malibu Beach a few months ago and took an apartment in Hollywood.

George likes a place to hang up his hat and to go to bed when he’s tired. And a place to keep his very immaculate clothes, including his fine linen handkerchiefs, of which he has more than a hundred. Beyond that he doesn’t care where he lives so that it is in the midst of things.

And he is just as immaculate when he is at home as when he goes to the fights or to dance at the Cocoanut Grove.

The actor keeps one servant, a liveried chauffeur, who is also his valet. His trainer, Mack (“Killer”) Gray, whom you may soon see in pictures, also lives in the apartment with him.

When meals are cooked in the apartment, which is seldom, either George does it or Gray. His food is simple. Occasionally, on a Sunday morning, breakfast is prepared in the apartment. But likely as not to consist of a glass of milk and coffee cake. For dinner, steak, roast beef or turkey play an important part George also loves potatoes. He likes malted milk and ice cream and frequently makes a meal of either one of these delicacies. 

“I tried once to fry some eggs, but they didn’t turn out so well,” he laughed. “I gave it up as a bad job and Mack cooked another batch.

Mack is also his secretary, and it is funny to watch the “Killer,” who was once a boxer, fumbling about among the scented notes George gets from his lady friends and fans, as he sorts them out in preparation for answering. But George attends meticulously to his own personal mail. Gray also attends to all household affairs, and it would slay you to see the Killer shaking his finger at the milkman for leaving a pint instead of a quart!

Raft’s apartment is a luxurious suite of rooms, and he is very fussy about the tidy appearance of his apartment. An ashtray filled with cigarette stubs, an article of furniture misplaced, annoy him greatly, and automatically he will get up and straighten things to his own satisfaction.

His friends are always welcome day and night. He doesn’t drink, but he has liquor for his friends. He does smoke cigarettes, and always has a big supply on hand. He hates giving parties, and people who visit him drop in casually. He loves it that way.

Richard Cromwell’s Three-Ring Circus

Richard Cromwell says his house-keeping is a three-ring circus!

It is only lately that Richard has had a home of his own. He managed to save up enough money to buy a hillside lot and with the aid of an architect-contractor he built the most charming little four-room house imaginable.

“Before that,” said Dick, “I used to rent shacks and fix them up. But my house-keeping was sketchy! I don’t think the laundry was ever picked up in time. And you could often write your name in the dust on the furniture. And as for the dinner dishes — I leave that to your imagination. I don’t think they were ever washed more than once a day.

“I fixed up one place so attractively, however, that the landlord came one day and raised my rent to three times what it had been! I left with murder in my heart.”

When Dick first built his own house, his sister Ann came to live with him, and did the cooking.

“We dined from a haphazard assortment of dishes, a plate of one kind for me and another kind for Ann. As to cups and saucers they had no thought of matching. In fact nothing matched,” said Dick.

But sister Ann got married, and Dick said he thought having a house boy would add much to his feeling of success. One night while dining with Constance Cummings, a colored boy came to the door looking for a job, and Dick took him on.

“All I asked him,” smiled Richard, “was whether he could make a chocolate rice pudding. He said no, but I took him anyway! His name was Bob.

“When I have dinner guests,” Dick went on, “we usually have a roast or a chicken, with vegetables and dessert and salad. And the rest of the week I eat every kind of hash that was ever hashed up, — and like it even better than the original meal. Sometimes when I feel I’d like to have one of Bob’s famous hashes, I plan a dinner party so we can have the proper leftovers. Bob is certainly economical with food.

“I am trying awfully hard to save all I can, so I can get my house, my car and my frigidaire paid for. When that is done, then I’ll be sitting on top of the world!”

Ramon Novarro’s Plan

“I didn’t realize what it would be like,” said Ramon Novarro, “running a house. I had always lived at home with my family, and mother saw to everything.

“It’s trying, even with an excellent head boy.”

But Ramon is a meticulous house-keeper. Woe betide the hapless servant who leaves dust on those shining lacquered floors and walls, or that beautiful furniture.

The staff of servants consists of a cook, a Mexican woman who is an expert in both American and Mexican-Spanish cooking, and a houseman.

Ramon’s secretary takes care of the household accounts and does the ordering for the household. Ramon’s cousin and god-son, Jorge Samaniegos, serves as chauffeur for Ramon, and helps him at the studio when he is working.

Ramon lives very simply, spending a great deal of his leisure time working in his hillside garden.

He enjoys entertaining, but prefers small groups to large parties. Every Sunday, rain or shine, he entertains his entire family at his home. That means some twenty or thirty people, since all the “sisters and the cousins and the aunts” are included.

Patricia Tells on Bert

Patricia, Bert Wheeler’s little seven-year-old daughter, can tell you all about Bert’s housekeeping!

“And it’s terrible!” says Patricia.

Bert admits it.

“If it wasn’t for Patricia, my apartment,” he said, “would resemble a small town after a cyclone had passed over it.”

When Patricia stays with her father, which is often, she spends half her time picking up after him. She is a tidy little soul, a born housekeeper.

“Maybe papa intends to keep things nice,” said Patricia, “but he leaves his clothes and things all over the house.”

Bert, according to Patricia, also has a habit of never hitting an ashtray. He flips his ashes toward the tray and lets the flips land where they may.

Probably the best example of her dad’s housekeeping came the other night when Reginald Sheffield, a friend of Wheeler’s, came to visit Bert.

Bert had planned to have a big steak for dinner, and he made elaborate plans to prepare it, even to the extent of putting on a chef’s apron and cap.

But during one of the preliminary moments of the dinner, he left the steak in the oven too long, and when he went to take it out found that it had been burned to a crisp.

So Patricia, Sheffield and Bert went to a restaurant for their dinner. And Bert lost the last shred of his standing as a housekeeper.

W.C. Fields Keeps House Luxuriously

W.C. Fields says that he is always on a diet, and so he always has to live in a house with a cook.

“Sometimes it’s a diet to get fat, sometimes a diet to get thin, sometimes a diet to quiet me, sometimes a diet to give me pep — but I’m always dieting, it seems to me,” says the comedian.

He owns up to a maid and a butler who is also a chauffeur.

Fields treasures very much his collections of rugs, pictures and art treasures of all kinds, also his books. Which is the principal reason, really, why he always tries to live in a house or at least a very large apartment. These things are like live things to him.

“He is a very quiet and charming neighbor,” said Mary Brian, who lives next door to him, in the Toluca Lake district of North Hollywood. “He’s just the neatest bachelor you can imagine. And he never has noisy parties.”

The lawn at the back of Fields’ house slopes down to the lake, where Fields keeps a canoe which he uses to ferry himself across to the Lake Side Golf Club, of which he is a charter member.

And he takes sun baths on his lawn, in a sumptuous sun-bath cabinet.

His servants say that the comedian is so neat that, if he owned goldfish he would probably take them out every Saturday and give them a bath.

And he demands the utmost orderliness in his servants.

Onslow Stevens Describes His Housekeeping

“My housekeeping is extremely extemporaneous,” declared Onslow Stevens.

“I thought it was going to be just swell to keep house. Now, I know what a task it is. I never do anything I should do, until finally the house is such a wreck I almost have to be shovelled out.

“But when I can’t get in or out, and there isn’t a clean dish to eat from, or a clean cooking utensil, I am forced to clean up and wash dishes.

“Also my cooking is not all that it should be.

“Say, know what I’m going to do? I’m going to give up housekeeping, and go back and live with mother and dad. After this my housekeeping will be done by proxy!”

Ned Sparks Lays Responsibility on His Dog

Ned Sparks with his man Friday, his personal servant, keeps bachelor quarters in a smart apartment house. And of course there is Betsy, his bull dog.

Ned does most of his own marketing and cooking, which he loves doing.

Betsy is his alibi when he wants to refuse an invitation.

“Oh, I don’t know what Betsy will think of me — I was out last night,” Ned will say, when he wishes to decline an invitation.

Or, when he wants to leave a party early, he will explain, “Don’t know what Betsy will say to me, I’m so late!”

His House Just Grows and Grows

Edward Everett Horton is the country gentleman incarnate, dwelling in a beautiful old rambling farm house in San Fernando Valley, a house surrounded by wide acres of orchard and garden.

“I just wanted a fireplace with a room around it,” said Eddie whimsically, “when I first went out there — just a place to go and rest.”

“And my housekeeping was primitive then. That was real ‘baching.’ I took my two dogs out with me, and we shared the one room. We ate when we were hungry, and if I didn’t feel like washing the dishes I sent a servant out from home in town to clean up after I was gone. The dogs and I lived in the open anyway.”

And now Eddie doesn’t know at any given moment — since the house has grown into a mansion — just how many servants he has out there !

“I keep only two servants as a rule,” said Eddie. “Mother keeps a watchful eye on things, and she is a New England housekeeper. But sometimes there is extra work to do, and when there is, one of the brothers or sisters of my two Mexican servants — sometimes more than one — come in and work a day or two.

“You see for a while every time I played in a picture I used the money to build another room onto the house.

“I consider home a place to be happy in, and I am really interested in every detail of housekeeping. And I believe in regularity. So far as possible I arise every morning at the same hour.”

Eddie has two English sheep dogs and two collies, to which he is devoted.

And in order to talk to them from the house, he has a loud speaker in his own suite of rooms extending to the kennels! But the dogs aren’t confined to the kennels all the time, but roam about the grounds and come into the house at will.

Eddie has some beautiful tables and cabinets, being a great collector of art objects. And these he likes to care for himself when possible, cataloguing and arranging and even dusting them.

“I’m one of those housekeepers who likes to change things around,” said Eddie. “I place furniture and other belongings where I think they will look best, and then leave them there a little while, but pretty soon I imagine them looking better some other place, and wham ! away I go, changing everything about. Except for very unwieldy things. I like to do all the changing myself.

The house is kept in the immaculate old New England way, and when Eddie and his mother leave for their summer home at Lake George, New York, all the furniture is covered with slip covers, and the rugs are cleaned and rolled up and stored until their return.

“Mother sees to the paying of bills and the ordering of supplies,” said Eddie. “I never worry about these things.

“She often bakes bread for me, too. I like home made bread, and indeed I like very simple food.”

Eddie Horton is famous for his Sunday morning breakfasts, at which champagne is invariably served! It begins at nine and ends any time early in the afternoon. At these breakfasts guests include playwrights, actors, authors of noted books — but mostly actors. Eddie loves his own kind.

Having attended some of these breakfasts, I know how delightful they are.

Francis Lederer’s House

Francis Lederer lives in Beverly. Crest, a suburb of Beverly Hills, in a big, hillside house that is absolutely without a feminine touch, even though his cook and one of his secretaries are women.

Lederer also has a man servant and a man secretary.

When the brilliant young Czecho-Slovakian came here he searched everywhere for a house with a masculine atmosphere — and found it eventually.

But there were a few feminine reminders, such as a gorgeous Spanish shawl on the grand piano, which was stoically removed and put away. His living room looks sparsely furnished, but is brightened by a fire which seems always to be burning in a big corner fire-place. A hospitable touch is given this room, too, by the low, round table where coffee, tea, liqueurs and cigarettes are served.

The little barroom in the basement was changed into a fully equipped gymnasium, and there Lederer, following his breakfast or before, each day exercises strenuously.

Lederer has one very eccentric gymnastic exercise. Every night he climbs up to his room from the first floor veranda by a rope, and he lowers himself the same way, his valet having hung the rope from a big beam of timber jutting out above his bedroom window!

The actor likes his house run without friction. He prefers a little dust here and there to a loud word within his hearing.

But he seems to have a way with his subordinates, so that his household never knows a jar.

He likes simple food, and of course likes the food of his country, which his cook is learning to prepare. He leaves all ordering of food to her. And only once a week he holds an account-* ing with her of money spent. He does not leave that to his secretary.

And he doesn’t mind how much money is spent for good, wholesome food, but he resents one penny wasted. And his servants know it.

Jack La Rue’s Homekeeping

Jack La Rue is in his seventh heaven, these days — keeping house in sunny Southern California, with his mother, Mrs. Josephine La Rue, and his four sisters.

“I kept house by myself in a little apartment,” Jack explained, “before I had saved money to send for them. I did all my own work — cooking, washing, ironing, marketing and all the rest of it. I really enjoyed it. It was fun taking home a nice, juicy steak and cooking it, and can I make a tasty salad! And of course ‘da spaghett’! But I’ll confess something. I hated washing dishes. And I used to stack them and pretend they weren’t there by putting a big red tablecloth over them. But the day always came when I had no more clean dishes, and then they had to be ‘done’. Once I told a little boy that I’d give him a dime to wash my dishes. You should have seen the look of reproach he gave me when he saw the stack. I weakened and gave him a quarter.

“Then mother and my sisters came, and we took a good-sized house in Hollywood. I hired a cook. I was so happy. But mother seemed to be pining away. She wouldn’t eat, went sad-eyed about the house. Finally I got it out of her. She was unhappy because she wanted to do the housework herself, just as she had always done. So I let the girl go, and mother brightened right up.

“She cooks what she thinks is best for us, and we eat it. What mother says goes. When I am not working, I help her, and I love it. I sweep the rooms and dust and help with the cooking. But I won’t wash any more dishes!

“On Sundays I always make mother stay out of the kitchen and I cook dinner. We have Italian soup, spaghetti, a steak, fowl, or maybe lamb chops or roast, and of course there is wine.

“I like to arrange flowers all over the house, too, and I give a whole hour at least once a week to the process. I think certain flowers go fittingly in a dining-room — roses and old-fashioned flowers such as daffodils, geraniums, marigolds, while stately chrysanthemums belong in a parlor or drawing-room.

“Yes, I get a kick out of keeping house. My sisters take sun baths and go to the movies. There wouldn’t be enough for mother and me to do if they helped keep house.”

Tom Brown Throws Things Around

Tom Brown is the worst housekeeper in Hollywood. He says so himself.

“I leave my shoes in the sink, my hat on the frigidaire, and everything else scattered hither and yon,” he said.

“No, he doesn’t do quite that badly,” Mrs. Marie Brown, his mother, explained indulgently. “He just leaves his clothes on the floor where he steps out of them, and nothing is ever hung up until he leaves, and I go in and put them in place. I am always scared to death to have any one come to the house while I am away, for fear Tom has been home during my absence, because the house is always a sight afterwards.”

“Of course, you see,” Tom broke in, “I have to go home and make some quick changes sometimes — “

“Quick or slow — it’s all the same,” Mrs. Brown demurred. But with a fond smile.

The Browns keep one servant in their eight-room Spanish hillside house in Hollywood.

Tom is crazy about onion soup and always wants it for dinner.

When Tom gives a party, it’s always a can-opener party.

“Because that’s fun and no trouble,” said Tom. “I don’t know how to cook, and I never intend to learn. No, sir-ee! I’m not going to have any girl rope me in for cooking and washing dishes!”

“Not even Anita Louise?” we tease.

“Oh, well — “ says Tom, feigning bashfulness.

Douglass Montgomery Lives in a Villa

Douglass Montgomery says his house-keeping is terribly complicated by his ownership of dogs. And now he has the dog of all dogs — that huge Irish wolf-hound, which already, though a mere pup, measures about eight feet from tip to tip.

“I did live in my own little bungalow near the family home on my mother’s Pasadena estate,” he said, “but that isn’t really near enough to my work. And besides the dog seems to get into everybody’s way out there.

“So I’ve taken a house in the heart of Hollywood.”

Douglass frequently cooks his own food, which he likes to do. Even when living on his mother’s estate, if he wanted his meals at irregular hours, he cooked them himself.

Douglass Montgomery in the living room of his villa in the heart of Hollywood. The walls of this room are dull white and the curtains are dark purple of rough material.

Richard Cromwell uses his library also as a working room. Here you see him completing one of the masks for which he is famous.

George Raft before the fireplace of his apartment in Hollywood.

Top: W. C. Fields the garden of his Toluca Lake home.

Center: Francis Lederer studies for world peace in the library of his Beverly Crest home.

Randolph Scott in the patio of his Hollywood residence.

Source: The New Movie Magazine, July 1934