WEA News

A legendary Hollywood Hills home, whose renters included John Belushi and Liza Minnelli, changes hands

Storied homes are legion in the Hollywood Hills, but one just north of Sunset Boulevard arguably boasts the lion’s share of tales, along with a larger-than-life owner.

Producer Chet Sampson bought the Marmont Lane house in 1969 for $69,000 — packing the two-bedroom home with a string of high-profile celebrity renters while he traveled the world as a lecturer on cruise ships starting in 1976.

After Sampson’s death seven years ago, his longtime partner, Kjell Ostensen, continued to live in the 1946 property. He sold it in January for $2.15 million, turning over the venerable, history-filled home nearly five decades after Sampson purchased it.

“I heard a lot of the renter stories from the tabloids — friends would mail them to us,” said Ostensen, 66, who now lives in Palm Springs.

The actors and musicians who passed through the house were usually in town on gigs (most rented for a few months) and favored the home’s privacy and backyard.

Peter Falk was Sampson’s first renter. There was also Liza Minnelli, Louie Anderson (known for restyling the house at will), Jack Warden, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason (the band used the house during rehearsals for “The Wall” tour), Peter Boyle, Jocko Marcellino (founder of Sha Na Na), director Gene Saks, Laura Branigan (1980s hit “Gloria”) and Frank Langella.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd rehearsed their just-formed Blues Brothers band in the garage. Belushi rented the house for several months in 1978-1979, according to Annie Constantinesco, the home’s longtime rental agent.

The final renter was “90210” actress Shannen Doherty, who had the longest lease at nearly five years, then priced at $5,000 per month.

Ostensen, a retired engineer, said he was unfazed by the Hollywood tumult. He moved from Norway to Los Angeles in 1980 to study engineering at USC and began living with Sampson, whom he met in 1975 while working as a mechanic on a cruise ship.

It was Sampson, however, who reveled in orbiting Hollywood’s star-studded galaxy.

The Grosse Pointe, Mich., native (a former high school math and science teacher) met nearly 300 celebrities, as cited in Sampson’s unpublished memoir, many becoming friends who frequented his Marmont Lane dinner parties where guest lists topped 100. He moved to Hollywood in 1963.

The associations began during Sampson’s stint as a World War II naval officer in charge of organizing thousands of events, including large-scale variety shows, often for scores of ships anchored in the Philippines and Australia.

Sampson’s celebrity connections were cemented during cross-country national parks tours in the 1940s through the 1960s in which he ferried 6,000 teenagers packed in station wagon caravans, according to Michigan news accounts.

The trip’s tour de force: a four-day stop in Hollywood that brimmed with studio tours, and meetings and lunches with stars (totaling 200 over the years, by Sampson’s account): Rock Hudson, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Ronald Reagan, Burt Lancaster, Shirley Temple, Charlton Heston and Bob Hope, among others.

The highlight for the Midwest teens (besides swimming with Debbie Reynolds in her pool) were singalong campfires with Bing Crosby and his four teenage sons at his ranch in Elko, Nev.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” said 1957 participant Barbara Faubert, 75, a resident of Wellesley Hills, Mass.

The indefatigable Sampson met many of the stars simply by knocking on their doors (Debbie Reynolds), writing them a letter (Marlon Brando) or tapping them on the shoulder (Cary Grant).

“He loved bringing people together,” Ostensen said. “We had a very good life together.”

Click here to read the article on the latimes.com.