The Posh Pickfair
The disconnect between Hollywood and average Americans existed since Tinseltown’s earliest days. At core, the divergence between Hollywood’s rich and famous and everybody else comes down to money: they make a lot more of it than most of us do. In the 1920s, the average American family earned about $3,200 a year – a figure that dipped significantly in the 1930s and the Great Depression. By contrast, contemporary silver screen heartthrob Rudolph Valentino made $7500 a week at the peak of his career. Then as now, successful Hollywood figures were among America’s richest. And then, just as now, they liked to flaunt it. Few were more successful in 1920s Hollywood than Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The “Brangelina” of their era, they had co-founded United Artists in 1919, along with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith.
After their 1920 marriage, Fairbanks bought his bride a Beverly Hills lodge. He then contracted architect Wallace Neff – creator of the region’s distinct “California style” of architecture – to make extensive renovations. Over five years, the estate, dubbed “Pickfair” by the press in a combination of Pickford and Fairbanks, grew to a 56-acre luxury sprawl. In addition to a four-floor and twenty-five-room mansion, it included tennis courts, servants’ quarters, stables, and an Old West saloon with a mahogany bar. It was also the first private Los Angeles residence with a swimming pool. In addition to frescoed ceilings and paneled walls, the couple decorated Pickfair with Far East antiquities. They entertained lavishly, and invites to their parties were highly coveted. As Life magazine put it, Pickfair was: “a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House, and much more fun“.