As February is the time we celebrate the triumphs of love, I thought perhaps to examine when love (or the scandal of love)goes awry.
Perched haughtily above Beverly Hills sits the imperious Greystone Mansion, this mock Tudor pile seems immune to time, and to scandal; yet in 1929, only a few days after Valentine’s Day, a bloody murder -suicide was committed leaving both Master and servant dead.
On February 16th 1929 Edward (Ned) L. Doheny Jr., son to the oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny Sr was left dead and bloodied on the floor of the ground floor guest room, his chauffeur/personal secretary (Theodore) Hugh Plunkett also lay dead.
b. 6th November 1893
d. 16th February 1929
b.28th March 1895
d. 16th February 1929
Almost from the beginning scandal ensued, was this some lingering repercussion to the Teapot Dome scandal which seemed to implicate the senior Doheny? Had Plunkett succumbed to madness? Or was the relationship between the two more then platonic? a jealous rage? implicating perhaps even Ned’s wife Lucy?
I don’t know.
Beverly Hills doesn’t seem very interested in uncovering what happened. The facts seem shady, and the case seems quite cold.
What I do know is that in the first floor guest room where the incident occurred, there exists a decorative tile wall mural that certainly incriminates. The panel situated in the adjacent bathroom, is oddly perverse.
Decorative Wall Panel
situated in bath adjacent to first floor guest room
Greystone, Beverly Hills
image taken by author
What seems at first glance to be a rather awful bit of Neo- Renaissance fluff, upon closer examination reveals quite a bit of blatant homoeroticism.
This detail offers a closer look:
detail of mural
It is difficult to ignore the priapic herm perpetually ejaculating.
Was there really no other suitable decorative panel?
Why two male herms?
The female winged beings ( uncomfortably close to the action) mere tokens of respectability?
When I first stumbled upon the murals I immediately brought it to the attention of The Friends of Greystone, an organization devoted to preserving the house; they hadn’t noticed the mural. I was incredulous, I felt the mural clearly indicated some deeper explanation of the relationship Doheny and Plunkett shared. I had been told that the guest room was actually used by Plunkett to fulfill his duties as personal secretary to Mr. Doheny. Why would such sexual imagery be chosen for a mere employee?
The house is loaded with these tile murals, I worked as a decorative painter at Greystone for a Designer Showcase a few years back;I had full access to many of the nooks and crannies found within the house . But I hadn’t found another tile panel with such blatantly erotic imagery.
I of course was no closer to understanding what really happened that evening then those before me, many have written about the incident, I recommend this USC link as an introduction.
What the mural did do was provide artistic inspiration for my decorative contribution to the designer showcase. I found the exoticism (eroticism) of the panels suitable for the decadent atmosphere we were looking to achieve.
Who ever picked out that naughty panel?
Decorative Wall Panels by the Author
Oil painting, early 20th cent., artist unknown.
If interested, the poor fellows are buried quite close to one another at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale; as to be expected, Ned\’s memorial is far grander then Hugh. What is interesting is that Doheny, of the deeply devout Catholic Doheny clan, is buried in a secular cemetery. What sin kept him out of sacred ground?