Why a movie icon—and her sixth husband—put their Italianate Victorian home for sale in neighboring Rockland County.

By Bill Cary

As someone who sees a lot of houses for sale, I’ve gotten used to the blah-blah broker- babble that comes with the territory of touring homes with eager agents doing their very best to talk up and sell their clients’ property. The same adjectives come up time and again. Every room is “spacious and beautiful,” the finishes and appliances are always “state of the art,” the views are uniformly “amazing” and everything about the place is “totally unique.”

It’s best if you can somehow leave the agent in the car and hear directly from the homeowner. When you’re buying a home, it’s worth asking to meet the owner, though chances are it’ll never happen. One of my favorite owner-led house tours was for a feature story I wrote for The Journal News with Hollywood glamour queen and MGM icon Arlene Dahl, featured in two dozen movies in the 1940s and ’50s and later the author of a thrice-weekly syndicated column that ran in 165 newspapers. She and her sixth husband, perfume bottle designer Marc Rosen, had their weekend home in the quaint Hudson River hamlet of Sparkill on and off the market for years, priced as high as $8.5 million, then a few years later at $4.95 million, and most recently, in early August, for $3.995 million with real estate broker Richard Ellis. The 1859 Italianate Victorian, known as Treetops, is a charming antique, but let’s just say it might need a wee bit of work.

The house has two porches, and Rosen said it took him two decades to figure out why: when one’s in full sun, the other’s shaded. Real estate agents don’t have 20 years to learn about the house they’re selling you. If you want the home’s true story, that lies with the owners. 

Dahl was a living doll—gorgeous, of course, with impeccable makeup and flaming red hair, but also smart-smart-smart and utterly engaging and funny, with star wattage to spare and many a story to tell.

In the late 1940s, she dated a young Massachusetts congressman named John F. Kennedy off and on for a couple of years. “He was the cheapest man I ever met—never had a dollar in his pocket,” she recalled. He regularly showed up at her door looking rumpled and wrinkled. One night she parked him in a frilly pink negligée while she ironed his suit in the kitchen. “We all laughed—he was completely game.”

For an antique, the six-bedroom home on 7.5 acres is surprisingly big, with the expected Victorian front and rear parlors—painted pink—and a huge living room with one of nine fireplaces with marble mantels. I particularly loved the campy downstairs powder room, plastered floor-to-ceiling with Dahl’s many magazine covers from back in the day.

When I visited, it was just before Thanksgiving that year, and the dining room table was set for 14, including her son Lorenzo Lamas and his family. A nearby table was a groaning board of silver platters and serving dishes awaiting a fresh shine.

Dahl, who died in 2021 at 96, and Rosen hosted many soirees over the years, including an 80th birthday party for Helen Hayes, an engagement party for Joan Collins and annual Christmas parties that drew the likes of Carol Channing, Celeste Holm, Jane Powell, Brooke Shields, Rosie O’Donnell, Liza Minelli, Joan Rivers, Cindy Adams and Rex Reed.

Now there’s a story you won’t find on Zillow.

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