The Spooky Story Behind Hollywood's Favourite Mansion

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Forever Amber (1947)
Forever Amber (1947)

The haunted tale behind one of Hollywood's favoured locations

Who? Kirsten Dunst had no idea that Greystone Mansion – the location where she was filming the third instalment of Spider-Man – was totally haunted. The Tudor revival in the bleeding heart of Beverly Hills has played host to a laundry list of films looking for that regal edge: Ghostbusters II, Eraserhead, The Big Lebowski and that enduring seasonal classic, The Holiday. Its tiled floors and grand staircase have had many a famous foot stroll across it. The mansion, however, is riddled with tall tales and speculation.

What? Greystone Mansion is a gem of Hollywood, a token of visual excess reminiscent of the Golden Age. It was formerly the Doheny mansion, designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann and at one time the most expensive private home in California. Now it’s a star in its own right, appearing alongside A-listers in the rolling credits of film and TV productions. After what was reported as a double suicide on February 16, 1929, of its then-owner Ned Doheny and his secretary, Hugh Plunkett, the estate was left to Doheny's widow Lucy. The gruesome truth of their deaths was never confirmed, and many claim the mansion to be haunted.

One moonlit evening, after filming a scene in the kitchen, Dunst and location manager Rachel Watkins got a tour of the private areas – “those places that aren’t open to the public”. “There’s a spiral staircase and it leads to the bowling alley and the movie theatre and the billiard room with a secret bar,” recalls Watkins. “Late at night I was sitting on the foyer steps with Kirsten and she was creeped out. We were telling her little ghost stories which was really fun,” she laughs. “If you’ve never been there, walking in there you would feel the same way, it’s like ‘something’s going on here’.”

Why? The aura of all those who have some unfinished business float through the 55 rooms, and a lot of people say the bowling alley is the hot spot. The house was a wedding gift to Ned Doheny, and whispers abound about how the alleged double suicide was really an attempt to cover up a gay affair between the owner and his secretary. Nevertheless, it’s one spooktacular space. “I tried to be with people at all times because the building lends itself, just in history, to be creepy,” says Watkins. “Every night I was leaving and I would say a little prayer, in case any ghost or demon had attached itself to me. It’s really pretty wild. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing ever did to me.” Since Spider-Man wrapped filming, has Watkins ever been back to Greystone? “No, no. But if I was back in Beverly Hills, I’d totally go back.”

Words by Trey Taylor