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The Hoodoo House of Hollywood

Is this a house of evil destiny? That was the rumor floating around Hollywood in 1924, as 2183 Argyle Avenue earned a reputation for cursing its famous occupants—but the worst was yet to come for each of them.

Hollywood Hills home
2183 Argyle in the mid-1920s (Los Angeles Public Library)

“It does not look sinister,” noted Screenland writer Lucille Larrimer in “The Hoodoo House of Hollywood,” her February 1924 exposé detailing the travails of Max Linder, Mary Miles Minter, Sigrid Holmquist, and James Kirkwood. “Purple foothills hem it in. By day it looks upon clusters of cozy homes, bathed in golden sunlight and shaded by graceful pepper trees and stately eucalyptus. By night it overlooks a fairy city of a hundred thousand twinkling lights.” But looks can be deceiving.

Hoodoo House of Hollywood
Screenland, February 1924

The first victim of the “evil touch” was Linder, a French actor suffering from chronic depression as a result of being injured in World War I. Hoping for a fresh restart, he returned to Hollywood in 1921 and settled into the three-bedroom Hollywood Dell home ... but his mental state only worsened.

While on set in Portland, the Seven Years Bad Luck actor-director was severely injured in an accident, which exacerbated his depression and made it difficult to find work.

Charlie Chaplin and Max Linder
Max Linder (right) with Charlie Chaplin

Linder returned to Europe, but the jinx followed: He barely survived a fall from a mountain cliff in Switzerland and in 1923 he was involved in a near-fatal car accident in France. Weeks later, he was arrested for kidnapping a minor, 17-year-old Hélène Peters … who would become his wife that August.

Max Linder and wife
Linder and Hélène Peters

On October 31, 1925, a year after Screenland chronicled the Hoodoo House, Linder and Peters died in an apparent suicide pact (their second attempt): The couple drank “sleeping potion” Veronal, injected morphine, and slashed their wrists inside a Paris hotel.

Helene’s mother, however, insisted she had written a letter days earlier expressing her fear that “He will kill me.” In the years since, their death has been described as a murder-suicide.

Max Linder suicide
November 1, 1925 report

Back in Hollywood, the next occupant of 2183 Argyle was Mary Miles Minter, who arrived burdened with her own bad luck.

Months earlier, the silent star had been connected to the February 1922 murder of her unrequited love, director William Desmond Taylor—her mother Charlotte Shelby was a prime suspect in the fatal shooting. At the time, the 20-year-old actress who rivaled Mary Pickford was at the height of her success, having appeared in 50 films, and the scandal threatened it all.

Mary Miles Minter
Mary Miles Minter

Minter became estranged from her mother and moved out of the family’s 11-bedroom mansion at 701 S. New Hampshire Avenue, and into her own Hollywood hillside residence. However, she didn’t want the public to know her private drama.

A curious Los Angeles Times reporter made several calls to the Minter home the week of Christmas 1922, and found it suspicious the actress wasn’t around for the holiday. Acting on a tip, the journalist took a taxicab “up the torturous road that leads to 2183 Argyle,” where a butler who answered the door revealed, “Yes, Miss Minter is here.” In a December 28 front-page interview with the newspaper she denied any mother-daughter strife, insisting she simply desired a place of her own where she could do “funny little things” like throw dinner parties.

Mary Miles Minter and Charlotte Shelby
Mary Miles Minter and her mother in 1927 (LAPL)

Six months later, she changed her tune: Minter proclaimed her mother owed her $1 million which she had earned as a film star. Without it, she was now broke and unable to continue renting 2183 Argyle.

In her place, another actress—dubbed the Swedish Mary Pickford—took over the lease … and the Hoodoo House’s “evil destiny.”

Sigrid Holmquist
Sigrid Holmquist (University of Washington)

In July 1923, while hosting a dinner party, Sigrid Holmquist stepped onto the vine-shrouded veranda to take in the view with a male acquaintance when a shot rang out from a nearby bush and struck him in the wrist.

Was the bullet meant for Holmquist … or Minter? The two blonde actresses did look strikingly similar. Holmquist was in such fear for her life, she refused to talk about the mysterious incident, and immediately fled “the house of ill omen.”

Sigrid Holmquist shooting
Los Angeles Record, Aug. 13, 1923

Days later, newlyweds moved in: James Kirkwood, 47, and his 18-year-old bride Lila Lee—both of whom “scoffed at superstition.” But within weeks, the actor-director was thrown from his horse and suffered a skull fracture so severe, doctors believed he was at death’s door.

Kirkwood survived, but his marriage to “the sweetest girl in filmland” did not. In 1928, after the couple moved away from Argyle Avenue, Lee fell in love with actor John Farrow and asked for a divorce. In response, Kirkwood—who coincidentally “married” 15-year-old Minter in 1916 after getting her pregnant—threatened to kill Lee and their son James Jr. if she sought custody of the boy.

James Kirkwood Lila Lee son
Kirkwood, Lee, and baby James Jr.

Like the other Hoodoo House residents before her, Lee was followed by its “sinister influence” as described by Screenland.

In 1935, her boyfriend Reid Russell, a car salesman, was discovered dead in a hammock with a gun in his hand. He had been shot once in the head, yet neither the bullet nor the shell casing were ever found. Lee insisted Russell had been suicidal and that he left a note, but her friend Ruth Morris, with whom she was living at the time, burned it. A murder investigation ensued, however the case was ultimately closed in 1936 by District Attorney Buron Fitts … the same man who decided not to indict Mary Miles Minter’s mother for the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor.

Lucille Larrimer concluded her 1924 Screenland article asking, “Who will be the next victim of Hollywood’s hoodoo house?” There were several over the years that followed, ranging in severity.

In 1926, Vaudeville duo Rosetta and Vivian Duncan—known professionally as The Duncan Sisters—were perpetrated by a peeping Tom hiding in the bushes on Argyle. In actuality, they were spared a potentially worse fate: The offender, George Christman, had confessed in 1921 to strangling his girlfriend, Leona Mayfield, and dumping her lifeless body in a pool of stagnant water when she demanded he marry her. However, police believed he was exaggerating and didn’t commit the crime, so Christman was never charged. (In 1923, he confessed to a second murder that was also not corroborated by evidence.)

Duncan Sisters
Duncan Sisters (Library of Congress)

In 1928, while 2183 Argyle’s original owner Lucile Best was back living under its roof, the home became engulfed in fire one morning. Due to the steepness of the street, firefighters had to ditch their truck and carry gear the last two blocks—during which the flames caused $40,000 worth of damage.

Despite its reputation, only one death has been recorded at the Hoodoo House: Marie Victoria Hansen, who passed away in 1951 at the age of 40 from pulmonary edema.

A century after its mysterious jinx surfaced, the house is even more puzzling today.

2183 Argyle Avenue
2183 Argyle Avenue (Google)

Renovations done in 2001 closed off five east-facing windows and added an eight-foot retaining wall from the front of the house to the street “to create a level parking area adjacent to Argyle.”

But have the spirits been shut out as well? As of 2023, the one-bedroom apartment inside 2183 Argyle is for rent. The 975-square-foot renovated space boasts a private deck, panoramic views … and according to the listing a “quiet and peaceful energy.”

2183 Argyle for rent
The apartment's western views


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