For reasons too tedious to explain, but having a lot to do with taking over ownership of a cat, I found myself a couple of weekends ago in Malibu, a ritzy little beach town just up the coast from LA. Now, I would be the first to admit that I don’t “get” Malibu. I was told by somebody in the know that it’s the place people move after they make their first serious money in Hollywood. They move out, get the beach house, the view, the seclusion, then a couple of years later they realize they’re paying way too much money for this place, that they’re out of the action, that they have to drive an hour and a half to get anywhere they actually want to be, and then they move back into a house in the Hollywood Hills.
Whether all that’s true or not, it was certainly a mighty tedious drive to get to Malibu from where I live, so it seemed that having gone all that way I should at least have a walk along the beach.
I didn’t go very far - the cat was calling - but I walked for 40 minutes or so, and hell yes, I could see the attraction of having a Malibu beach house. In fact the whole stretch looked like an architectural theme park; all manner of quirky, individualistic, slightly over the top beach houses, some of them so close to the beach that any damn fool could ignore the no trespassing signs and walk right up to the front door and poke around, although you could be pretty sure you were being filmed by security cameras.
And eventually I walked past, and in due course poked around (didn’t go inside – though others clearly had done), a genuine Malibu ruin, that looked in fact as though it became a ruin before it was even completed.
The story as I hear it (and my source may not be 100% reliable), is that a Getty heir began to build a house for his mistress. Now, I don’t know what constitutes extravagance in the Getty clan but looking around this place it seems as though the architect or the mistress, or both, decided to blow as much of the old man’s money as possible. There’s enough marble on the outside, to furnish a small showroom, most of it gorgeous, garish, madly expensive, and not quite matching.
Then again, bits of it look kind of tacky. Are those columns with the rebar bar sticking out of them supposed to look classical? Are those arches meant to be Moorish?
Anyway, I’m sure it’s very unfair to judge a project before it's finished, but it appears that unfinished is how it’s going to stay. Getty heir and mistress apparently fell out, and both parties just shrugged their shoulders and walked away. You can do that in Malibu I guess, certainly if you’re a Getty. But as I say, I’m happy to be corrected on all this.
It was a certain amount of fun poking around the ruin, looking for clues, feeling like a gumshoe. And let’s face it, it doesn’t take much to make me feel like Philip Marlowe, and although I find it hard to think of either Marlowe or his creator Raymond Chandler as beach boys, the fact is if you live in LA, you’re bound to end up walking on the beach sooner or later.
I haven’t found much evidence for this in Chandler’s case. Most of the extant photographs show him in his study, smoking a pipe and fondling a cat. But there is this rather nice picture of him walking somewhere that could very possibly be a beach, though I wouldn't swear to it: it might equally be a quarry or conceivably a studio backlot.
And here he is in Palm Springs in the late 50s, by the pool rather than the beach, and very definitely eschewing the hardboiled image.
It’s easier to imagine Humphrey Bogart at the beach, but if you really want a picture of Bogie also letting his image slip just a little there’s this: also Palm Springs as far as I can tell.
But there is one locus where Marlowe, Chandler, and Malibu all come together, and that’s in Altman’s The Long Goodbye; a movie I never quite love as much as everybody else seems to, but it does have the very clever and telling conflation of Marlowe (Elliott Gould) – a man of the mean streets – having a case that takes him to the Malibu Colony, an even ritzier enclave within the ritzy little beach town; and has him walking along the beach, giving rise to this fabulous (and I assume entirely constructed) image.