Haunted: W.C. Fields’ former home at 4704 White Oak Avenue, Encino, California.
By Sandra Barrera, Staff Writer
Press-Telegram News (Also published in the Los Angeles Daily News)
Updated October 29, 2010 (Los Angeles Daily News published it on Nov. 1, 2010)
The deadpan comedian W.C. Fields was fresh off the movie “It’s a Gift” when he leased a secluded Spanish-style estate for $300 a month on 6 acres of orange groves in Encino.
That was October 1934.
By that time, historians say, he had lived at addresses all over Los Angeles, most recently in Toluca Lake.
But he quit Encino after 19 months for new digs. And while the hacienda would be home to other silver-screen legends of the era, including cowboy Roy Rogers, Fields remains a karmic presence .
“The ghost of W.C. Fields is in the house, and I’m telling you, he’s in the house,” says Lisa Helfend Meyer, an A-list family law attorney, as she regales visitors with stories about bumps in the night and quarrels .
Older homes that boast a Hollywood connection often come with what Fields’ researcher Howard Prouty – acquisitions archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library – calls “an incredible stew of myth, rumor, half-truth and distortion.”
Prouty which recently ended a two-month engagement in New York. He adds that most people are “perfectly content to live with the myth, whether or not there’s also a ghost involved.”
For Meyer, it’s about revelry.
The Fields’ legend had no sway over her decision 15 years ago to purchase the Spanish revival. She was possessed by the house, which sits on an acre behind a nondescript gate at the end of a long and hard-to-find driveway off of White Oak Avenue.
Even Meyer had trouble finding the place when it went on the market in the mid-’90s.
“I remember driving up and down trying to find the address,” she says. “When I finally found it and I went past the gate, I saw this beautiful Spanish home that was pink at the time … but it was still so charming.
“It was like a jewel.”
And she’s made it sparkle all the more in the years since moving in with her family.
Several years ago, Meyer embarked on a major remodel of the house, opening up the kitchen, raising the ceilings on the dining and family rooms and adding on a second-story master suite and study.
Meyer and her husband, Ron Cherney, a dentist and avid golfer, had grown out of the 3,400-square-foot home they now share with Meyer’s 19-year-old autistic daughter, Megan, from another marriage. She needed more closet space, and he needed a wing for his golf collection.
At the same time, they wanted the remodel to respect the architectural past, so the couple brought in interior designer L.M. Pagano to keep the look authentic.
“We had (an understanding) immediately,” says Pagano, who specializes in historical renovations for a global clientele that includes movie stars Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp. As she explains, “Ron and Lisa really wanted to stay true to the house and not everybody does.
“It was such an easy marriage between us because they had great stuff.”
Like Pagano, Meyer is passionate about antiques. She regularly joins her mother on shopping excursions through swap meets and flea markets from Long Beach to Pasadena for vintage California pottery, moody paintings and light fixtures.
In fact, that’s where many of the items that furnish the now 6,800-square-foot home came from. Others were brought to the remodel by Pagano, who also designed custom pieces such as a 24-foot-long patio table that she says “weighs so much we had to tile it in place.”
The table sits on the newly extended back patio overlooking the small pool and lawn.
“This is where we do the majority of our entertaining,” Meyer says, adding that at least once a week she has people over.
Since moving in, the house has set the stage for High Holy Days celebrations, a wedding, charity functions and a murder mystery-theme birthday party for her daughter-in-law. Meyer and her husband, who recently became grandparents, each have an adult son from a previous marriage.
The combined family can be seen in pictures throughout the house, including a painted depiction of each member in early California dress. It hangs in the dining room furnished with a 200-year-old Irish wake table and chairs, and a vintage light fixture that hangs from the coffered ceiling, decorated in embossed Anaglypta paper that has been hand-painted and gilded.
A similar treatment is found on the walls of the newly carved-out powder room.
Of course, some areas of the house were left untouched during the remodel, including a narrow staircase leading to a turreted tower that abounds in legend.
“This house was a hideaway for W.C. Fields and his girlfriend Carlotta Monti,” Meyer says. “She used to banish him to that little room when they would get in fights.”
The tower seamlessly flows into the second-story addition, which includes the master bathroom with its fireplace, soaking tub, spa-style shower and French-style encaustic tile flooring (also found in the kitchen).
Meyer shows off her room-size closet.
“It needs to grow,” she tells Pagano. “There’s no more room for my Louboutins. I’m such a shoe fanatic.”
Of course, the tour isn’t complete without seeing the “haunted room,” which the impeccably dressed blonde leads her visitors to across the handpicked antiques and family portrait-filled house.
“This is W.C. Fields’ room,” she announces while stepping into the space decorated with memorabilia of the late comedian, who died Christmas Day 1946 in Pasadena.
She insists his spirit lingers here.
“My housekeeper will tell you that during the day things will inextricably fall off the shelf and you will hear noises here at night,” Meyer says. “Other people that have lived here have also heard noises in this room.
“It’s very creepy.”
I think it is very unlikely that Fields haunts the home. But…something unusual might be there. Who knows?
Keep in mind this is a private residence. Even though the owners felt inclined to speak to the press in 2010, their is no guarantee that they will speak with you. My advice is to always be respectful and do not disturb.