As you might have gleaned by now, when there’s a story to tell about Hollywood, I’m inclined to change the names and mix it up a bit to protect the innocent. What follows is mostly true, except what’s not.
Once upon a time a gifted comedienne, Marion Davies, fell hard for a married man, William Randolph Hearst. Mrs. Hearst, a former chorus girl, in a lucrative arrangement, got the East Coast, the children, and the unchallenged status of wife to one of America’s wealthiest men – Marion and W.R. got the West Coast and the company of Marion’s theatrical friends. They liked to entertain. He liked to build things. One of the things he built was Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Some time after the death of Thomas Ince on Hearst’s yacht Ince’s widow, Eleanor, began building luxury apartments in Hollywood. Eleanor was a rich woman but suddenly she was flush with cash, and the barely literate Louella Parsons (who was present on the yacht when Ince died) become a preeminent columnist in Hollywood for the Hearst newspaper syndicate.
But, I digress – one of Eleanor’s buildings was a Beaux-Arts edifice on the corner of Franklin and Bronson in Hollywood. Originally, the building was intended for her friends – decades and certainly a few eras later it was sold to a church – while it no longer housed Eleanor’s friends I think its ghosts would have been gratified to know it was re-dubbed, “Celebrity Centre”. Across the street was a deli, rumored to be owned by John Gotti’s little brother, a dry cleaners, a pharmacy, a video store, and a Chinese takeout.
In 1987 the “Celebrity Centre” was a faded beauty. It housed a cadre of sweet natured, evangelically inclined, young people who worked round the clock, struggling to become OT Clear. They drank a phenomenal amount of coffee. When they did retire for the evening it was to once glamorous apartments, now furnished with peeling wallpaper and bare mattresses. The place stank of boiled peas and ham (the church provided a free lunch) and played host, that year, to a low budget horror flick starring Bill Hickey and some homicidal puppets… and a daycare center. It was also the year Ben Haber was born to a pair of live-in Auditors, Crystal and Henry Haber, originally of Ames, Iowa. They had come to California to find fame and fortune, but, while eating pizza by the slice on Hollywood Boulevard they were approached by a pair of young men in somewhat nautical attire who offered a free stress test on an e-meter and they found religion instead.
Baby Ben was a charmer. To garner a smile he’d mimic, sing, dance – an adroit coping mechanism when faced with the hurly-burly of living in something akin to a commune. At the age of three he had headshots and appeared in two TV commercials. By the age of five he had steady work on Nickelodeon and as he grew and moved on to become a regular on the Disney Channel his parents bought the family a McMansion in the Valley, studio adjacent.
At the age of eighteen he was playing sixteen – a breakthrough role that made him the heartthrob of every twelve-year-old girl in America. He was Jimmy Bissell, eldest son of Luke and Amy, who, as globetrotting AP reporters left their brood of five on a regular basis under the care of a boy who had just got his driver’s license. We’ll ignore the problems with the premise and note only that Ben found the guy who played his father, Adam Baker, irresistible. Mister Baker was thirty-six and hot. He drove a Harley to work. He didn’t live with his parents. He kept all his income to himself. He had no religious affiliations. He partied, and often invited Ben. For the first time in his life Ben felt giddy, uninhibited, for the first time in his life, of his own volition, he was having FUN.
To be continued today at 3:00, Pacific Time…
© Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (text) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.