One of the greatest homes in the history of Hollywood was Pickfair, which was originally the home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Over the years, occupants have claimed the house was haunted by an unwanted spirit. Here, we will discuss the history of this storied home, including its alleged haunted past.
Pickford and Fairbanks were two of the biggest movie stars of the early 20th Century. This pair, along with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, formed United Artists in 1919. A year later, Fairbanks and Pickford would marry. They first had to get divorced from each of their current spouses.
A year earlier in 1918, Fairbanks bought 18 acres in Beverly Hills. This would be the site of Pickfair. This property, located at 1143 Summit Dr. originally had a ranch house on it. It was designed by architect Horatio Cogswell, for attorney Lee Allen Phillips of Berkeley Square. It was to be utilized as a hunting lodge on weekends.
Fairbanks and Pickford hired architect Wallace Neff. Neff also designed 1015 N. Roxbury, the former home of Betty Grable. He transformed the house into a 4-story, 25-room mansion, which wasn’t completed until 1924. When the couple married in March 1920, they lived on the property during the construction phase. This was the first home in Los Angeles to have its own swimming pool.
Other amenities included: wood-paneled halls of fine mahogany and bleached pine, gold leaf and mirrored decorative niches, ceiling frescos, parquet flooring, an Old West-style saloon (which would come to house a collection of 1907 Remington rifles that were a gift from Pickford to her husband Buddy Rogers years later), tennis courts, stables, and servants quarters.
It also is said to have contained an underground running track so Fairbanks could jog in the nude.
Another feature of Pickfair in this era was the art collection and the antiques that furnished the home. The furniture was primarily authentic 18th-century French and English period pieces. This included the personal furniture of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts estate in London, as well as Louis XVI furniture from the Countess Rodezno, and Lord Leverhulme collections.
Artists featured in Pickfair’s art collection included Philip Mercier, Guillaume Seignac, George Romney, and Paul de Longpré. However, the pièce de résistance at the home was the vast collection of Chinese objects d’art that Pickford and Fairbanks had collected on their many trips to Asia, which they had a great fondness for.
Pickfair was known for its parties of lavish decadence in the 1920s. An invitation to one was the most sought-after in Hollywood. Life Magazine called Pickfair:
“A gathering place only slightly less important than the White House… and much more fun.”
Some of the storied guests included Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Mildred Harris, George Bernard Shaw, Elinor Glyn, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Fritz Kreisler, Tony Duquette, Amelia Earhart, Noël Coward, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pearl S. Buck, Charles Lindbergh, Max Reinhardt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Edison, Gloria Swanson, the Duke and Duchess of Alba, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the King and Queen of Siam.
In 1928, Will Rogers said:
“My most important duty as mayor of Beverly Hills is directing people to Mary Pickford’s house.”
In the 1930s, Pickford began to experience what she believed were supernatural events within the home. She would frequently tell people who came to call about these unusual occurrences that originated in the attic, and would start with a loud banging. In 1935, she told Lee Frank, a newspaper columnist about the ghostly noises:
“I am a sound sleeper, but I could not sleep under these noises which sounded like the tramping of heavy feet. I sat up in bed and addressed myself to the ghost, ‘I wouldn’t treat you this way,’ I said. ‘It isn’t ladylike. I don’t expect to be treated in this manner. The noises ceased.”
– Mary Pickford
Pickford stated that she was the only person that heard these noises but had never seen the ghost. However, Pickford explained that other people had directly encountered the spirit:
“One day our cook, a practical, unemotional Swedish woman, ran out of the kitchen in terror, brandishing a knife, she declared she was being pursued by a strange, dark woman whom she had seen in the kitchen.”
Another unusual event that occurred happened to a house guest and friend of Pickford, who came downstairs with a strange tale:
“I just saw a strange, tall dark woman in the hallway up there. She was looking at the alcove. Her eyes wandered about in a puzzled way as she looked from side to side, as if to say-something has changed here. At first, I thought she was Theresa, your maid; then I saw she was a stranger. I went to speak to her. She vanished.”
Fairbanks didn’t believe any of these wild stories about the paranormal:
“I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe Pickfair is haunted, though Mary is sure of it; I’m sure there is some explanation if we could find it, of the sounds we hear.”
– Douglas Fairbanks
Fairbanks and Pickford divorced in 1936. Pickford continued to live in the home until her death in 1979, outliving Fairbanks by 40 years. Pickford received few visitors in her later years but continued to open up Pickfair for charity such as the blind veterans from World War I.
In 1980, Pickfair was bought by Los Angeles Lakers owner, Jerry Buss for $5.4 million. He made no alterations to the home for the 8 years he owned it.
In 1988, Pia Zadora and her husband Meshulam Rikli bought Pickfair. They had the mansion razed 2 years later. After a fierce backlash, Zadora claimed that the house was in disrepair, infested with termites and that it couldn’t be saved.
In 2012, Zadora changed her story and said that the house was demolished because it was haunted by a ghost. Years earlier, Pickford had also claimed a ghost resided inside the property. Both Zadora and Pickford stated the ghost was a woman that lived in the attic:
“Years ago my husband and I tore down one of the most iconic Hollywood mansions because of termites … but that wasn’t the real reason. When we moved into the house it was beautiful, everything was perfect, it was a dream … but weird things started to happen … so my husband and I, after trying to figure out what to do, decided we were going to have the house razed.”
– Pia Zadora
Zadora claimed that she and her children had seen this spirit multiple times and it would enter the children’s bedrooms at night and cackle at them. These events would cause the family to run out of Pickfair’s hallowed walls.
“If I had a choice, I never would have torn down this old home. I loved this home, it had a history, it had a very important sense about it and you can deal with termites, and you can deal with plumbing issues, but you can’t deal with the supernatural.”
– Pia Zadora
The new home Zadora had built is over 25,000 square feet, much larger than the 7,000 square feet that Pickfair was. All that remains of Pickfair are the gates to the estate, the pool, and the 2-bedroom guest wing that was used by various celebrities and royalty throughout the years. Unicom International bought the mansion in 2005 for $15 million.
Ending on a Lighter Note
On one particularly hot day, Fairbanks noticed an aristocratic Englishman with a familiar face walking along the road as he was driving home to Pickfair. He stopped the car and offered him a ride, which the stranger accepted. Unable to remember the man’s name, Fairbanks invited him in for a drink, and during the course of the conversation, Fairbanks tried to elicit some clues as to this man’s identity.
The Englishman seemed to know the home intimately. When Fairbanks’ secretary entered the room he whispered to him:
“…Who’s this Englishman? I know he’s Lord Somebody, but I just can’t remember his name…”
The secretary replied:
“…That is the English butler you fired last month for getting drunk…”