Life in The Riviera

Actress Judith Anderson of “Rebecca” Fame Bought Her First Home on Amalfi Drive

By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer

Dame Frances Margaret Anderson—better known professionally as actress Judith Anderson—was a stage, film and television star.

And after many years of acting success on the stage in the 1920s and after adding film work to her career in the 1930s, Anderson landed in the Palisades, purchasing her first residence.

The actress, then in her early 40s, proudly exclaimed at the time that her property sported “Eucalyptus. Mimosa, pepper trees. Daphne, vegetables. Marvelous!”

The wavy, brown-haired Anderson, who first appeared professionally on stage while in her teens in 1915, was known for her powerful female roles.

Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

“I like emotional roles because they permit unleashing of one’s feelings,” Anderson wrote in a 1924 magazine publication.

But even off stage, the slim but solid-looking Anderson once admitted, “I have not myself a very serene temperament.”

Writer Dan Callahan described her as having “small eyes, long, bumpy nose, and prominent mole just below her tiny mouth.” The Washington Post writer Martin Weil wrote of Anderson having been known for “her vivid gestures, resonant voice and the haunting expressiveness of her eyes.”

All these features gave Anderson a scene-stealing stage and screen presence. As a viewer, her mesmerizing face was hard to turn away from.

Anderson eventually developed a reputation for playing sinister characters. She once addressed this false perception.

“People always think of me as playing these terrible, terrible women, but I’ve really played very few of them … but no one remembers the pleasant people I’ve played … I haven’t always been an ogre.”

Anderson was born in 1897. Over four decades later, Anderson, who first made her first stage acting career mark at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway with the 1924 play “Cobra,” purchased her first house.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Anderson’s newly acquired house was located on Amalfi Drive in The Riviera neighborhood. Home ownership made the actress, who appeared in her first feature film in the 1933 film “Blood Money” with George Bancroft, very happy.

“And now I have a house,” Anderson proclaimed at the time. “I have everything in the world!”

Anderson’s home, which the Los Angeles Times reported cost her $40,000, in the Palisades was a white stucco.

The three-acre estate was far away from where Anderson was born—her Amalfi home was more than 8,000 miles away, today a 16-plus-hour flight, from her place of birth in Adelaide, South Australia. There, she had been raised by a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a sharebroker and prospector.

Anderson took possession of her Amalfi Drive home in 1940, the same year in which she would play her most-famous Hollywood role: Anderson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock classic film “Rebecca.”

In “Rebecca,” a Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine vehicle, Anderson played an evildoing housekeeper who torments Fontaine’s character.

Off-screen though, Anderson had just become a real-life housekeeper. However, in this Palisadian home role, she didn’t seek to do evil. Instead, her purpose was to seek out flowers.

Desley Deacon, the author of “Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage,” told the Palisadian-Post that Anderson may have bought her Amalfi home for its roses.

“I think one of the main things is that she was a keen gardener and bought the house for its rose garden more than anything else,” Deacon explained. “Also, that it was her first house and she loved having her own home and living in California, which reminded her so much of Australia.”

Deacon’s biography of Anderson quotes the actress, shortly after buying her Palisadian home.

“I have been a sardine in a can all my life: on the road, on a train, in a hotel room or a little apartment,” she shared. “I want a home, I want to live in it and be a part of it.”

The biography also quoted Anderson offering additional reasons for buying her expansive Amalfi property: “I love the sunshine. I love the trees.”

Anderson also must also have loved the fresh start in her life that the ocean breezes of the Palisades offered her, for she landed on Amalfi Drive fresh off a divorce from her first husband. According to Anderson, her 1937 matrimonial union did not go well, lasting only a couple of years.

Anderson’s Palisadian residency happened while the actress was between the two marriages she would have in her lifetime. She would depart the Palisades in the late 1940s for her next marital experience. But, her second try at matrimony was only a little longer than her first.

In Anderson’s own words, both marital couplings of hers were “disastrous … very short, but too long.” She stated that “neither experience was a jolly holiday.”

After departing Amalfi Drive, Anderson continued her acting career, which spanned some seven decades. The actress died on January 3, 1992, in Santa Barbara.

Michael Oldham is the author of the novel “The Valentino Formula” and can be reached at hollywoodlandings@sbcglobal.net.