Alma and Werfel settled in Los Angeles, where numerous German and Austrian emigrants, such as Thomas Mann, Max Reinhardt, Alfred Döblin, Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold lived; they were soon regular visitors to Alma’s house. Through these contacts, Alma’s stay in California became a pleasant one; her salon was soon flourishing once more as in Vienna, and she enjoyed being at the centre of all intrigues. A stir was caused by a dispute ignited by Alma between Arnold Schoenberg and Thomas Mann over intellectual property rights to the novel “Dr Faustus”.
The couple’s financial resources were sufficient to allow them to settle in an elegant residential area above the city at 6900 Los Tilos Road, and even to engage August Hess, who worked simultaneously as valet, chauffeur and gardener. Werfel worked industriously on the novel about Bernadette Soubirous. This work – “The Song of Bernadette” – became a US best-seller, and sold 400,000 copies within just a few months. 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights. Reviews appeared in numerous American daily newspapers, and radio interviews with Werfel were broadcast throughout the country.
In the 1930s and 40s, a huge array of Central and Eastern European artists and intellectuals, among them Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bertolt Brecht, and Thomas Mann, settled in Southern California, having sought refuge from fascism. The émigré scene is well documented at the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC. On their site you can see pictures of Mann’s house in Pacific Palisades, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler-Werfel’s house in Beverly Hills, and Brecht’s house in Santa Monica.
“One morning when I came to The Outpost for our day’s work on “Bernadette” I was plunged into just such a situation. The quarrel was about the news, which were, as usual, pretty bad. Alma took the position that it could not be otherwise since the Allies – America was not in the war yet – were weaklings and degenerate, the Germans, including Hitler, supermen. Werfel did not let this nonsense pass but Alma would not yield. The pointless quarrel went on for about ten minutes, then Werfel clapped me on the shoulder and said: “Let’s go downstairs and work.” In the middle of the narrow winding staircase, the chicken ladder, he stopped, turned around to me and said, with a tinge of real sorrow: “What is one to do with a woman like that?” It sounds rather good-natured but there was not a trace of humour in his voice. He was desperate. I tried some feeble explanation. He shook his head: ‘One just has to remember that she is an old woman.’ “
1941. House Alma Mahler Hollywood 1940-1942 (6900 Los Tilos Road). Alma and Werfel in front of the house.
1941. House Alma Mahler Hollywood 1940-1942 (6900 Los Tilos Road). Alma with her butler August Hess, Franz Werfel and their new car outside the house.
29-12-2015. There’s a lot going on in this Outpost Estates house in the hills just south of the Hollywood Bowl. The listing describes it as “Bohemian Chic meets Hollywood Glamour,” and each of the four bedrooms and bathrooms seems to be a different take on one of those styles, with maybe a touch of mid-century thrown in for good measure. All together the house has more than 3,200 square feet, with “pitched wooden ceilings,” miles of bookshelves, a large brick patio, and a bit of history: in the early 1940s, the house was home to Austrian writer Franz Werfel and his wife Alma–widow of composer Gustav Mahler, ex-wife of architect Walter Gropius, and a composer in her own right. The Werfels’ home became a gathering spot for German intellectuals who fled the Nazis and settled in LA. The listing says the house was built in 1958, but there are photos showing Alma in front of the house in the ’40s (though some changes are apparent). The house, which sits on a third of an acre at the end of a cul-de-sac, is asking $2.295 million. The sellers appear to be Dennis Hopper’s daughter Marin and her husband.