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Things I Found Out: What A Swell Party This Isn’t. Thanks Pia Zadora.

Debbie and Iggy

In today’s episode of Things I Found Out (a new thing I am doing and may never do again!) we chat about one of the stories behind Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry’s cover of “Well, Did You Evah?!  So. It’s a bit of a ramble, how I arrived at this piece, but let me try to edit it down to something non-boring. Here goes:

I was watching Million Dollar Listing (a real estate reality show based in LA), a program I like because they often take viewers inside amazing mid-century or Old Hollywood homes. #JoshFlagg4Eva

In a Season NINE episode, there was a particularly amazing home – well, compound really – once owned by maximalist interior and costumer designer, Tony Duquette. Tony’s decorating is totally bonkers, too much and extra fantastic. It’s like a work of art… an installation… a museum, even.

Looking at Tony’s interiors is like having a holiday and watching fireworks and being sprinkled with priceless gems and drinking a very strong cocktail – all at the same time. Whilst patting a tiger.

I am not sure I could live with it, but I love looking at it. Other well-heeled types love looking at his extravagant opulent visions too. He designed interiors for Vincente Minnelli, Elizabeth Arden, John Paul Getty, David O Selznick and the Duchess of Windsor amongst many, many others. Including Endora from Bewitched. Not even kidding.

Tony DuquetteTony Duquette Tony Duquette Tony Duquette

Tony (above). He liked plants and parties and Beegle.

So, after I finished watching the show I did a bit of Googling around and found out some more about Tony Duquette. One of the many amazing things I discovered was that he has a very interesting pop culture link to Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop – via Pia Zadora. Let’s talk about that!!

If you have ever heard the Iggy and Debbie track Well, Did You Evah? (recorded for the 1990 Cole Porter-inspired Red, Hot and Blue benefit album to raise awareness of HIV way back in 1990) you may remember the little chat the pair had about Pia Zadora’s house in the song?

It goes like this:

Iggy: So have you ever been out to LA lately?
Debbie: No not recently.
Iggy: I went there. I had a rent-a-car and all.
Debbie: Oh really?
Iggy: Yeah and I got invited to Pia’s house, Pia Zadora’s house.
Debbie: Really?!
Iggy: Yeah!
Debbie: Was it nice?
Iggy: Well I didn’t go…
Debbie: Oh.
Iggy: It would have been swell though!
Debbie: Sure to god.
Iggy: It would have been elegant!
Debbie: Elegant!
Iggy: I hear they dismantled Pickfair.
Debbie: They did.
Iggy: It wasn’t elegant enough.
Debbie: Probably full of termites!


Watch Iggy and Debbie singing this song – they begin at around 1.18


So. It turns out that Tony Duquette got married at the very Pickfair Iggy and Debbie are singing about. The one that wasn’t “elegant enough”. But in reality,  Pickfair was a special, elegant AND fancy place.

“In 1949, Duquette married artist Elizabeth “Beegle” Johnstone at a private ceremony at Pickfair, with Mary Pickford as matron of honor and Buddy Rogers as best man. The reception that followed was attended by Hollywood celebrities including Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, Vincente Minnelli, Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, Oscar Levant, Vernon Duke, and Marion Davies,” Wikipedia says.

Doesn’t that sounds smashing? Swellegant, even?! Yep.

TONY AND ELIZABETH DUQUETTE

This is Tony and Beegle. They liked drinking, smoking and all of the things.

The Pickfair mentioned in Iggy and Debbie’s cover of Did You Evah?! was that very same home/estate of the actor and producer Mary Pickford – and obviously named for the star. Mary aka above mentioned Matron of Honour was the dear friend of Tony Duquette’s bride, artist Elizabeth “Beegle” Johnstone. (Mary herself was married to the very famous actor Douglas Fairbanks.)

Mary Pickford obviously was only too pleased to lend her bestie Beegle their beautiful home for this special day. And super beautiful it apparently was. It was also right next door to Charlie Chaplin’s house.

“Pickfair was an 18-acre estate in the city of Beverly Hills, California designed by architect Wallace Neff for silent film actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Coined “Pickfair” by the press, it was one of the most celebrated homes in the world. Life Magazine described Pickfair as ‘a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House… and much more fun.'” – Wikipedia

 

Mary and Douglas

This is Mary and Douglas. They liked canoeing in their pool at Pickfair

Their Pickfair nuptials set them in good stead. Tony and Beegle – who met in art school – were married for 46 years, until Beegle died in 1995. Tony died four years later.

So. What happened next was this. Scandal alert. Here’s where Debbie and Iggy kinda come in.

In 1988 actor Pia Zadora bought the celebrated Pickfair, saying she was going to restore the historic estate. She was the second owner after Mary Pickford (who had since died, as had Douglas).

The (much nicer) buyer before her (who owned the LA Lakers) had continued to care for Pickfair and preserve its loveliness.

Pia Zadora

This is Pia Zadora, FYI.

The thing is, Pia didn’t restore Pickfair. I KNOW!!!

Instead, perhaps high on hairspray,  she quietly knocked it down. Why, Pia?! Why?!

First, she said the property had ‘termites” (that’s where the song comes in!) and later she said she did it because there was a very scary ghost haunting the house. People didn’t believe either excuse.

Understandably, she faced a barrage of criticism for bulldozing the estate once word got out – and subsequently found herself scathingly, sarcastically immortalised in Iggy and Debbie’s duet AND on the sh*t lists of lovers of architecture, history and Old Hollywood, too.

Apparently Pia and her hubby went on to build a “Venetian style palazzo” in Pickfair’s place. Sob! And they later broke up. And looping back to the original subject of my curiosity – Tony Duquette – his wedding venue was gone forever and it was all thanks to bloody Pia Zadora.

Phew! So there you have it. Now you know why Iggy and Debbie were singing about termites and Pia Zadora. (Or maybe you already knew, in which case you are the best!)

Let me know if you like Things I Found Out and I will do it again, if you do!

xx Pip

PS – sorry for any typos – I’m down with the flu and writing this is my idea of resting.

Fun fact:  Tony nicknamed his wife Beegle because “she had the industry of the bee and the soaring poetry of the eagle.”

Tony and Elizabeth

Tony and Beegle smiling.

They don’t know that Mary Pickford’s house – aka their wedding venue – will one day be murdered by Pia Zadora.


Further reading for swotty types

More on Pickfair
The life of Tony Duquette
The life of Beegle
Some jewels Tony designed
Pia talking about the ghost at Pickfair (with disparaging commenters!)
More on the Duquettes, thanks to Tony’s protege Hutton Wilkinson


“Duquette was one of America’s design icons. Not only was he the first American artist with a one-man show at the Louvre, but his art, costumes, interiors, jewelry, and furniture made him a favorite of the Hollywood social set and of such Über-arbiters of style as Lady Elsie de Wolfe Mendl, the Duchess of Windsor, and the eccentric San Francisco socialite Dodie Rosekrans. The parties he hosted with his wife, Beegle, at his Los Angeles studio are still ranked among the swankest and most amusing gatherings Hollywood has seen” –  Vanity Fair

11 Comments

  • Reply
    Sylvia Gil-Stearns
    June 21, 2017 at 1:55 AM

    I loved this post! Thanks so much Pip.

  • Reply
    Saskia
    June 19, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    This is my kind of reading. Thank you!
    Such a tragedy. I can can barely look at those fabulous interior photos. How’s the lighting?! And the wall art?!
    Pia Zadora’s name is now mud to me. Discovered recently that she was responsible for the fabulous G.L.O.W (Glamorous Ladies Of Wrestling) being cancelled in the 80s, ‘cause she was jealous and gave her then-husband, producer of G.L.O.W, an ultimatum.
    Looking forward to the next instalment of Things I Found Out.

  • Reply
    Lorraine Carlton
    June 19, 2017 at 2:58 AM

    Oh yes please, continue, you are a gem of a writer and my ageing brain cells have been stimulated to find out more. Please continue. Lorraine

  • Reply
    Megan
    June 18, 2017 at 7:51 PM

    How fascinating! I absolutely loved this and yes please do more of these.

  • Reply
    Reannon
    June 17, 2017 at 10:32 PM

    I’m with you Pip- I love this bonkers style but know I couldn’t live with it.
    And a big fat YES to more of this sort of stuff!! I love the way you deep dive into people/subjects & ever since I read Craft for the Soul where you think this type of thing is good I’ve not felt about about going on a google spree searching for info on people/places/subjects. Thanks! X

  • Reply
    Jess Quilty
    June 17, 2017 at 8:32 PM

    Hi Pip,

    I loved this random information. I agree with the others – more please!

    Jess

  • Reply
    Patrick C
    June 17, 2017 at 4:49 PM

    What a great story.

    I remember Pia Zadora from the 1980’s. She was a B or C grade actress and celebrity and knocking Pickfair over just shows a lack of culture and understanding. To build a mock Venetian just rams it home.

    Thanks for sharing with us from your sick bed.

  • Reply
    Annamari
    June 17, 2017 at 4:29 PM

    This was so good and interesting, hate what Pia did and love Million dollar listings too! Thank you Pip!

  • Reply
    Rachel
    June 17, 2017 at 2:37 PM

    That was great. I love a few facts on a random subject. I look forward to the next in the series. x

  • Reply
    Lucy Kalstrom
    June 17, 2017 at 1:15 PM

    Just what the doctor ordered : scandal and architecture. Thanks Pip! I for one would like to see this first in a series post, continue….

  • Reply
    Caity O'Connor
    June 17, 2017 at 12:46 PM

    Ooooh, that was fascinating!

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