The Hollywood career of comedian and character actor ZaSu Pitts spanned most of the 20th century, from silent films with Mary Pickford to her final role as Gert the harried switchboard operator in Stanley Kramer's 1963 classic comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Her greatest film successes, however, were in the 1930s when Paul R. Williams designed this Southern California home for the movie star and her second husband John E. Woodall, a former tennis champion and real estate broker. (Classic Images. December, 2006)
Built in 1936 on North Rockingham Avenue for $20,000, this two-story Georgian-style residence had fourteen rooms including seven bedrooms, eight-and-a-half bathrooms, pool, guesthouse, and an extensively landscaped yard overlooking Mandeville Canyon. (Los Angeles Times. May 24, 1936) Taking advantage of the site Williams included floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Pacific Ocean. For dramatic effect a pipe organ was set into the wall between these windows. When Pitts and her husband hired Williams to design their home she noted in a subsequent interview: "Paul Williams uses everything that is romantic and picturesque in Georgian and Regency architecture." His design for the couple "combined elements of sophistication and elegance, while retaining a welcoming warmth." (Charles Stumpf. Zasu Pitts: The Life and Career, 2010)
In recognition of her celebrity, Pitts' home was often featured in glossy magazines of the time. Recognized as an accomplished cook and candy maker, the actress wrote a number of popular cookbooks including Candy Hits by ZaSu Pitts (published posthumously in 1963). The book mixed movie memories with her favorite recipes including many of the tricks she learned as she mastered candy making. Always up to a challenge, Pitts plowed through classic French-language books to uncover the secrets of past master confectioners. She distilled many of the complicated recipes to simple lists for her modern readers including: "How to Master Chocolate Dipping in Ten Hard Lessons." Number one on her list was—"Pray!"
Maynard L. Parker's photograph of color-coordinated, perfectly arranged cakes in her spotless circular kitchen was published in the June, 1944 issue of The American Home. (image 2) Working closely with architect Williams on the layout and design, Pitts believed her kitchen was the heart of her home and orderd custom built-in shelves to showcase her large cookbook collection and wall space to display her collection of decorative antique candy molds. An accomplished baker she insisted the kitchen have two ovens: a modern stove covered in black and white enamel and also a tradtional European-style brick oven. (Darra Goldstein. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. 1993) In an interview accompaning the photo essay in The American Home, she described her vision for the ultimate kitchen, "It was not square or oblong or L-shaped, it was ROUND — completely round. It was my dream come true."
Though the house was extensively restored in the 1990s, these renovations were true to Williams' original design intent. After removing layers of unsympathetic details added by later owners, including a fake fireplace and "ornate moldings and plaster cupids," the house now appears much as it did when Pitts and Woodall lived there. (House and Garden. December, 1996) The home in Brentwood now includes a room above the garage and the master bathroom has been completely redone, but classic interior Williams’ elements remain, including the original restored paneling, the dramatic staircase with intricate wrought-iron balustrade in the large entrance hall and gentle curves carved into the ceilings. In addition to the organ, the architect included other theatrical touches for his Hollywood client—a secret staircase located behind a bookshelf in the library leading to the master bedroom.