Beverly Hills, Ned Doheny, and TCMFF

Edward Doheny and his only granddaughter, Lucy.

Edward Doheny and his only granddaughter, Lucy.

This past April, during my maiden jaunt to the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Los Angeles, I took a brief break from movie watching (and celebrity gazing) to take a guided tour of the city. The tour covered Mulholland Drive (which was a scarily awesome, twisty turny experience), Rodeo Drive, and my favorite part – Beverly Hills.

There, I got to see the homes of numerous notables, including Robert Wagner, Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow, Lucille Ball, and Ned Doheny.

Wait, who? Ned Doheny?

Yes. Ned, in fact, is the subject of today’s post. But let me start at the beginning.

Ned Doheny was the son of Edward Doheny, a tycoon who drilled the first successful oil well in Los Angeles, which initiated the petroleum boom in Southern California. At one point, Doheny was raking in $10 million a year.

In 1883, Doheny married his first wife, Carrie Louella Wilkins, and their daughter, Eileen was born two years later. Sadly, Eileen died at the age of seven from heart disease caused by rheumatic fever, and the following year Carrie gave birth to the couple’s only son Edward, Jr., better known as Ned. But by this time, the couple’s already shaky union – hampered by the hard realities of mining life and financial worries, and further impacted by Eileen’s death – was nearing its end. The couple wound up divorcing in 1899. Doheny won custody of Ned and married his second wife – Carrie Estelle Betzold – just a year later. Distraught at this one-two punch of events, the first Carrie committed suicide, and little Ned was raised by Carrie the second (better known as Estelle).

Greystone in 1930

Greystone in 1930

In 1914, while a 20-year-old student at USC, Ned married Lucy Marceline Smith, of Pasadena. Between June 1915 and April 1926, the couple had five children, four boys and a girl. Also during those years, Edward Doheny was implicated in the famed Teapot Dome scandal after he loaned $100,000 in cash to his friend, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall – the money was delivered to Fall on the East coast by Ned Doheny and his assistant, Hugh Plunkett. Edward Doheny was charged with offering Fall a bribe in exchange for valuable drilling rights. Although Fall would ultimately be convicted of accepting bribes (becoming the first Presidential cabinet member to go to prison for his actions while in office), Doheny – interestingly enough – would be acquitted.  Harry Sinclair – of Sinclair Oil – was also charged with bribing Fall; he was charged with jury tampering, fined, and sentenced to nearly seven months in jail. (In his 1927 novel Oil!, writer Upton Sinclair based his character J. Arnold Ross on Edward Doheny; and the book inspired the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood, for which star Daniel Day Lewis received a Best Actor Oscar.)

Meanwhile, Edward Doheny began to build his son a 55-room mansion called Greystone – the grounds included riding trails, a waterfall, and a 10-car garage, and the 46,000 square foot mansion housed such amenities as a 30-seat movie theater, a two-lane bowling alley, and walk-in fur and jewelry vaults. It even had its own switchboard and telephone system.



Ned and Lucy Doheny and their five children moved into Greystone in late 1928. But less than six months later, on February 16, 1929, Ned was found shot dead in his home – and lying dead nearby was his assistant (and fellow Teapot dome “bagman”), Hugh Plunkett. According to the official story, Plunkett killed Ned and then committed suicide – however, to this day, numerous theories abound regarding what really happened. It is said, for instance, that the bodies were moved to a different room than where the shootings took place, and that police were not called until four hours after the men were discovered. Speculation has run the gamut from a lover’s quarrel between the two men to a double execution related to the Teapot Dome trial. But after the coroner’s official report was issued just two days after the deaths, all investigations into the matter ceased. That was all she wrote.

Two years later, Edward Doheny donated 41 acres of beachfront property at Capistrano Beach for a memorial to his son – Doheny State Beach. It was California’s first state beach. The Doheny name is alive throughout the area in numerous other properties, including the Edward L. Doheny Memorial Library at the University of Southern California, Doheny Drive in West Hollywood and Doheny Road in Beverly Hills. Greystone, which I viewed from my trusty tour bus, is now a public park and for many years has been a popular location for motion picture filming. In fact, some of your favorite films have been shot on location there, including Forever Amber, The Dirty Dozen, The Trouble With Angels, Indecent Proposal, The Bodyguard,The Prestige, Rush Hour, The Witches of Eastwick, and The Social Network. In addition, the famed marriage of Luke and Laura on General Hospital was shot in the Greystone gardens, actor James Woods was married at the estate, and in 2004, Kirk Douglas and his wife of 50 years, Anne, renewed their vows there.

SSBattsonIncidentally, Ned Doheny’s widow, Lucy, remarried about a year after the death of her husband, and remained with her family in the mansion until 1955. Lucy died in 1993 at the age of 100.

The interesting stuff you learn at the TCM Film Festival, huh?

~ by shadowsandsatin on June 20, 2013.

7 Responses to “Beverly Hills, Ned Doheny, and TCMFF”

  1. I seem to recall that Raymond Chandler based one of his novels on the Doheny family. I believe it was Big Sleep. The Doheny family story is quite noir.

  2. This IS interesting stuff. I agree with the previous commenter who said this family’s story sounds quite noir.

  3. I just did a quick online search and it’s Chandler’s The High Window that includes a sub plot that’s based on the death of Doheny’s son. Also, Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, which was the basis for the movie There Will be Blood, is a roman a clef on Doheny.

  4. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this. Geez now I wish my TCMFF trip were more productive ha! 🙂

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