Too Close for Comfort
You’ve found your dream house at last. Everything is fine—until one day a star falls to Earth next door with a marquee name, money to burn and an ego big enough to extinguish life on the planet. First you consider the positive side. Sharing back-fence gossip with a star. Maybe property values will soar. Then again, maybe the only soaring will be done by your blood pressure, when paparazzi begin haunting your street, renovation crews turn your lawn into a dump site, and a sound system fit for the Apocalypse blares House of Pain tapes into the night. Good fences make good neighbors, but sometimes, when you’re living next to a celebrity, a good lawyer helps too. And sometimes, of course, it’s the star who needs legal help. Celebrities rarely move into a neighborhood unnoticed, and the presence of the rich and famous can bring out the beast in the folks next door. Consider, if you will, the cases that follow.
Madonna in Hollywood: Like a circus
The good citizens of Holly woodland knew that having Madonna as a neighbor might add a little color to the wealthy Los Angeles enclave. They just didn’t realize how much. Last May, only five months after buying the landmark Castillo del Lago estate for a reported $5 million, the Blond One slapped a coat of dark russet paint over the 32-room mansion’s pristine white exterior and accented it with 12-to 15-inch-wide canary-yellow stripes. “Madonna‘s paint job is to Hollywoodland what painting the White House pumpkin-and-chartreuse would be to Washington,” complains real estate agent and preservationist Crosby Doe, who lives three doors down from the estate that neighbors are calling Barnum & Bailey’s.
“It was beautiful before. Now it’s just disgusting,” adds Christa Spieth, an actress and teacher who lives nearby. “It makes you physically ill to look at because it’s the color of blood—not cherry red, not fingernail red, but blood red.”
And that was just the first of Madonna‘s sins. Next, says Doe, she replaced the antique tiles on the roof of the historic mansion once owned by Bugsy Siegel, jackhammered out the tile in the center courtyard and added small concrete ornaments to the walls along the driveway.
Of course, veteran Madonna trackers aren’t surprised by the fuss. After all, the singer previously raised eyebrows on Miami’s old Millionaire’s Row when she hung sheets of black canvas on the front gates of her estate there to shield herself from prying eyes. In 1990 a neighbor had to get a court order to force her to trim the shrubbery at her Hollywood Hills home. And in New York City, where she lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Madonna has admitted that “my downstairs neighbors always complain that the music’s too loud.”
So far, Madonna has ignored the complaints of her fellow Hollywoodland residents. “It’s her house. It’s a free country,” says her publicist, Liz Rosenberg. Disgruntled neighbors have no legal recourse—the neighborhood’s zoning plan says nothing about color—but they hope their disapproval might persuade the Madonna to rethink her paint job. “It certainly is her house, and she has the right to do what she wants, but Madonna lives in a community,” says Doe. “Does one have the right to take the crown jewel of a neighborhood and make a farce out of it?”
George Harrison’s hard day in a Hawaiian courthouse
It’s a long and winding road that leads to George Harrison’s six-bedroom house on a remote corner of Maui’s northeast coastline. But it’s a short footpath about 100 feet from his bedroom window that has the ex-Beatle in a state of supreme agitation. After a decade of disagreement, Harrison and several of his Maui neighbors are embroiled in multiple lawsuits over a pathway that extends about a third of a mile through Harrison’s 61-acre properly and links his inland neighbors with the ocean. “Have you ever been raped?” Harrison asked the press after testifying in a Maui court on July 20. “I’m being raped by all these people. My privacy is being violated.”
But his neighbors say Harrison ignored their rights and padlocked the gale to the path in the mid-1980s. “He was pretty much under the opinion that it didn’t matter,” says house-painter Scott Whitney, 39. “Like ‘I’m George Harrison and you’re not.’ ”
A circuit judge ruled on July 15 that Harrison’s neighbors were guaranteed access to the ocean when they bought their property. So now Harrison, who has lived part-time on Maui since 1982 (he also has a home in England), is arguing that the path should be moved to the other side of his properly, away from his 8,000-square-foot redwood house. “We can make it like a national park if they like,” said Harrison, offering his neighbors the right to picnic and camp there. But the neighbors contend that, while the original path goes down a manageable slope to one of the best fishing spots in the area, the alternate route ends in a treacherous 180-foot cliff. “It’s a joke,” says Whitney. “His way is very dangerous. The other way is the only safe way.”
The judge is expected to rule on Harrison’s plan this month. But no matter what the court decides, the situation is not likely to be resolved soon. Some of Harrison’s neighbors have filed lawsuits for damages for all the time he has kept the path closed, and others are considering a defamation suit based on his statements about being raped. As for Harrison, he’s hinted that if he loses in court and has to reopen the path, he’ll probably move. Says the singer: “It’s the end of the property for me.”
A dog’s life in Studio City: Disrespecting the lawn
It was, in essence, much to-do about dog doo. For months former Simon & Simon star Jameson Parker and his wife, Darlene, were warned about failing to scoop their four dogs’ excreta from local yards. “People put up signs, but it didn’t matter,” says one of the Parkers’ Studio City, Calif., neighbors. “We were all annoyed about it.”
Robert St. George, however, was more annoyed than most. When one of the Parkers’ dogs urinated on his front lawn last Oct. 1, St. George, 53, yelled obscenities at Darlene. And when Jameson complained about the tirade later, St. George allegedly pulled a gun and shot the actor twice—in the stomach and arm.
Now it’s St. George who’s in deep doo-doo, facing charges of attempted murder and assault with a firearm. The trial is set to begin Aug. 27. Parker, meanwhile, has fully recovered—and moved to an undisclosed location in Southern California. The dogs, of course, went along.
Alec Baldwin’s addition subtracts the ocean
Alec Baldwin just wanted a bigger bedroom. But when the actor built a second-floor addition in 1991 and enlarged the chimney on the little 150-year-old cottage he owns in Amagansett, N.Y., it was his neighbors who started losing sleep. “He took my last little bit of ocean away,” complained Boleslaw Mastai, 89, a retired antiques dealer who promptly-sued the town for permitting the renovation, which he says ruined his view. Mastai and his wife, Marie-Louise, who is in her 70s, accused Baldwin of trying to “Hollywoodize” this community in the Hamptons, which is accustomed to celebrity-turf disputes, and claimed he would never have got the town zoning board’s permission if he weren’t a celebrity. “Because the fellow is a movie actor, he is treated like a god,” gripes Marie-Louise. Baldwin, who keeps regular company with actress Kim Basinger, responded in a letter to the local newspaper, calling Mastai a “curmudgeon” and arguing that he (Baldwin) shouldn’t have to “be content to sleep in a 10-by-12-foot bedroom for the rest of my life.”
Although the courts have thus far found in Baldwin’s favor, two appeals by the Mastais are pending. Meanwhile the couple has found that celebrity fighting can be a double-edged sword. In preparing the actor’s defense, one of Baldwin’s attorneys discovered several alleged zoning violations on the Mastai property. So far the couple has had to pay $200 in fines.
A bumpy ride for a pilot named Travolta with weight problems
The people who live in the $500,000-plus houses in Spruce Creek, Fla., enjoy their golf course, swimming pools and tennis courts. But the centerpiece of the private, 1,000-family community five miles from Daytona Beach is its private airfield, home to 320 planes—including two owned by John Travolta.
When the property owners’ board of directors passed a rule last year restricting the field to aircraft weighing no more than 12,500 pounds, however, Travolta and Spruce Creek became locked in a legal dogfight. The problem: Travolta’s Gulfstream II jet, which is the size of a small commercial airliner and weighs 62,000 pounds fully loaded. Too big and too noisy, says the board. Too bad, says Travolta. “They didn’t say anything when I wanted to move in here [in 1988, with a 22,000-pound Hawker jet]. But suddenly, a few years later, there’s a weight problem.” And one Travolta supporter attributes the board’s actions to simple plane envy. John’s jet, he notes, “is bigger than theirs.”
In April, Travolta won the first round in court, but the board is appealing, calling his Gulfstream a safely hazard. “Safety is a board responsibility,” says a spokesman. “It has nothing to do with Mr. Travolta. We’re delighted to have him here.” Meanwhile, Travolta, who has not returned the Gulfstream to Spruce Creek since his court victory, says he’s saddened by the ongoing controversy and fears “antagonism at some level” if he brings the plane back. Says the actor: “I may have to move anyway.”
Donald trumps Palm Beach’s horrified Old Guard
When bumptious Donald Trump turned up in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1985, stuffy locals greeted him like a bad sunburn. “Too much, too soon, too lavish, too showy,” complained one Old Guard resident of The Donald’s arrival. But last year, when Trump proposed subdividing his 18-acre estate, Mar-a-Lago, into eight minimansions, the Waterford really went flying. Trump, who had bought the former Marjorie Merriweather Post estate for $8 million, claimed the annual cost of maintaining its 118-room mansion, nine-hole golf course, tennis court and 25 full-time groundskeepers, security guards and servants was more than $2½ million—too much even for him. But town officials rejected his plan to build the mansionettes (which would have sold for about $4 million each), arguing that they would destroy the estate’s historic integrity. Never one to take no for an answer, Trump sued the town for $50 million and began pitching an alternative scheme: to turn Mar-a-Lago into a self-sustaining private club with 1,000 dues-paying members.
On June 4, Palm Beach officials approved the club plan, and Trump dropped the suit. “Maybe it’s luck, maybe I’m lucky,” he said. But relations between Trump and local authorities aren’t likely to be smoothed over anytime soon. Five days after his zoning victory, Trump was threatening a new lawsuit, this time over an air-traffic path that sends low-flying planes over Mar-a-Lago.
Mr. Levinson, it’s your dressmaker at the gate
Cloris Leachman does have her own mailbox and even a number on her Los Angeles house. But the entrance bearing the address of the former Mary Tyler Moore Show actress’ home is situated on such a steep grade that she instructs delivery people to go around the corner and come up a driveway leading to another entrance. And therein lies the problem. Leachman shares the driveway with her neighbors, director Barry Levinson and his wife, Diana, and delivery people looking for Leachman frequently rang the Levinsons’ bell by mistake. In March 1991 the Levinsons got so fed up that they sued Leachman, charging that the near constant parade of deliverymen, wig fitters, carpel cleaners, makeup artists and others at their gate was intruding on their privacy and causing “mental anguish.” In September 1992, as part of a court-ordered settlement after more than $100,000 in combined legal bills, Leachman was told to provide better guidance for her visitors, and the Levinsons were instructed to treat erring bell ringers more politely. Both parties agreed “to try to be neighborly and avoid any further problems.”
So far the truce seems to be holding—even after Leachman’s shih tzu puppy was accidently run over in the Levinsons’ driveway last month. The Levinsons “came back and said how sorry they were,” says Leachman, obviously touched. And she expects the neighborliness to continue. “We all have to come up the same road,” says Leachman. “It’s hard to go your separate ways if you have to go up the same road.”
LAIRD HARRISON and LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles, MICHAEL SMALL on Maui, JACK OTTER in Amagansett and DON SIDER in Miami