Bruce Kessler at the wheel of Lance Reventlow’s aluminum-bodied Mercedes-Benz 300 SL at Torrey Pines in 1955.
Lance Reventlow was the son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. As most aficionados know, he was active in motorsport during the fifties. Lance’s best friend was Bruce Kessler, son of bathing-suit mogul Rose Marie Reid. Because Bruce and I were friends, I became acquainted with Lance.
The first time Lance got involved in sports car racing was at the October, 1955 event at Torrey Pines, near San Diego. Lance entered Bruce in his new 300SL and Bruce won the Production Car Race. The following month, Lance entered himself in the Mercedes at the one and only Grand Central Airport race at Glendale. He came in 3rd, behind Rudy Cleye in a 300SL and Jim Peterson in an XK120. I think this was Lance’s first race and he did well considering the quality of the field.
At the time, Reventlow lived in a house off Mulholland Drive high in the Hollywood Hills. Lance invited me to a party there to celebrate his 21st birthday.
Shortly before the party, I had entered a sports car race here in Southern California. As I puttered around in the paddock waiting for my event, I couldn’t help but notice a very comely and somewhat scantily clad young lady strolling about. Somehow, I managed to engage her in conversation and succeeded in getting her phone number. Subsequently, I called a few times for a date, but kept getting turned down.
Upon receiving Lance’s invite, I thought, “Ah ha! Now’s the time to strike.” I invited her to come with me to the party and she agreed. I don’t remember a lot about the party itself, except that there were quite a few of us racer types, some bongo playing and freely flowing booze. Lance, as I recall, was his usual rather quiet and unassuming self.
However, I do recall that at the party Bruce told me about a new Mercedes-Benz 300SL Lance had just acquired. It was a special aluminum-bodied model and it was sitting right there in the garage. (Production 300SLs had steel bodies.) One thing led to another and Bruce offered to take me for a ride and show me what the car could do. So off we went to the garage and got in the car, Bruce at the wheel.
Mulholland Drive during the ’50s was famous as a venue for practice driving one’s sports car. It curves and twists its way along the crest of the mountain between the coastal parts of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Bruce started going up Mulholland and just kept going and going. Then he found some other interesting roads and it was a very long time before we got back to the party.
To cut to the chase, in our absence, my date had switched her allegiance to Lance and I ended up going home alone. Not having a lot of pride, some weeks later I called again for a date. (After all, she was CUTE!) Much to my surprise, she agreed; we settled on a day and she gave me her parents’ address.
Like most of us then, I raced my transportation. So on the appointed day, I set off in my sports car. I had written her phone number and address on a slip of paper and put it in my shirt pocket. Coming to a nice stretch of road, I put my foot in it. The wind whipped into the cockpit and the slip of paper flew out. I stopped and walked back to search, but it was hopeless. With no way to call or get her address, I was forced to stand her up.
I never saw or heard from this girl until years later when I was in the movie business (as was Bruce). I had advertised a camera for sale and lo and behold, this same girl showed up in my studio office. She didn’t remember me and I didn’t enlighten her. The bloom was off the rose; the years hadn’t been very kind to her. Besides, she didn’t buy my Bolex camera!
Lance was killed in a private-plane crash in 1972 but Bruce and I have remained friends all these years. At a recent lunch, I reminded him of that party and our long ride. He broke out laughing. “Didn’t you suspect?” he asked. “That ride was a set-up. Lance wanted to get in your date’s pants and put me up to getting you out of the way for a while!”