“If you’ve ever been to a wilder party – you’re under arrest!” So admonishes the poster for the 1968 comedy “The Party.” The eponymous soiree at the story’s center is, indeed, one of the most raucous in filmdom, not to mention one of the most hilarious! That is primarily thanks to star Peter Sellers and his captivating portrayal of good-natured, accident-prone Tinseltown wannabe Hrundi V. Bakshi, who is mistakenly invited to a Hollywood get-together thrown by a major studio head and winds up wreaking havoc on the hosts, caterers, fellow guests and the venue itself, a fabulous midcentury property located at the end of a tony cul-de-sac.
Slapstick through and through, “The Party,” currently available for rent on Amazon, showcases Sellers at his finest, with the actor front and center in every scene, carrying the entire 99-minute film on his thoroughly qualified shoulders. The hefty roster of supporting characters, while inarguably entertaining in their own right (especially Steve Franken playing an increasingly drunken waiter), becomes ancillary when put up next to Sellers and his perfectly executed comedic dance.
Though certain aspects of the Blake Edwards-directed movie are problematic when viewed through a contemporary lens (namely, the use of makeup to darken Sellers’ skin tone), much of it withstands the test of time. I dare you not to laugh as Hrundi attempts to fix a running toilet mid-film! No feature of the flick, though, is as timeless as the residence belonging to General Federal Studios president Fred Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) and his wife, Alice (Faye McKenzie), where the bulk of the action takes place. Said to be at 8239 Wild Rice Dr. (not kidding!), the pad can actually be found at 9271 Robin Dr. in the Hollywood Hills’ famous Bird Streets neighborhood. (Please remember this is a private home. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the property in any way.)
Situated on a sprawling 0.8-acre lot overlooking virtually all of the city, the 6,114-square-foot dwelling consists of five bedrooms and five baths spread throughout one story in real life, not two as was purported onscreen.
The pad was initially erected in 1960 for interior decorator J.T. Wilner. While no architect is listed on the construction permits, the documents do note that building expenses were estimated to run between $37,500 to $55,000. A newspaper advertisement announcing the sale of the property in 1967 seems to dispute that total by quite a wide margin, though, claiming that the cost of completing the house as well as its custom furnishings totaled $500,000 (about $5 million today). Regardless, the place certainly seems fit for a Hollywood mogul.
A party pad through and through, the abode was designed for entertaining. Per the same newspaper ad, swinging living spaces at the time included a casino/recreation room complete with a 13-foot hexagon-shaped bar with seating for 24, a sunken living room, a formal dining room, two dens, a library and a “perfect, efficient kitchen with two refrigerators and two freezers.” No word on if the place also featured a floor-to-ceiling birdcage – or an ample supply of birdie num nums.
Outside, the expansive diamond-shaped backyard originally boasted a freeform swimming pool at its tip, but it was replaced in 2001 with the more geometric version that can be seen in current aerial views.
The estate was snapped up by its current owners for $282,500 in July 1976 (nearly five decades ago!), so MLS photos are non-existent. Due to that longevity and despite a remodeling of the main bedroom in 2004, the pad’s original interior is likely somewhat preserved. But considering that all of the neighboring properties have been redeveloped into contemporary megamansions in recent years, when the Clutterbuck residence is eventually put up for sale, it will also likely fall victim to the wrecking ball. And it’ll be a pricey teardown as Redfin estimates the home’s current worth at about $9.35 million! That figure is not all that shocking, though, being that back in 2011, Curbed reported that teardowns in the exclusive neighborhood were garnering “as much as $7 million if the lots offer ’10 out of 10′ views,” which 9271 Robin indeed does.
As part of the 2004 remodel, the home’s façade was also reimagined with “a new architectural feature extending above roof at entry,” per building permits, changing its look quite a bit. Regardless, the property is still recognizable as the Clutterbuck mansion today, as evidenced by current photos of the estate shared with Dirt by Rob on Location.
Only the front exterior of the residence was utilized in “The Party.” The interior and backyard seen throughout the film were all part of a massive two-story set created by production designer Fernando Carrere, who also collaborated with Edwards on “The Pink Panther” and “What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?”
From the rounded couch to the indoor and outdoor curving staircases to the cylindrical steps that cross the pool, circular motifs figure beautifully throughout Carrere’s design, calling to mind Elvis Presley’s Honeymoon Hideaway in Palm Springs.
A work of art from top to bottom, the set was also outfitted with decorative screens, stone walls, a floating fireplace and, much like 9271 Robin Dr., a sunken living room and a large built-in bar. The big-screen bar was a thoroughly modern affair, though, built to retract into a living room wall with the push of a button, as Hrundi expertly demonstrates. Years ahead of its time, Carrere fashioned the entire Clutterbuck mansion as a smart house, long before that was even a thing. Along with the bar, the set also featured an electronically-controlled intercom system, water fountain and retractable pool, all of which Hrundi hilariously avails himself of.
As such, the set is integral to the film’s humor, assisting Sellars in executing his particular brand of comedy and becoming almost a character in its own right. The script itself was famously short (only 63 pages, according to the AFI Catalog), allowing Peter and his fellow actors to improvise much of the dialog and action that wound up onscreen and for the physical antics to shine through. A recent auction listing for actor Denny Miller’s copy of the script notes, “Some things barely mentioned in the screenplay, for example, an electronically-controlled sliding floor panel adjacent to the house’s interior waterway, become the basis for elaborate comic set pieces in the movie. The same electronic panel also controls an intercom system which in the movie, but not in the screenplay, comically amplifies Bakshi’s nonsensical dialogue with the host’s parrot (“Birdie num num”) so that it is heard by the entire house. On the other hand, another one of the film’s major comic set pieces, involving Bakshi and a malfunctioning toilet, is filmed almost exactly as it was written.”
There seems to be quite a bit of confusion floating around online regarding the studio where filming took place. Palisadian-Post staff writer Michael Aushenker, who wrote an article on the making of the film in 2008, contends that “The Party” was lensed “on an old Samuel Goldwyn soundstage in West Hollywood.” He is referring to The Lot, a historic studio located across the street from the Formosa Cafe that at the time was owned by Hollywood titan Samuel Goldwyn and was known as Samuel Goldwyn Studios. (Incidentally, an image of that facility appears in an establishing shot of General Federal Studios early on in “The Party.”)
But, according to the AFI Catalog, which references several Daily Variety articles from 1967, principal photography began on May 15 of that year at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot (which today houses Sony Pictures Studios), where the Clutterbuck mansion set was built at a cost of $150,000 on Soundstage 5. Filming is said to have concluded in late July, with the movie’s wrap party taking place on that same soundstage and the various set pieces that made up the Clutterbuck residence auctioned off during the festivities. According to the July 24, 1967 DV, producer Harold Mirisch took home some of Fred and Alice’s patio furniture, while Sellers made off with the fictional couple’s barbecue. A later DV issue reports that in February 1968, more than six months after initial filming wrapped, the entire set had to be reconstructed to perform reshoots. No mention is made if Mirisch and Sellers had to return their auction items.
Since both studios had “Goldwyn” in their name at the time “The Party” was shot, it is easy to see how the confusion about where filming took place came to be. Regardless of which facility was used, the Clutterbuck mansion remains an iconic piece of architecture, still entirely aspirational 54 years after the movie’s release – even when thoroughly covered in foam and elephant droppings.