There’s no denying that Bette Davis is Hollywood royalty. But despite her best efforts at chewing up the scenery, even she couldn’t save the 1976 supernatural horror film “Burnt Offerings.” Based upon Robert Marasco’s 1973 novel of the same name, the dark tale sees New York writer Ben Roth (Oliver Reed), his wife Marian (Karen Black), son David (Lee Montgomery) and elderly aunt Elizabeth (Davis) taking up residence at a leased Long Island mansion one fateful summer. As the season progresses, the house slowly begins to possess each member of the family, using them as sacrifices – burnt offerings, if you will – in order to restore itself to its original grandeur.
Largely considered a dud, Orlando Sentinel Star reviewer Dean Johnson had some particularly harsh words for the film upon its release, writing “‘Burnt Offerings,’ huh? ‘Boring Offerings’ might have been more fitting. Or ‘Banal Offerings.’ Or, to further a point, take a look at the ‘Burnt Offerings’ initials. There’s a review for you in two letters.” Yikes! Johnson even takes issue with the Neoclassical Revival pad at the center of the story, concluding, “This is one big old house that isn’t even interesting set-wise.” On that point, Ben, I am going to have to politely disagree. The Roths’ summer rental is nothing short of spectacular!
Said to be at 17 Shore Rd., the mansion can actually be found standing on a grassy 50-acre plot about 20 miles east of San Francisco at 2960 Peralta Oaks Ct. in Oakland. Known as the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, the striking property was originally built in 1899 for Alexander Dunsmuir, son of British Columbia coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir. A hard-partying playboy, Alexander fell in love with Josephine Wallace, his “favorite bartender’s wife” according to the Oakland Mom blog, shortly after moving to San Francisco in 1878. While that makes for a good story, per the Oakland Tribune Josephine’s husband, Waller (yes, his name was Waller Wallace!) actually worked as the “head usher at the old California Theater in San Francisco in addition to being a law clerk, baseball player and sports writer.” Regardless of his employment history, Josephine quickly ditched him to take up with the much wealthier Alexander, whom she dated for a whopping two decades before eventually tying the knot. Prior to the wedding, Dunsmuir commissioned local San Francisco architect J. Eugene Freeman to design a three-story, 37-room estate on a leafy 600-acre plot near the Oakland foothills as a gift for his soon-to-be bride.