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Famous Occupants (or visitors) Give House Flair— and Good Stories

By Polly Summar

    Years ago, late-night comedian Johnny Carson used to ask his audience about any "brushes with fame" they might have had. And some guy would stand up and say how his grandmother lived next door to the brother of Elizabeth Taylor's gardener, and how one time the gardener gave an old bundt pan from Elizabeth's kitchen to his brother who gave it to the guy's grandmother and how his grandmother made the best pound cake he had ever had in that bundt pan.
    Everyone seems to remember brushes with fame in incredible detail.
    Mine was with the new governor of California. Actually, it was just his arm, and he wasn't governor yet. One day in the late '70s, I was having breakfast at The Omelette Parlor in Ocean Park, Calif., and spotted the biggest arm I had ever seen, hanging over the back of a booth. I followed it to its root, er, neck, and the beefy thing was attached to that crazy body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger. And ... we were BOTH EATING OMELETTES!
    But nothing compares to the brushes with fame of the old hippie house my family and I once lived in, in Santa Fe.
    The sagging adobe sat proudly, despite its age, on a dead-end dirt road and everyone— everyone— had a story about it when they learned where we lived.
    Mostly, the stories boiled down to three brushes with fame:
    1) That Bob Denver (that would be Gilligan on "Gilligan's Island") had lived there and built the grape arbors in the yard and planted the grapes (naturally, a shipwrecked sailor would learn how to do those things on a deserted island);
    2) that musician Bob Dylan had lived there for one summer (but apparently didn't add anything substantial to the yard); and
    3) that a rather infamous drug dealer had lived there and built secret hiding places for his stashes which people were more than willing to come over and show us.
    (There were also some brushes with strangers that were annoying. Like the time the hippie parents, Moon Blossom and Peat Bog, came by because they wanted to show their little girl, Orange Blossom, where she was born. Could they just come in and show her the bedroom? At home by myself, I refused, but said they could walk around the outside of the house and look in the windows— but just for a little while.)
    The house itself was quite charming— double thick adobe walls, handpainted Mimbres creatures circling the kiva fireplace, terra cotta floor tiles that looked like fish scales— but it was the famous brushes that really captured our fancy. They made the house not just an old adobe, but a bit of living history. Someone, someone famous, had lived in our house. And the ghosts of Bob Dylan and Bob Denver made up for the fact that the Roto-Rooter man had to be summoned every few months, and that the roof leaked in three of the six rooms.
    Our house was like a doddering old aunt a family puts up with, plying her with sherry to entertain them with stories of Paris in the '20s. She had history, she had style, she had flash.
    And then one day, the stories, the charm, just weren't enough anymore. Our friends and family kept up a relentless tirade, that the velvet lady had become a velvet trap, keeping us from doing anything rational with our futures, like buying a house that worked.
    We might not have listened, if the rent hadn't suddenly spiked and the plumbing problems gotten worse. Shortly after we moved out, we heard that the roof collapsed and the whole house was razed. The property is now completely filled with a new structure, and the yard and grape arbors are gone. It's no longer the house that Bob Dylan and Bob Denver lived in, or even the house where my daughter turned tree stumps into tea tables.
    But we still have our stories.
    Has your house had a brush with fame? Maybe Shirley MacLaine sipped ice tea on your front porch when her car broke down on the way to the airport. Or maybe Mayor Martin Chávez's parents used to live in the house. Whatever the connection, we would like to hear about it. (We're not interested in personal brushes with fame, by the way: just those that affect your house or apartment.)
    Write to staff writer Polly Summar at the Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or e-mail: psummar@abqjournal.com