Hollywood Hell Fire Club “House” Remembered

Crashing The Party At Hell Fire House

It was a hot day in late July, 2005.  A friend called to tell me about an article in the Los Angeles Times that said artist John Decker’s old house up on Bundy Drive was sold and was probably going to be torn down.  This was the place where the Hollywood bad boys met to drink and party.  The so-called Bundy Drive boys included W.C. Fields, artist John Decker, actor Errol Flynn, author Gene Fowler, critic and strange dude Sadakichi Hartmann, actors John Barrymore and John Carradine and others who could drink and raise hell every night until the sun came up the next day.  And you wonder why many died so young?  These guys were raging hell raisers in their world, professional drinkers and pranksters. They never met a brand of alcohol they didn’t like and then drink to excess!

I had been working on and off for years tracking down Decker’s paintings and artifacts for my friend Bill Nelson who was putting together the glamorous and tragic story of this fun-loving group.  Bill, inspired by an older book written about the group, entitled “Minutes of the Last Meeting”, knew that there was still a lot to be told.  He convinced Adam Parfrey at Feral House Publishers, then headquartered in Los Angeles, to publish this real slice of Hollywood Babylon.  Bill and I had unearthed a treasure-trove of material for the new book, which was eventually published after its own hell-ride of twisted Hollywood drama, too long to go into here.  Greg Mank and Charles Heard joined Bill to produce one of the great Hollywood books of all time.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and grab a copy, it’s a joyful blast of old Hollywood.

So when I read the article in the Los Angeles Times I took particular note that a big bash was to be held at the Bundy Drive “Hell Fire House”,  a last farewell to that old place where the fun never stopped.  Until now.  One last bash.  Then it was the wrecking ball.  A grand send-off, with the famous and glamorous to pack into that little cabin and booze it up for a final smack-down to Hollywood history.  Umm, did I mention that this party was strictly private?  No invite to researchers, who spent years crawling through dusty garages looking for the spoor of the Bundy Boys; making contacts, tracking down endless leads, pulling that thread that winds down to the pot of gold for the writers.  Like finding Sadakichi Hartmann’s personal scrapbook in a closet up in the Hollywood Hills.  The one with all the clippings about his “Perfume Concerts” in New York in the early 1900s. And the paintings, the letters, the rumors, the stuff, all which Bill, Greg and Charles whipped up into an uproarious mash for you to read.  Bill and I worked for years on this. So I thought that in the spirit of those drunken louts who made up the Bundy Boys, it would only be fitting to crash the Last Party to be held in their honor.  And why go alone?  Why not take someone with me, someone big and scary?  Just in case.

So I called my friend Jed Rowen.  You’ve seen him in 50 or 60 horror movies.  A big man with a bald head and able to twist up a scary smirk with mad-man eyes staring right through you.  “I’m gonna cut you up, pilgrim, and feed yer innards to the ghouls!”  Yeah, that’s the guy I want to watch my back as I sneak through the forest to get inside the Bundy House.  The plan was for Jed to wear black leather, and if security challenged us I would scream and yell “It’s a Zombie -run for your lives!”  and Jed would belch out a blood curdling groan from the grave, a cross between a werewolf howl and a banshee cry. I figured no 8 dollar an hour security guard could stand up to that.

The party was to start at 7pm.  I decided to wait until about 10pm, when things would slow down.  The paparazzi would be long gone, as well as the appearance celebrities, you know, the “stars” who only show up to get their mugs in the tabs, filch a couple drinks, and then roar off in their beemers. We drove up Bundy to the general area.  It was a dark night, no bright moon.  We parked up the street from the house and then made our way down to the address.  We went through some foliage, sliding through the shadows of the trees, avoiding the front gate where the security was, trying to work our way around to the back.  We had almost made it into the back yard when a security guard popped out of the bushes to challenge us.  Before I could activate our “routine”,  Bill Nelson abruptly stepped out of the shadows and told the security guy to get lost.  Bill had gotten in through his publisher, Adam Parfrey, who gets invited to every party in L.A.  Or at least he did until he moved up to Oregon. “Paulie”, laughed Bill, “I knew you would somehow make it here! C’mon in and have a beer!”  Ahh, the good times were rolling on Bundy Drive once again.

I took a few pictures which are published here for your enjoyment.  Jed shot some video but then sold the camera and forgot to take out the tape.  So all we have are a few photos to remind us of a big piece of old Hollywood.  The house itself resembled an old country cottage in Ireland.  It had two fireplaces making it warm and beyond cozy.  You could see why the boys liked it up there.  It was a man’s place.  A big billiard table filled a side room.  Even the garage doors were hand made by Decker.  A small, charming swimming pool shimmered in the back yard.  The cement was still stained with old whiskey traces.  Heavy leaded glass windows reminded us of the inside of an old Monastery. Someone was going to try to save the beautiful carved front door.  If so, it will be all that is left of a vanished age and a long-ago culture of film and fantasy that defined the Hollywood era of the 1940s to the 1960s.  Goodbye, boys of Bundy, hell-raisers all, “You had your day, standing on the top of the mountain.”


Los Angeles Times Article

Hollywood’s Hellfire Club, the book

Jed Rowen’s My Space Page






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