March 12: Abandoned Beverly Hills mansion has Hollywood-worthy Minnelli backstory

March 12: Abandoned Beverly Hills mansion has Hollywood-worthy Minnelli backstory
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Yesterday we brought you the bizarre tale of a stunning Manhattan penthouse just purchased by Rupert Murdoch that only two years earlier had been practically abandoned, a place where "rodent droppings littered the staircase." The building's few but wealthy residents roamed half-finished halls.

Today our story is about a very different reversal of fortune.

Our friends at Curbed real estate blog recently obtained photos of an abandoned Beverly Hills mansion whose backstory is as riveting as a Hollywood movie. We were able to fill in some blanks, as well as match up Curbed's photos to some pictures taken in 2002, before the home's painful decline. (Click here or on a photo to see the slideshow.)

Liza Minnelli's childhood home

Liza Minnelli grew up in the house at 812 N. Crescent Drive starting from about age 10, when her father, director Vincente Minnelli, bought it in the mid-1950s. (Liza, incidentally, was born on this day in 1946; today is her 68th birthday.)

She spent six months a year with her father and six months with her mother, Judy Garland, after her parents' 1951 divorce.

Vincente by all accounts doted on Liza, perhaps to a fault. Candice Bergen wrote in her autobiography, "Knock on Wood": "I remember always asking to go to Liza's to play dress-up because in her closet hung little girls' dreams. ... In her dress-up closet, on low racks at child's-eye level, glowed tiny satin ball gowns embroidered with seed pearls, wispy white tutus, flowered pink crinolines. You could choose between Vivien Leigh's riding habit from 'Gone With the Wind' or Leslie Caron's ballerina costume from 'An American in Paris'; my favorite was Deborah Kerr's champagne satin ball gown from 'The King and I.' Each one fit as if it were made for us. And each one was. Liza's father had had the most famous leading women's costumes from MGM movies copied by the designers themselves -- all scaled down to perfect six-year-old sizes."

He commissioned new outfits for Liza every year, according to Vincente Minnelli's biographer Emanuel Levy in "Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer."

But by the early 1970s, his finances were "dwindling," writes biographer Mark Griffin in "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli." "Some of Minnelli's friends noticed that the house on Crescent Drive looked rather 'threadbare.'"

As the director's fortunes were waning, his daughter Liza's were surging, and reports suggest that she made mortgage payments on the Crescent Drive house.

Vincente Minnelli dies in the home

In July 1986, Vincente Minnelli was 83 and unwell. Liza spent a couple of days with him at the Crescent Drive house but had to leave for a concert in France. His fourth wife, Lee Anderson Minnelli (whom he had married in 1980), made him his favorite dinner, baby scallops with tomato and fresh basil, according to the Griffin biography:

"'He didn't eat much and that surprised me,' Lee told reporters, adding that she phoned for an ambulance after Vincente fell asleep as she 'didn't like the color of his face.' Minnelli went to sleep and never woke up."

(Click here or on a photo to see the slideshow.)

When he died, the house became Liza's outright -- but with a catch. Or, more precisely, with an occupant: her stepmother. His will left his $1.1 million estate largely to Liza, with $100,000 going to Lee under the stipulation that Lee be allowed to live there as long as she liked.

Lee's long tenure

In 1999, the Los Angeles Times' magazine profiled her for its special millennium issue. She was still living on Crescent Drive.

"Exactly kitty-corner from the Beverly Hills Hotel, at a somewhat faded but once grand Italianate home, a maid answers a side door and ushers a visitor in," the Times' Robin Abcarian writes.

(Click here or on a photo to see the slideshow.)

Lee would have been about 90 at the time, but the Times had a hard time pinpointing it because "she is maddeningly secretive about her age." (News accounts in 1980 of her wedding to Minnelli reportedly gave her age as "fiftyish," which was about two decades off. She didn't correct them.)

Vincente's closets, "which she is happy to show, are enclosed by glass-front cabinets in the vast dressing rooms. ... In her own suite, surfaces are smothered by books, papers, catalogs and, of course, many framed photos." Her closets are stuffed with designer clothes, the study with books, Abcarian writes.

"His widow has changed almost nothing in their home. ... Even his paints and easel are where he left them in his dressing room."

And that's how the house looked in 2002 as well -- the year that Liza Minnelli sold the house and her stepmother sued her.

'Insect breeding pool'

Liza Minnelli began shopping the house around in 2000, according to the Los Angeles Times, and in 2002 she sold it -- or tried to. Liza told Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd:

"My father left me the house, saying, 'It is my wish if you sell the house that you move her to a residence.' I finally got a nice offer to sell it and offered her a $450,000 condo, tax-free. She won't move. I've been supporting her forever. I did exactly what my father asked me to do. And now we can't go into escrow because she won't move. I am willing to give her a happy life."

Lee sued Liza in 2002, alleging in her suit that:

• The electricity had been shut off. "While the defendant is honeymooning all over the world, having fed 850 of her closest friends a 12-foot cake, the plaintiff is alone in a cold, dark house, at age 94."

• Groundskeepers had been dismissed. "The pool is an unhealthful swamp and has become an insect breeding pool," the suit said.

• Neglect of the home inside and out had caused Lee "extreme stress, humiliation, embarrassment and worry."

Lee's lawyer said at the time: "Forcing this frail, elderly woman to move at this point in her life will no doubt be the death of her."

A month later, Lee Minnelli withdrew the suit. Her lawyer said that Liza had talked Lee out of suing and that Lee's withdrawal was against legal advice.

Lee stays

But Lee did get what she wanted: She stayed in the house. In 2004, arbitrator Lee Chernow decided that Liza was obligated to sell the house "at the bargain-basement, $2.7 million price she agreed to back in 2002," the New York Post reported, but the new owners couldn't move in until Lee died or voluntarily left. Liza, meanwhile, would have to pay the new owners rent for her stepmother.

When escrow finally closed in 2006, Beverly Hills real estate agent Sheila Rose -- who represented both sides of the deal -- told the Times: "She still lives there. Liza inherited the house with Lee, now 98, in it. ... The buyers will eventually move in and refurbish the house for themselves."

Lee Minnelli died in 2009 at age 100. The photos bring us up to the present day. It's unclear why the owners have not done anything with the home, but we've been trying to contact the original real estate agent for details. We'll update this post if we hear from her.

Click here or on a photo to see the slideshow.

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A look at the only home JFK and Jackie ever built

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