Jackie Treehorn's House and Its Eccentric Owner
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At one point during The Big Lebowski, our hero, the Dude, finds himself at a mysterious beach party thrown by pornographer Jackie Treehorn. Inside his modernist home — the ultimate bachelor pad — a fire blazes as the Dude takes a seat on a long, orange leather couch beneath a coffered ceiling. Treehorn, played by Ben Gazzara, prepares him a spiked White Russian at the bar. A swimming pool is separated from the angular living room by a wall of glass, the mise-en-scène daring the viewer to look more closely at a villain professing transparency. As the Malibu sheriff later informs the Dude, Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town.
In reality, Treehorn's house is located in an exclusive neighborhood above Beverly Hills. Built in the early '60s, what's known as the Sheats Goldstein Residence is an icon of domestic architecture, now inhabited by a flamboyant multimillionaire named James Goldstein. He doesn't like to talk about his fortune, saying only that he made smart investments in real estate. Except for the not-having-much-money thing, he adds, he can totally relate to the Dude. "I just ride along with things without getting too bothered."
Sheats Goldstein is one of many John Lautner–designed houses used in Hollywood films. Because his high-concept, space-age homes were built to toy with perception, in movies they often belong to deceptive, profligate villains. Goldstein's abode sits on a steep ridge, its interlocking levels and chambers ensconced in acres of subtropical jungle.
In late 1996, Lebowski location manager Robert Graf found Goldstein's house with a Hollywood listing service and was smitten. Hundreds of skylights coffered in concrete speckled the living room like polka dots. The couches summoned visions of swinger parties. "There were a couple of houses we liked on the beach, but we kept coming back to Lautner houses," says Graf, now a producer for the Coen brothers.See also: Top Five Most Exciting Lebowski Fest Moments
Goldstein purchased his property in 1972 and spent the decade remodeling a house in disrepair, which at that time "didn't look good enough to be used in film," he says. Later he worked with Lautner and his acolytes to update the premises. Now a koi pond flows under the living room, creating the illusion that the house is a mass of levitating concrete. Motorized windows and walls can disappear with the touch of a button.
For Treehorn's encounter with the Dude, the crew set up for a three-night shoot. Goldstein "wasn't thrilled" about a big black sheet being thrown over a glass, which would obscure a view of the Century City skyline. "I am proud of the way the house looks now," Goldstein says. "I don't like it when a set designer makes changes just to justify his pay."
There are exceptions: For a Snoop Dogg video, the crew filmed in Goldstein's bedroom and replaced a row of his velour and snakeskin cowboy hats with a row of sneakers. "I completely understood the need to Snoopify the house," he notes.See also: The Definitive Guide to the Music of The Big Lebowski
Goldstein is likely in his early 70s — he won't reveal his age — but still lives like a playboy. Known as an NBA superfan, he sits courtside at games around the globe, his thin frame wrapped in head-to-toe leather. In his living room, near where Jackie Treehorn fixes the Dude a hell of a Caucasian, there are framed pictures of him with rock stars and actors, in clubs and off runways. In his 20s he danced with Jayne Mansfield, and these days he posts on Instagram pictures of young models enjoying his home.