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Too Close for Comfort: Eugene O’Brien & Robert Vignola

Next-door neighbors are inescapable, especially when you’re both retired. The homes of Eugene O’Brien and Robert Vignola were in such close proximity, the former film star could literally drop in—jumping from his balcony onto the director’s patio.

Whitley Terrace in the early 1920s
Whitley Terrace in the early 1920s: The home of Robert Vignola is on the far right, with Eugene O'Brien to its left.

In 1929, writer Basil Woon visited Vignola on Whitley Terrace for the article “You Can’t Get Away With It in Hollywood.”

“Friendly with Gene?” he asked. “I have to be,” replied Vignola.

He then brought Woon outside and pointed up. Sure enough, a man’s silhouette could be seen just ten feet away. “Eugene,” motioned Vignola.

Photo Play, 1929
Photo Play, 1929

But O’Brien always made sure to look before he leapt, he explained, “to see whether Bob has the sort of guests I like.”

The Hollywood retirees moved to Whitley Heights in the early 1920s; Vignola in a mansion reportedly built by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress Marion Davies, with whom Vignola frequently collaborated.

6697 Whitley Terrace
Robert Vignola's home, 6697 Whitley Terrace (Whitley Heights Civic Association)

O’Brien’s home was also a hotspot for trysts: He rented it to Richard Barthelmess, who regularly entertained Norma Talmadge—as well as the neighbor on the other side, who got an eyeful whenever the couple took their activities out to the terrace.

Robert Vignola's patio
Robert Vignola's patio

Both O’Brien and Vignola loved to throw a party.

Although the actor was reported as “living in seclusion for 30 years,” he hosted soirees at his bachelor pad well into his 70s (O’Brien died in 1966 at 86).

Eugene O'Brien residence
Eugene O'Brien's residence, 6691 Whitley Terrace

As for Vignola, once Davis moved out, he turned the downstairs space she had used as a theater into his very own playroom—with custom compartments for gaming tables that easily stored away on the occasion of dancing.

His guestbook, “the pride and joy of his life,” was filled with signatures from the likes of Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Billie Dove, and Jack Dempsey, and circus proprietor John Ringling.

Whitley Terrace
Whitley Terrace today


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