“Paragraphs of jaw-dropping details about a type of extravagance that might have been scorned even by the very wealthy on the Titanic. But [Unreal Estate] also leaves the reader with a sense of history….[It's] what would happen if Us Weekly and Architectural Digest had a love child that was much smarter than either. The book provides a panorama of what was going on inside some of the most frivolous, gated houses on a hill that have ever existed.”The Los Angeles Times
"Great Hollywood houses, great Hollywood tragedies, great book." The Chicago Tribune
"Sprawling, delicious….compelling and overflowing with gossip....It’s fun! And quite astonishing to read….Unreal Estate is compulsively readable."Liz Smith
“Gross seems to be picking up where the late, great Dominick Dunne left off in his fascination with the ways that high life and low life come together. Gross gives us the lowdown on an incredible cast of characters…[He] is such a good storyteller.”Joe Meyer, Connecticut Post
“Why didn’t today’s owners of the great LA estates get together and offer Gross a house of his own not to write the book?...Great dish."Jesse Kornbluth, Headbutler.com
"This book's for you."David Patrick Columbia
"Murderers, lawyers, actors, pornographers, tycoons, and addicts....Fantasy and ambition, cheating and careless waste...Gross's research is meticulous. Hard to read. Harder to put down."Los Angeles Magazine
"Rich in incident and full of thwarted ambition, visionary zeal, conspicuous consumption [and] salacious gossip...A juicy, breezily told social history of La La Land, deal by deal.Kirkus Reviews
“Unreal Estate has it all: movie stars, murders, strippers, pimps, playboys and Mafiosi alongside the founding members of Los Angeles society…The book is a great read. New York Social Diary
“A gripping picture of what made Los Angeles what it is today...In Unreal Estate, [Michael Gross] takes on the Western Frontier like a modern day cowboy — seeking, searching and taking no prisoners.” Lucy Blodgett, The Huffington Post
“Remarkable houses …famed owners…stories of trysts, broken marriages, dissolution and predatory capitalism.” The Hollywood Reporter
"Sexy and sordid stories fill this survey of L.A.’s wealthiest, most private districts." Los Angeles Magazine "The Reading List"
"Tales of adultery, prostitution, embezzlement, Mafia schemes, and the dauntless efforts of millionaires to keep the riffraff out of the exclusive enclaves of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills, and Beverly Park.” Details
"Mister Gross leaves no high society stone un-turned...untold and sometimes sordid stories."The Real Estalker
"Stripping bare the glamorous West Coast,from Beverly Hills to Bel-Air, Holmby Hills, Beverly Park, etc… Michael’s never been a lap dog of his subjects. And he never holds back the dish "George Christy, Beverly Hills Courier
"A name-dropper's paradise."Library Journal
"Gross write with an aficionado's zeal."Publishers Weekly
Michael Gross uncovers the very secret history of Los Angeles through the mind-boggling estates of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills and Beverly Park, and the fascinating, fabulous folks who created and populate them. Using the century-long evolution from adobe huts to $100 million mansions as the baseline of the story, he reveals how a few powerful and often ruthless oil and railroad magnates imposed their idyllic vision of the good life on the Los Angeles landscape to create the legendary communities known as the Platinum Triangle. Gross gives vivid, riveting accounts of the most lavish of the many lavish houses that started springing up almost immediately. But the stories of those homes are just a window onto the lives of their owners and occupants over the course of the 20th century, and onto the bigger story of a people and a storied region that have become, in Gross’s words, “the Mecca of self-invention.” Taken altogether, they read like a cross between Gross’s own 740 Park, Valley of the Dolls, and Hollywood Babylon. With a little of the film Chinatown thrown in too. Los Angeles provides Michael Gross with his broadest canvas yet; UNREAL ESTATE will surprise, fascinate, and most of all entertain you with a story you don’t know about a place you think you do.
Good things are worth waiting for. Back in November 2011, when Unreal Estate was launched with a gala party at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, KABC’s “Eye on LA” filmed a piece on the book that finally aired–sixteen months later. Watch it here.
Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, who died this morning Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at age 80, plays only a cameo role in Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles, but it’s a fun one. Buss bought Pickfair, the 42-room Beverly Hills estate built by Douglas Fairbanks for his lover actress Mary Pickford (at right) from the latter’s estate in 1979 for $5.3 million and sold it to actress Pia Zadora and her husband Meshulam Riklis for $6.7 million in 1988. Now in other hands, the house has been so altered and degraded, I chose not to feature it in the book. But Buss pushed his way into the story anyway, as one of “five million dollar mansion boys.” They were Kenny Rogers, Hugh Hefner, Bernie Cornfeld, and Ghazi Aita, who are featured in the book, as well as producer Bob Evans, businessman Leonard Ross, Wilt Chamberlain, agent turned network head Jerry Perenchio, and the investor and casino and studio boss Kirk Kerkorian. All of their homes were the home of a moveable party through the 1970s and 1980s, where the most beautiful women in L.A. met and mingled with its richest, most powerful men.
Realestalker, the much-read luxury realty blog, sent a heart to Unreal Estate today, calling it “exhaustively researched…and deliciously dishy” in a post that retails the rumor that one of the great estates featured in the book, Casa Encantada in Bel Air, once the home of Conrad Hilton and David Murdock, can be yours if you shovel $225 million in the direction of its current owner, Global Crossing founder Gary Winnick. HBO’s planned Unreal Estate series is currently in development. Watch this space for more news on that front as soon as Gripepad is allowed to share it.
The Hollywood Reporter just revealed a secret I’ve been keeping since last year. Alex Gibney, the acclaimed documentarian, has acquired and made a film version of 740 Park. It’s called Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream and it will air on PBS on November 12th as part of the international Why Poverty? documentary series, and will also be available on Hulu, iTunes and Netflix for digital download later this month. I’ll post links once I have them. Thanks to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer who played matchmaker for Gibney and me. UPDATE: Curbed comments on the Gibney/Gross collaboration, of course.
David Murdock, the billionaire who features large in Unreal Estate–he owned (and ripped the designer guts out of) the most significant mansion in Bel Air (pictured)–has sold an even more significant piece of property, the Hawaiian island of Lanai, to Oracle’s Larry Ellison, but retains the right to build a field of 45-story turbine windmills there. The ongoing controversy over the windmills is the subject of a big front pager in today’s New York Times.
Dawn Arnall, widow of Roland Arnall, a central figure in creating the mortgage crisis, is quietly seeking to sell Owlwood in Holmby Hills, one of the central estates in Unreal Estate for a noisy $150 million ask, says the Hollywood Reporter and Real Estalker. Among the fabled residents of the gated estate (actually once three separate houses): Tony Curtis (pictured), Cher, Jayne Mansfield, Engelbert Humperdink, David Geffen, and movie mogul Joseph Schenk, who allegedly let Marilyn Monroe stay in a guest house in return for special benefits. Read all about them all in Unreal Estate.
The news that actress Kristen Stewart was caught cheating on her Twilight co-star Rob Pattinson was quite unreal. There’s also an Unreal Estate connection. The photos of Stewart snogging her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders put an unwelcome spotlight on the cuckquean (the female equivalent of cuckold) in the affair, Sander’s wife, the British model Liberty Ross. Happier in the glare of publicity is Ross’s father Ian Ross, aka Flipper (for his metal leg), who brought his family to Los Angeles in the ’70s when he signed on as the front man for California’s first roller disco, called Flipper’s, of course. That was a bit of a comedown from his first gig as a founder of Radio Caroline, Britain’s legendary pirate radio station. And after Flipper’s flopped, Ross slipped further down the greasy pecking order of L.A. life, leveraging his plummy accent (his wife, Liberty’s mum, was a wealthy aristocrat) into a job as butler at the Sunset Boulevard mansion of the fruit-and-nut billionaires and political and cultural contributors Lynda and Stewart Resnick, two of the main characters in Unreal Estate. Ross later wrote a revenge novel called Beverly Hills Butler starring a thinly disguised version of the Resnicks.
“Lies and gross exaggerations,” is how Linda and Stewart Resnick of Beverly Hills characterized Unreal Estate–which ends with their astonishing story–in a mass email condemnation shortly before its release late last year. They cited no specifics (of course) and the book nonetheless spent 15 weeks on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. And today, news comes that the Resnicks have engaged in what can only be described as “lies and gross exaggerations” themselves in promoting their signature POM Wonderful pomegranate products. “An administrative law judge issued a cease-and-desist order after determining that the company had insufficient evidence to support claims that its juice reduced the risks of heart disease, prostate cancer and impotence,” reports Stephanie Strom in this morning’s New York Times. “The order will remain in effect for the next 20 years. It was issued after an Federal Trade Commission complaint two years ago, contending that Pom Wonderful had engaged in false and misleading advertising.”