This is an intersection in the Westcliff West neighborhood. What do you see? Comfortable homes: Two houses have swimming pools; another house has a formal garden in the back yard.
The intersection is Somerset Lane and Arundel Avenue.
This is a house at that intersection. What do you see? A Cape Cod-style house with the characteristic flat-faced two-story main block and a dormered one-story wing. But there is more to this house: This house is a product of the golden age of Hollywood, when the names of movie studios (RKO, Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers) were household names, along with the names of producers (Selznick, Hughes, Meyer, Zanuck) and of directors (Hitchcock, Wilder, Capra, Kazan), when movie theaters themselves (such as our Palace, Hollywood, and Worth on 7th Street) were attractions as much as the movies they presented.
And if you roll down your car window in front of that house on the corner, you can almost hear the voices of three stars of the golden age of Hollywood: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas.
In 1948 Grant, Loy, and Douglas starred in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Plot: Grant, Loy, and their two daughters (the Blandings family) are living in cramped rental space in Manhattan when they decide to move to an old house in the Connecticut countryside. When they discover that the old house is not worth restoring, they tear it down and begin building a new house. The blueprints for their dream house quickly become blueprints for frustration. Enter Murphy’s law, with which anyone who has ever built a house is all too familiar. The Blandingses watch costs and complications escalate. But by the time “The End” flashes on the screen, Mr. Blandings has indeed built his dream house.
But Hollywood was not content just to make a good movie featuring three stars. Producer David O. Selznick and the General Electric company teamed up for one of most unusual and extravagant publicity campaigns in Hollywood history. To promote Mr. Blandings before its release in 1948, RKO built more than sixty replicas of the Blandings dream house in major cities, including Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Amarillo. General Electric supplied the appliances. The houses were fully furnished and decorated by local companies. And not on the cheap. At the corner of Somerset and Arundel no corners were cut.
RKO and GE blanketed the media in cities where the replica houses were built. Entertainment columnists plugged the houses and the movie. Newspapers interviewed the architects and builders of the houses, ran stories and photos and ads about the décor, the push-button appliances, the color schemes. There were cocktail parties and open houses. Organizations such as Junior Leagues provided hostesses for the dream houses during public tours. Stars of the movie made guest appearances at the houses.
On May 7, 1948 the Fort Worth Press ran this ad by McConnell Construction Company, builder of the Fort Worth Blandings house.
On July 7 Press entertainment columnist Jack Gordon wrote: “Fort Worth’s own ‘Mr. Blandings Dream House,’ at Somerset Lane and Arundel Ave., will be unveiled for the press with a cocktail party 5 to 7 p.m. today. The house is a duplicate of that featured in the RKO movie of the same name.”
On July 16 and 18, just days before the movie opened at the Worth Theater, the Star-Telegram printed ads by (1) businesses congratulating other businesses that participated in building and furnishing the Fort Worth Blandings house and (2) businesses that participated therein. For example, Worth Food Markets stocked the pantry of the Blandings house. Fort Worth Sand & Gravel supplied the concrete. White’s Builders Materials supplied—you guessed it—the building materials for the house. Builder W. E. McConnell Construction Company announced an open house.
On a page with an ad for Southern Select beer (“Smooth! Mellow! Swell!”) and a report on local polio cases, Ace Plumbing & Heating Company reminded readers that it had installed the Blandings plumbing. Hunt Planing Mill provided the millwork. Goodyear Service Store and Jimmy Burton’s Electric Appliance Service Company said the Blandings dream kitchen appliances were General Electric. And Frank Kent Motor Company said that if Mr. Blandings lived in Fort Worth he’d surely have his Ford serviced at Frank Kent.
Fakes & Co. furnished the Blandings house and provided the most up-to-date GE appliances.
Lastly, on this page with another report on polio, Pulliam Cement Contractors took credit for the Blandings house cement; Haltom’s took credit for the table setting; Sheet Metal Service Company installed the heating system; Stewart Title Company wrangled the paper work; Hilscher Nursery & Florist performed the landscaping; Texas Motors provided a 1949 Ford; and Birds Eye took credit for the frosted foods that the two Blandings daughters eat in the movie.
“But who,” I hear you ask with insatiable curiosity, “furnished and installed the termite metal shields for Mr. Blandings’s dream house?” The answer is found on the above newspaper page just northeast of Teddy Roosevelt: the Stone Company, 3501 Locke Street, phone 78-1911.
After the movie premiered and the dream houses had served their purpose, they were sold, some by raffle. Like the Fort Worth dream house, several others are still standing, some with original furnishings.
The first owner of the Fort Worth Blandings house (after builder W. E. Connell) was Val D. Scroggie, a physician. He bought the house in October 1948 and lived there until his death in 1961. In 1937 Dr. Scroggie had been one of the doctors who had treated victims of the New London (Rusk County) school explosion, which killed an estimated 311 people and injured as many more.
Dr. Scroggie died in 1961. The Sports Car Club of America established the Val D. Scroggie Award, given annually to the racing physician who makes the greatest contribution to automotive medicine and race safety.
Dallas gave more media coverage to its Blandings house than Fort Worth gave to its Blandings house. Throughout the summer of 1948 the Dallas Morning News ran stories about the Dallas dream house on Walnut Hill Lane in Preston Hollow. General Electric ran full-page ads.
The dream houses were all-electric, and Reddy Kilowatt was all smiles in this ad by Dallas Power & Light.
Video from a vintage Reddy Kilowatt TV commercial:
The Dallas Morning News ran full-page ads about the companies that provided the furnishings and fabrics of the Dallas dream house.
And what of the Dallas Blandings house after the publicity blitz ended? The house was still standing in 2012 when I began researching the Fort Worth Blandings house but has since been torn down. (More on the Dallas house at Flashback: Dallas.)
And what of the original dream house built for the movie? It still stands on the old Fox Ranch, now part of Malibu Creek State Park in California.
(Thanks and a tip of the usher’s cap to Harry Max Hill for his help.)