By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
It was after 1912 that the first houses were built overlooking Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills. A spacious, Bavarian-style house was constructed at 9820 Easton Drive in 1930 for Paul Bern, an MGM executive. Why grisly death was to become a familiar visitor there remains a mystery.
Completed when Prohibition was the law of the land, the architects hid a bar behind a book case. However there would be darker secrets the house would keep as the years passed.
On June 21, 1932, Harlean Carpenter McGrew, 21, better known as Jean Harlow announced her marriage to Paul Bern (real name Paul Levy), 42, an executive at MGM Studios. He had helped launch her career, and they had known each other since 1930. He was a bachelor who lived at 9820 Easton Drive. She had divorced Charles McGrew the year before, charging intoxication and cruelty, he in turn accused her of posing for indecent pictures. Whatever hopes the Blonde Bombshell had for her new romance were quickly dashed.
Two months after their July wedding, Paul was found dead. He'd been shot through the temple and the bullet lodged in the wall behind him. He had been shot while standing nude before a full-length mirror in his dressing room. The revolver lay six feet from the body. Even though it appeared to be a suicide, and was determined as such by the police, others thought it was murder.
After the discovery of Bern's body the first call was not to the police — it was to MGM. They sent over their top fixers, who called the police two hours later. They were also the ones that told Jean Harlow about the death of her husband, since she had spent the night at her mother's house.
Paul had never married, but had fallen in love with actress Barbara La Marr (born Reatha Dale Watson), however she did not reciprocate the feeling but they remained as friends. Her roles made her a famous vamp during the 1920s but her fame was short lived, when she died in 1926 from tuberculosis and nephritis when she was 29. By this time she had been married four times, or five by her count, and had secretly given birth to a child in 1922, which she entrusted to the care of close friends. Some claimed Bern was the father, but DNA proved otherwise. Barbara's son died in 2014. The one who paid her medical bills, and helped when her health failed was Paul Bern.
THE MILLETTE MYSTERY
As mysterious as Paul Bern's death was, even stranger was the dearth of information about Dorothy Millette the woman who was supposed to be his common-law wife. Much of the information about her past was inaccurate or totally false.
While living in New York City, Bern lived with Dorothy Millette (born Adele Roddy). They never married, but he supported her since she suffered from mental and emotional problems. At one point she was committed to a Connecticut sanatorium. On the night before his death, she was reported to have visited Bern. She committed suicide two days later, by jumping from the Delta King steamboat into the Sacramento River. All that was found by a night watchman was a woman’s coat and shoes on the deck. Her body was found a week later.
Adele "Della" Roddy was born to William Roddy and Lillie N. Johnson in 1882 in Indianapolis, Indiana. They had two other children after Adele, Viona and Mary Roddy. Her father was a laborer and in 1889, his wife filed for a divorce citing "drunkenness, failure to provide and unfaithfulness" in the suit. She was granted the divorce on June 21, 1889.
Left with three daughters, Lillie Roddy (Lilly, Leillas) worked as a seamstress, and she became involved with a married man who promised to divorce his wife. Life was difficult and by February, 1894, Lillie put her girls in the temporary care of the Board of Children's Guardians. A year later the custody was permanent, where they were each doled out to different foster homes until 1905.
The girls never returned to the care of their mother, and a note in their files stated: "Lillas Roddy was divorced from her husband W. H. Roddy and afterward married a Swede and renamed Lilly Hade... (she died and) was a morphine fiend, as was also W. H. Roddy. Mr. Barrett her attorney says she became demented."
The girls worked as stenographers. Viona married John Henselman in 1904, Mary married Charles Vinier in 1905.
Adele who also used the first name of Dorothy, married Lowell Mellett on June 22, 1907. They moved to Washington where her husband was a local newspaper reporter. For some reason Dorothy started spelling her last name as Millette, but considering the background she was fabricating for herself it made sense on a certain level.
In the meantime, her sister Viona moved with her husband to Oregon, where he unexpectedly died in 1912, and she moved to California.
Despite claims that Dorothy Millette met Paul Bern in 1911, this does not match up with life events for Dorothy. They met in May 1912, when she enrolled in the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts (AADA).
Lowell Mellett filed for divorce in 1913, from Dorothy because "without just cause, defendant has continuously abandoned plaintiff for more than one year last past." He secured a divorce, and a year later he married Berthe Knatvold who was an author and newspaper writer.
No marriage certificate has even been found for Paul Bern and Dorothy Millette, but as of 1917, he stated on a naturalization application that he was married to Dorothy, and that she had been born on March 16, 1889 in France. Strangely all three Roddy sisters adopted this fiction for their past. Perhaps having parents that were addicted to alcohol and drugs, was a past they wanted to distance themselves from.
During 1920, Paul and Dorothy were living in Manhattan. This was the year that Paul's mother died. Soon after Dorothy was committed to Blythewood Sanitarium for 8 months, and then she lived until May 1932 at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. During all these years, Paul Bern paid all her expenses, even after he left to California in 1925. However in his new life on the West Coast, he identified himself as single.
Dorothy's sister Viona married Herbert E. Hessler in 1932 in Washington, but returned to California. This was the same year her sister Dorothy killed herself, and the following year, the other sister, Mary (then known as Mary Hartranft) died from breast cancer.
Ironically Lowell Mellett, Adele's ex-husband, went on to become a nationally known newspaper executive and presidential assistant. He was editor of Collier's Weekly and Washington Daily News. In 1937, he worked as director of the National Emergency Council and became director of the Office of Government Reports in 1939, and served from 1940 to 1944 as administrative assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He wrote a newspaper column from 1944 to 1956. He died in 1960.
In 1990, Samuel Marx published a book in which he claimed Bern was killed by Dorothy Millette, and that MGM decided a suicide was less damaging to Jean Harlow's career. He wrote that he witnessed Irving Thalberg, an MGM executive tampering with evidence.
These were the years when movie studios fiercely guarded the reputation and public persona of their stars, including strong-arming reporters to write stories they approved of, or even interfering with police investigations.
The employees when questioned by the police, gave contradictory information as to the state of the marriage. They were painted as a couple devoted to each, or where arguments between them were frequent.
The cook said that night that Bern took his life she saw a strange woman walking around the property. Down by the swimming pool were two used glasses, and a woman's swimsuit she didn't recognize. Who was the woman, and why had she disrobed by the pool?
Later it was found that during Bern's relationship with Harlow, he had an affair with his secretary Irene Harrison.
At the time of Millette's suicide, it was believed she had done away with herself after learning Bern had changed his will leaving everything to Jean Harlow, thereby leaving her penniless. Part of what Bern willed to Jean Harlow, was the house where he had lived for four years prior to their marriage.
Another theory was that Bern did indeed commit suicide due to an underdeveloped penis or impotence, something he had suffered from for several years.
For those who believed that Paul's death was a suicide, they looked into his past for the nexus of his problem. He was born in 1889 in Prussia, and his family immigrated to New York. His mother, Henriette Levy was 41 years old when she gave birth to him. In 1908, his father died leaving behind a wife and six children. Twelve years later his mother died, through what was labeled as an accident, but was it? She drowned, but some said she did it purposefully, because she didn't approve of Millette, because she was not Jewish. Others suspect that when Bern spoke of moving to the West Coast, his mother did not handle it well.
Paul Bern's attraction to beautiful but emotionally unstable women would be played out from Dorothy Millette, who once had her own aspiration as an actress, to Barbara La Marr and lastly to Jean Harlow.
Jean Harlow followed Paul to the grave five years later when she was 26 years old. She died from cerebral edema, a complication of kidney failure. She was buried in a pink negligee from one of her films.
Many people claim that Bern’s death somehow hexed the house with a curse that has seen tragedy strike its occupants on multiple occasions.
Allegedly in the years that followed, two other people committed suicide in the Easton Drive home and one person drowned in the pool, but this has not been confirmed.
In 1950, Lauriston Clark who lived at the address died of a blood clot following an operation. He was 45 years old, and left behind a widow named Virginia. It's unknown if she continued living in the home.
In 1963, the ill-fated house on Easton Drive was purchased by young celebrity hair stylist, Jay Sebring who was attracted to its dark history. He rubbed elbows with all the A-list actors of the day, and dated Sharon Tate from 1964 to 1966. Sharon spent time at the home, and even after the romance ended, they continued their friendship.
It was during this time that Sharon Tate started to date her future husband, Roman Polanski.
Jay Sebring was the real-life character that Warren Beatty’s character was based upon in the film Shampoo.
In August, 1969, after Sharon Tate's murder, Dick Kleiner wrote in article about a creepy story Sharon told him in 1966. He recalled that then it was believed she was going to be a big star, but there was something strange about her. Some thought it was tied to her first movie titled, 13 which was later changed to Eye of the Devil. Some wondered if she was taking her work home with her.
She was staying at the house at 9820 Easton Drive, since she was between apartments, and Jay offered his house. The property was less than mile apart of where she would be killed three years later.
She was asleep, but she kept a light on by the side of her bed.
Tate told Kleiner: "I saw a creepy little man. He looked like the pictures I'd seen of Bern."
She ran downstairs, and then described: "I saw a vision of someone tied to the staircase. It might have been me. It might have been Jay. Whoever it was, it was cut open at the throat."
She needed a drink but couldn't find the liquor cabinet, but something told her to open a bookcase, where she found a hidden bar. There was wallpaper below the secreted niche, and she picked at it and found it covered a beautiful copper base to the bar.
Many people believe that the second ghost – the murdered one – was a chilling premonition which foreshadowed Sharon and Jay’s own tragic deaths.
In 1968, Roman Polanski who was quoted as saying, "happy endings make me puke," directed the film Rosemary's Baby which was considered blasphemous for its satanic theme. By then Polanski was married to Sharon Tate, who was 8-months pregnant when she was murdered along with Jay, Abigail Folger, Wojeciech Frykowski and Steven Parent by the Manson Family in August, 1969.
After his murder, Jay Sebring’s house was sold to a doctor and his family.
David Oman, who owns the Oman House on Cielo Drive, right down from the property where Sharon and Jay were murdered, claims that he has seen the apparition of Jay in his home, which he built after 2001.
Given all of the deaths and tragedies associated with the house on Easton Drive, many believe it is haunted, both by the ghosts of Paul Bern and Jay Sebring.
The estate also had a carriage house where the staff was boarded in Bern and Harlow’s time. At some point the carriage house was parceled off from the main house and sold separately. The carriage house hit the market in 2014, and the 1,100 square foot property sold for over $855,000.
Some of the stories attributed to the property on Easton Drive might have occurred at nearby houses in Benedict Canyon.
The murder of Sharon Tate at 10050 Cielo Drive in 1969, was obvious for the time Sharon spent at the house on Easton Dr., and Jay's own murder.
A few blocks away at 1436 Bella Drive is Rudolph Valentino's home Falcon's Lair. At the height of his career as a silent movie heart throb known as The Latin Lover, he died in 1926 at the age of 31. Cause of death was gastric ulcers that developed into peritonitis.
At the north side of Benedict Canyon Road at 1579 Clearview Drive is the home of Joe Flynn of McHale's Navy fame. He drowned in his swimming pool in 1974, after suffering a heart attack.
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