Celebrity Women & The Wheels that Woo Them
By Bill Kelly
West favored her town car
movie legend Frances Farmer said it best — "They were kings
and queens in those days, idols to be adored. All perfect. All untouchable."
today, aficionados of the Golden Era strain for a piece of that
bygone memorabilia; Vivien Leigh's Oscar for "Gone With the
Wind" sold for $563,500; the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in "The Wizard
of Oz" went for $168,000; the short, Austrian-style dress worn
by Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" was auctioned
off from $12,650.
more than signed scripts, autographs and the like, owning a car
once driven by a star of the Golden Era brings one unimaginable
pleasures of recognition and adulation, and, according to one collector,
"it confirms one's status."
is placed on how memorable the movie star is, more than the condition
of the car itself," said another collector, who, among other
vehicles, owns an automobile that once reposed in the grandeur garage
of Marlene Dietrich. "I select my cars as one would a prize
bull or a promising filly — only I pay five times as much."
Valentino and his wife, Natacha, went to Europe in 1922, the purpose
of the trip was to buy antique props for his new movie, "The
Hooded Falcon," based on the life of El Cid. The Ritz-Carlton
company advanced them $40,000 for the props, but the squandering
Valentinos spent an additional $60,000 for personal curios, including
a few classic automobiles, which they brought back and stored in
their garage at Falcon Lair, their 80-acre Beverly Hills estate.
Natacha's most prized possession was her custom-built Isotta Fraschini.
Stardom, celebrity and fancy cars gave the Valentinos not only status,
but a sense of security. On the other hand, their car collection
kept them financially strapped, and when their marriage fell apart
in 1925, Natacha wrote Rudolph: "A man should control his own
destiny. Automobiles are controlling yours."
automobiles could talk, George Raft's limousine probably would burst
a piston to tell a story that happened in the '30s when Raft was
billed with Eddie Cantor in "Palmy Days." One night, Raft
noticed a flaming redhead who was in the chorus, who seemed despondent.
He asked her if something was wrong. "I'm flat broke, need
rent money and on top of that, my mother is arriving from back East,"
she sobbed. Raft peeled $100 from his bankroll. "He insisted
that I take it, along with his grand limousine and chauffeur,"
she said later.
met my mother at the Pasadena train station. When she saw my car,
she was overwhelmed. That night was one of the most marvelous evenings
of our entire lives. The chauffeur drove my mom and me to a fancy
restaurant; we had a terrific time."
year later, Raft was astonished when the girl approached him in
the Brown Derby restaurant and insisted on repaying the loan he
long ago had forgotten. In later years, Lucille Ball still recalled
the "mile-long limousine" and the generosity bestowed
on her by Raft.
Bow, "It" Girl, stands beside her red
dual-cowl touring car in 1928
Bow, the "It" girl, was one of the top box-office draws
of the Roaring 20s. She symbolized sex in a decade preoccupied
with the subject. One of her famous lines was, "The more I
know about men, the more I like dogs." She also liked fast
had a half-dozen studio cars and chauffeurs at her disposal, but
she loved to disappear from the Hollywood "honkie crowd"
now and then and head for the wide-open spaces in her own red, 1928
dual cowl touring car. "I can't get a car that will drive fast
enough," she once said. Legend has it that when Bow suffered
a nervous breakdown in 1931 at age 25, she fled Hollywood, leaving
behind one of her most prized possessions, a '14 Stanley Steamer
given to her by one of her many lovers, Gary Cooper. The car, valued
by experts today at around $70,000, was stolen and never recovered.
first big gift Elvis Presley bought his girlfriend, Ginger Alden,
was a beautiful milk-white Mark V Continental. According to Gary
Peters, a limousine service owner in Los Angeles, this is what happened:
got a call at 4 a.m. on a Friday from Elvis. He said he wanted a
white-on-white Mark V delivered to his hotel in Las Vegas right
away. But Ford Motor Co. was six months behind in delivery on white-on-whites.
Elvis became enraged, and at his insistence, I called several California
dealers until I found one [a Continental] in Glendale. I paid for
it with a $17,000 personal check, although I didn't have any money
in the bank. I drove straight to Las Vegas, arriving at 1 a.m. Elvis
presented the car to Ginger, and I caught the next flight back to
called again. This time he wanted me to pick up the car in Las Vegas
and deliver it to Memphis. So my son and I flew to Vegas and drove
the Mark V to Memphis. We arrived at 9 a.m., took the car to a car
wash then delivered it to Graceland. 'Here's the Lincoln,' I told
Elvis. 'That didn't take you long,' he said. 'We drove all night,'
I told him. And he said, 'Well, you shouldn't-a-hurried. I got her
a Cadillac Seville, so I won't be needing it.'
next to her Cadillac town car
symbol Jean Harlow enjoyed automobile touring in the mild climate
of Southern California. The top was never raised on her '37 touring
car while she owned it because she liked to display her beauty.
Among the many cars the "blonde bombshell" owned was a
Cadillac limousine, license number 1T500, and a '30 French-built
Crawford's '33 Cadillac, with its huge whitewall tires, is a Model
452C Towncar by Fleetwood. She purchased the Towncar from Hillcrest
Motors in L.A. The car changed hands numerous times before returning
to Hillcrest in 1973 as part of its historic automobile collection.
the walled privacy of Lucille Ball's Beverly Hills mansion, with
its flagstone terrace and immense swimming pool, sat her dazzling
light-blue '62 Ghia L6.4 Coupe, with an OHV V-8 of 352 horsepower.
These precious cars were manufactured between 1960 and 1963 in Detroit.
The L6.4 was one of the most expensive cars on the road, and extremely
rare even when new. It was in great demand, and it justified the
huge salaries of the affluent. Other Hollywood idols who were fortunate
to own Ghias were Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin, Hoagy Carmichael and
Ginger Rogers. Incidentally, Ginger's first car was a second-hand
Plymouth, which she bought herself at the age of 18.
Lena Horne only owned two cars in her entire life. In 1950, while
she was in England, she saw a picture in a magazine of a Jaguar
and called the factory, which was just opening up again after the
pounding it had taken during the war. Jaguar invited her to see
the cars it was manufacturing. After touring the factory, she ordered one.
A car similar to Lena
Horne's 1950 Jaguar
"It was a Mark IX silver-gray sedan with an English driveside
and lipstick-red upholstery," she said. "They made it
especially for me, and I had it shipped to America."
prestige of owning a Jaguar seemed a little unrealistic when you
consider that Lena Horne never learned how to drive.
first car that actress Lily Tomlin owned was an army-green '69 Firebird
convertible, which she bought at the end of '69 because it was cheaper.
She drove it from New York to California when she joined the cast
of television's "Laugh-In." "It was so banged up,"
she said, "that people kept saying to me, 'get a new car.'
But I was afraid that if I ran into something with a new car, I'd
be miserable. People on the show used to call it 'The Tank.' When
I finally got rid of it, it had fallen apart." Today, Tomlin
owns two clunker Sevilles and a red '55 Dodge Royal Lancer, none
of them prized possessions.
of the stars invariably carry an element of excitement and curiosity
for various reasons. Serious collectors say (sometimes with a wince),
that cars that a celebrity was killed in, or was arrested in, or
even robbed in, hold a certain fascination and are extremely sought
after. In the long run, long after the star's name has disappeared
from the marquee, the star's car remains on center stage.
anxious collector says that one day, the $215,000 Rolls-Royce Corniche
convertible that Zsa Zsa Gabor was driving when she was pulled over
by a cop in Beverly Hills in 1989 will be worth twice that amount
to a car buff. The former Miss Hungary and cosmetics entrepreneur
unknowingly made the car famous when she was pulled over for driving
with an expired license, having an open container of alcohol in
her car and an expired car registration.
car that became famous because of a run-in with a policeman was
Frances Farmer's '41 tan Ford Coupe. On the night of Oct. 9, 1942,
she was driving to a party down Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu
to Santa Monica when an officer pulled her over for failing to lower
her lights in a dimout. She insulted the cop and was hauled off
to jail and put on probation. After Farmer was committed to the
state hospital for the insane at Steilacoom, Wash., the car sat
in her mother's driveway, rusting away until a scrap man happened
by and bought it for junk. "Evidently, the poor fellow didn't
know what he had," a super-rich collector of Hollywood memorabilia
sympathized. "I'd given $100,000 for that car today."
a car that became famous because of its owner's death was Grace
Kelly's 10-year-old British Rover 3500, which skidded on a snaking
road at Cap-d'Ali in the Cote d'Azur region of Monaco in September
of 1982 and plunged 120 feet down a treacherous mountain. Unfortunately,
it was a road that Princess Grace had driven a hundred times before.
She lost control of the car after suffering a relatively minor cerebral
incident, one that need not have been fatal to anyone who wasn't
driving down the Moyenne Corniche at the time. A gambler at a nearby
Lowe's casino offered to purchase the totalled vehicle for $60,000,
but Prince Rainier had it burned.
young Angela Lansbury with car
Lansbury arrived in America from England during the war and settled
in Los Angeles with her mother and two twin brothers.She and her
mother pooled their savings
and bought a cream-colored two-seat Ford with a rumble seat for
$125. "That car represented freedom," she said. They drove
to Idlewild, Big Bear and Palm Springs, picnicking along the way,
letting their dogs run. After she signed her first contract with
MGM, Lansbury bought a new DeSoto.
once was a time when you might have found, sitting on almost three
acres of land in Westport, Conn., a '79 blue Volkswagen convertible
belonging to Paul Newman and an orange Plymouth station wagon that
his wife, Joanne Woodward, liked to drive. Now she can be found
behind the wheel or being chauffeured around town of a Ford Crown
most fabulous car I ever saw in my life" confided Forrest Tucker
once, "was Bobby Darin's dream car. In March of '61 Joan Crawford
offered him $150,000 for the car, which he turned down. It took
seven years of planning by Darin and Andrew Di Dia. Crushed diamond
dust was used in the paint applied in 30 coats to the car."
cars of the stars, more than anything else, always have kept the
fanatical hope and faith of middle-class America alive. In the midst
of gloominess, there was always that one glistening spot, Hollywood,
where the hallmarks of the free enterprise system, rivalry, status-seeking
and discernible income continued through the purchase of cars of
the stars in the traditional American way.