When Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers teamed up as a mystery-solving couple on the TV show “Hart to Hart,” it was murdah, as their butler Max would say. Amber Hills is the sprawling California home where the glamorous and wealthy Jonathan and Jennifer Hart lived during the series’ run from 1979-1984.
Even if you never saw a single episode of “Hart to Hart,” the house may look familiar because it was used for other TV shows over the years, as well, including “Mannix” and “Mission Impossible.” And in 1959 it had a starring role as Lana Turner’s home in the Oscar-nominated movie Imitation of Life.
The 48-acre property is on the market in Brentwood for $28.5 million, so I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the house and the sets they created for the show!
The “Hart to Hart” House
The house has a long history with fame, having been built for opera singer John Charles Thomas
by architect Paul Williams in the early 1940s. Here’s how it looked then:
It was later owned by the celebrity couple Dick Powell and June Allyson.
Robert Wagner was a friend of Dick’s and visited their Amber Hills Estate often.
He loved it so much, he suggested they use it for “Hart to Hart.”
How the Exterior Looked on the TV show in the 1980s:
In later seasons, they recreated the front porch on a sound stage for “outdoor scenes.”
Here’s a closeup of the front door on the set, which is a close match to the real thing (below):
The Amber Hills Estate, 48 acres in the posh Brentwood area of Los Angeles, recently came back on the market for $28.5 million. The price isn’t exorbitant for such a huge piece of land in this expensive enclave, but it is nearly double the $14.6 million that hedge fund guru David Ganek paid for it in 2014.
Ganek bought it from Glorya Kaufman, the widow of Donald Kaufman. Donald, along with entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad, founded KB Home, which has built over a half-million homes across the country.
The Entry Hall:
Freeway the dog was rescued from the side of the freeway, while the dog who played him (a Löwchen) was
rescued from an animal shelter. His pups were cast as “Junior” in the movie specials.
It was really tough to find photos of the house online, so I spent the last few weeks watching dozens of episodes
of “Hart to Hart” in order to get screenshots of the rooms. I may never get the theme song out of my head. 😉
Their butler Max (played by Lionel Stander) summed up the concept of the show in the opening:
“This is my boss – Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire. He’s quite a guy. This is Mrs. H – she’s gorgeous. She’s one lady who knows how to take care of herself. By the way, my name is Max. I take care of both of them – which ain’t easy; ’cause when they met, it was murder.”
Stefanie Powers was 37 when the series began, and Robert Wagner was 49.
The producers initially wanted Cary Grant to play Jonathan Hart, but he had retired from acting. They concluded that Robert Wagner would be “the Cary Grant of today.”
I found some cool old photos of the house taken by Maynard L. Parker in 1944.
They appeared in House Beautiful and included a shot of the living room mantel
with a quirky reminder to “be ourselves:”
You can see how the living room looks today in the listing.
Jonathan Hart was the CEO of Hart Industries. In a flashback episode we got to see how he met
Jennifer, a journalist responsible for writing a critical article about the self-made millionaire.
In the fourth season, the Hart address is said to be 3100 Willow Pond Drive, Bel Air, California.
In the fifth season it had the same street address but in Beverly Hills.
Note: This post includes Amazon affiliate links that may earn me commission.
The first season on DVD has all kinds of special features (affiliate link), including
extensive interviews with Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner:
It was Wagner’s idea for them to cast Powers as Jennifer in the first place.
According to IMDb.com:
Sidney Sheldon had originally written a script for CBS called “Double Twist,” about a married couple who were both spies.
Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg decided to update the idea for a potential television series.
They asked Tom Mankiewicz to update the script to make it more contemporary and viable for a potential weekly series. He did and it was renamed “Hart to Hart.”
The artwork and accessories in the house changed over time,
as you can see when comparing the photo above to the one below.
Lionel Stander was blacklisted during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and worked as a broker on
Wall Street for a while, but his career as a character actor recovered in the 1960s.
He died of inoperable lung cancer in 1994, shortly after filming the final “Hart to Hart” movie.
Here’s a photo taken of the living room set behind the scenes that gives you a better sense of the layout:
The living room in the pilot episode was slightly different, leading me to believe it was filmed inside a real house,
and the sets were built to duplicate the look of the rooms for the rest of the show’s run:
We still see the spiral staircase on the show after the pilot, but it’s not as dramatic (below):
Another example: this is the living room bar in the pilot…
And here’s how the bar looked in future episodes:
The TV is inside a cabinet next to the bar that’s rarely opened:
An addition was built on the second floor, over the front porch, behind the iconic bay window.
When the house was built, the front looked like this, with three separate windows:
The kitchen originally looked like this in the 1940s:
The kitchen in the listing looks more like the one we saw on “Hart to Hart,” more ’80s than ’40s.
The “Hart to Hart” kitchen sweeps me right back to the early ’80s every time I see it:
The show ended in 1984, but there were a series of “Hart to Hart” movie specials over the years after that.
The final one aired on Aug 25, 1996, exactly seventeen years to the date of the pilot.
The Hart house burned down in the first movie special, “Hart to Hart Returns” (1993).
In the 5th season, June Allyson (who once lived in the real Amber Hills Estate) made an appearance
as Max’s love interest. I failed to get any photos of her face from that show (d’oh!), but this is the back of her head:
In earlier episodes, their kitchen table was glass and had a fake fern underneath for reasons unknown:
In later episodes the table was swapped out for a wood one, which was probably smart considering
the number of times they had to fight bad guys and intruders in the kitchen!
This was the wall on the other side of the kitchen table:
To the left of that display cabinet was a big brick fireplace that I’ve been unable to get a decent photo of.
However, you can kind of see it through the window in this scene where they’re eating on the patio:
The Dining Room on the show, which made an appearance in the final episode:
Jonathan and Jennifer Hart’s Bedroom:
The real house has 13 bedrooms + 8 baths, which would’ve been more than enough space
for the Harts, including Max and Freeway!
In the first season, the Harts slept in a bed that didn’t even have a headboard.
Later in the series, a screen was added behind it.
Jonathan & Jennifer’s Master Bath:
The Back of the House
Max serves Jonathan and Jennifer lunch on the back patio every day “unless it’s raining:”
There used to be a pool in the backyard that we often saw on TV,
but they filled it in, as you can see here.
The listing for Amber Hills states:
Amber Hills Estate is one of the most exclusive and private compounds available today on the Westside. This is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind property consisting of 48 sprawling acres in upper Mandeville Canyon. Enter through a magnificent, custom gate and then up a quarter mile long, tree lined driveway to an unbelievably beautiful and secluded setting.
There are 5 structures on site: a 12,000 s.f. main house, tennis court with pavilion, separate guest houses, caretaker’s unit and maintenance building. In the center of this amazing property is the most serene and tranquil lake with waterfalls all surrounded by lush landscaping and expansive grounds. This is one of the most unique and rare pieces to ever come on the market.
Here’s how TV Guide described the show for viewers at the time:
Aaron Spelling said Natalie Wood, who was married to Robert Wagner, was their original choice to play Jennifer Hart,
but she wanted to focus on her film career. She had a short cameo in the pilot episode, though:
After Wood died in 1981, Wagner married Jill St. John, who also happened to be in the “Hart to Hart” pilot:
She looks a little like Jennifer Hart to me!
Stefanie Powers lost her own long-time love William Holden in 1981.
She created the William Holden Wildlife Foundation in his memory.
The House Also Appeared in the 1959 Lana Turner Drama Imitation of Life
This is the house where Turner’s character, a movie star named Lora Meredith, lived:
The movie set featured a large stone fireplace like the real house and “Hart to Hart” living room did:
Imitation of Life was a progressive story for its time, about a two single moms — one white, one black —
who became friends and decided to raise their daughters together.
Juanita Moore played Annie Johnson, whose light-skinned daughter tries to pass for white but rejects her mother in the process. Lana Turner played Lora Meredith, an actress who finds success in her career but struggles to be there for her daughter Susie (played by Sandra Dee).
I just watched it again to take these screenshots, and it’s a tear-jerker!
Large trees obscured the front of the house in the movie, making it difficult to see the window over the porch:
For more photos and information about “Hart to Hart” and the House Today:
- The Listing held by Susan Smith of Hilton & Hyland
- 2014 Listing Photos via Jeff Hyland and Concierge Auctions
- Video Tour of the House by Bob Celli
- The Real Deal Article
- Realtor Article
- Architectural History of the House
- House of Retro Blog Post about Imitation of Life
- “Hart to Hart” Season One with Special Features (affiliate link)
Visit my Houses Onscreen page to see more I’ve featured, listed from A-Z.