Perhaps best-known for his role as the beleaguered Chester A. Riley in radio and television’s “The Life of Riley,” off-screen, William Bendix lived the life of a dedicated San Fernando Valley resident.
The actor built a mansion on Encino Avenue in Encino in the early 1940s. It had a natural feel, with two nearly 500-year-old oak trees framing the 2 1/2-acre lot and interior woodwork handcrafted by actor and avid carpenter George Montgomery. At the time, according to a later owner of the home, Montgomery lived on White Oak Avenue and was married to Dinah Shore.
As Encino residents grew accustomed to seeing Bendix around town, filmgoers began seeing him in increasingly prominent roles.
Though never cast as a true leading man, Bendix starred in “The Hairy Ape” in 1944 and memorably portrayed the preeminent New York Yankee in 1948’s “The Babe Ruth Story.” Some critics have assailed the Ruth film for whitewashing the slugger’s life, but it always had special meaning for Bendix.
In 1922, at the age of 15, Bendix was a batboy for the New York Giants, who shared the Polo Grounds with the Yankees. He soon became a favorite of Ruth’s, shining his shoes and running his errands.
Bendix died in 1964, but his home remained in the limelight. Marie McDonald, a chorus girl at Hollywood’s Florentine Gardens, and Jack Webb, who played Joe Friday in the television show “Dragnet,” both lived at the Encino Avenue address.