|Tom Fox, Producer of "Return of the Living Dead, Part II"|
I just received my personal copy of Gary Smart's great new book on all things living dead, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD BOOK. I am pleased to have been a part of it in some small way (ie., loaning stills along with my on set recollections). I had emailed Gary this story I am about to tell regarding an incident that occurred during the time I was doing research for the late John Kobal for, DEMILLE AND HIS ARTISTS, a coffee table book to have been published by Alfred Knopf.
This was during the filming of the second film in the “Living Dead” franchise when I was still covering the project for FILMS AND FILMING magazine in London. By day I was working over at the DeMille estate mansion in Laughlin Park, which was nestled among those old estates below the Hollywood sign. The DeMille mansion was located at, where else, 2000 De Mille Drive. It consisted of two houses with a long window-lined corridor connecting the two homes as one.
I had become fast friends with James Karen during the making of the first “Living Dead” film and while Jimmy was working on the sequel I invited him to take a private tour of the DeMille house which tickled him to no end, as he was a huge film buff with a special interest in old Hollywood, as well as, all things Buster Keaton.
When I made the arrangements, Jimmy called me at the last minute asking if he could bring Tom Fox, the producer of the sequel to Return of the Living Dead. I was pleased to have them both, as I had never met Fox until that afternoon.
The two men arrived at DeMille's estate at 4 pm. There was only a grounds-keeper on duty by then so we were left to our own devices as the late afternoon light was beginning to fade into darkness.
The house itself was just as Mr. DeMille had left it, with his office looking as it might have done during one of DeMille’s many on-camera publicity films shot for Paramount during the filming of his last epic, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The office itself was dominated by a huge oil painting of Victor Mature as Samson, so the entire room was like a shrine to DeMille, always a larger than life figure, even in death.
At this point let me explain that while no one lived there anymore, there were reports of disturbances at night to the extent of the intervention of ghost hunters setting up cameras and recording devices in the downstairs sections of both houses to try and catch sight or sound of whatever walked the night alone. I, of course, never gave any thought to it until I was left there alone, except for Jimmy Karen and now Tom Fox.
The furnishings were vintage except that over the years members of DeMille's family had systematically removed valuable antiques from every room, replacing them with thrift shop items, that in some cases made you feel like you were on a film set that was about to be struck down any moment.
I began by taking Jimmy and Tom through the main house and then onward to the second complex with the family bedrooms on the second floor. There was one bedroom in particular that still had all the trappings of the past. It had been a child's room complete with a vintage teddy bear still resting on a pillow waiting for a playmate.
Jimmy and Tom were still down stairs examining the family portraits that still hung in places of honor in the living room. After drinking bottled water all day I found myself in need of one of the DeMille bathroom's all of which were upstairs as well. So I went up the stairs, passing the child's bedroom, making my way to one of the guest bathrooms nearby. As I was preparing to go back downstairs to bring the guys up to see the last of my tour, I thought I heard something in the child's bedroom so I opened the door and stepped inside seeing the stuffed Teddy grinning at me from his place of honor on the bed. The dressing table had a large mirror attached, giving one a full view of the room. As I glanced into the mirror I saw the image of a young woman dressed in the manner of the late 20s with a white lace collar. Her expression was one of sadness. I froze where I stood, unable to speak until she began to fade from view. When I could, I left the room and went downstairs, still in some state of shock from what I had just seen. Both men immediately knew something was not right and I began to tell them what had happened. Jimmy was the first to speak, seeming to understand at once what I had been through, while Tom, who really didn’t know me at all, listened to all that we said without comment. We decided to go back upstairs as Jimmy thought it would make a difference to see the room again, but now with back-up, as it were.
Of course there was nothing to see when we went back into the bedroom except the entire room was ice cold, much colder than it was downstairs. As Tom pointed out, the coldness could be explained, as could almost everything else, except for the fact that I had seen a ghostly apparition in the mirror, of that I was firmly convinced. A few days later, a film crew, complete with ghost detecting gear, set up shop in both houses, recording the estate throughout the night. The results were not one hundred percent that the house was indeed haunted, yet there were noises that could not be explained away, as well as, cold spots.
This happened to me well over a decade now, yet I cannot walk by a bedroom mirror without remembering that late afternoon on DeMille Drive when I came face to face with a specter from a “Hollywood” that refuses to die.