Elon Musk Sells Gene Wilder’s Former Home Back To The Late Actor’s Family
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Elon Musk Sells Gene Wilder’s Former Home Back To The Late Actor’s Family

Mr. Musk sold it to the new owner, the famed actor’s nephew, with the stipulation that the property be preserved.

Thu, Feb 24, 2022 11:51amGrey Clock 5 min

Jordan Walker-Pearlman was heartbroken when he was told, erroneously, that the house where he grew up with his uncle, the late actor Gene Wilder, had been demolished.

He still had vivid memories—sometimes even dreams—of Mr. Wilder’s morning swims in the kidney-shaped pool, the Sunday after-tennis hangouts with the likes of Mel Brooks and Sidney Poitier, raucous dinner parties, and listening to Mr. Wilder read scripts and play piano while he nursed a Lillet cassis cocktail.

The low-slung, white-shingled house, in the Bel-Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles, was also where actress, comedian and “Saturday Night Live” cast member Gilda Radner died from ovarian cancer in 1989. Mr. Walker-Pearlman considered her a second mother after she married Mr. Wilder in 1984.

“I mourned the house,” says Mr. Walker-Pearlman, a 53-year-old film director and writer, who directed the 2000 film “The Visit” and whose wild hair and prominent, expressive eyes are similar to those of his late uncle, known for his work in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and “Blazing Saddles.” From an early age, Mr. Walker-Pearlman split his time between living with Mr. Wilder, and living with his grandmother in Harlem. His biological parents, he says, were “a little crazy and not enthusiastic about the responsibilities of child rearing.”

Then one day, when he was in the neighbourhood, Mr. Walker-Pearlman drove by to show his wife, screenwriter Elizabeth Hunter, where the house had been. He was shocked to find it still standing. Owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk, there was a large party under way, but the security guard opened the gate so they could peek in.

About a year later, a friend sent him a screenshot of Mr. Musk’s now-famous May 1, 2020, texts:

“I am selling almost all physical possessions. Will own no house” and “Just one stipulation on sale: I own Gene Wilder’s old house: It cannot be torn down or lose any of its soul.”

A US$9.5 million listing appeared on forsalebyowner.com, advertised as the “former home of Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka,” “upgraded with modern amenities, but preserved original charming and quirky vibe.” The listing stipulated that the home was being sold with the condition that it must be preserved.

Mr. Walker-Pearlman said he reached out to Mr. Musk’s team immediately. He knew he couldn’t afford that price, but the tweet gave him optimism they might reach a deal. “The only person who could possibly want it not to be torn down as much as him was me,” he says. Mr. Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment.

After four months of negotiations, Mr. Walker-Pearlman says Mr. Musk agreed to sell the house to him and Ms. Hunter for US$7 million along with what’s called a “long form deed of trust and assignment of rents,” in which Mr. Musk agreed to lend the couple $6.7 million, according to public documents.

“He could have sold it for so much more,” says Mr. Walker-Pearlman. “His sensitivity to me can’t be overstated.”

The sale closed in October 2020. The timing for Mr. Walker-Pearlman was exquisite, because it allowed him to use the house as the set for his upcoming film “The Requiem Boogie,” produced by his production company, Harlem, Hollywood. The somewhat autobiographical plot follows a middle-aged former child actor, played by Mr. Walker-Pearlman, who is mourning the loss of his movie-star father. It is a spiritual, quasi-comedy about dealing with Mr. Wilder’s death and the nature of show business, says Mr. Walker-Pearlman.

Living in the house again has been both wonderful and spooky, says Mr. Walker-Pearlman. He feels the ghosts of the people who made it come alive. When he walks into a certain room, a memory will pop up and he will get teleported back, he says. At times he even feels like messages from beyond are being sent, such as when the crew was filming in what was Ms. Radner’s dressing room and suddenly the water in the shower and sink came on.

When he and Ms. Hunter were signing the papers for the loan from Mr. Musk, a buck they had never seen before appeared from the hedges and stood in the window, staring at them, hanging around for nine hours that day; they haven’t seen it since. The couple’s 3-year-old nephew, Hunter, has told him there are ghosts in the house, he says.

The house came with many of Mr. Musk’s furnishings, including a purple sofa, a drawing of a clown, a large chess set and a swing encased in a giant metal birdcage in the backyard, which Mr. Walker-Pearlman says was a party gift to Mr. Musk.

Mr. Walker-Pearlman says he believes Mr. Musk originally bought the property to protect the distant views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean from his primary house across the street, which Mr. Musk sold for $29.72 million to Chinese billionaire William Ding in June 2020, according to public records. He says he believes Mr. Musk used the garage as a school for his children at one point and the main house to hold parties. Mr. Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Some things have changed since Mr. Wilder owned it: There used to be white shag carpet in the living room (a recommendation to his uncle from the late actor Burt Reynolds, says Mr. Walker-Pearlman); the main bathroom had a bath. Mr. Wilder’s much-used piano and a dart board are gone. The ceiling is now painted with black and white stripes and trees no longer block the view of the Bel-Air Country Club’s golf course below.

But much is the same. Mr. Walker-Pearlman still uses the indoor grill in the dining room where he says Mr. Wilder loved to cook chicken three times a week. He sits at the small kitchen desk, where he says Mr. Wilder would eat his morning bran muffins and drink Earl Grey tea. And he swims in the same pool where Mr. Wilder would do morning laps and where he taught Mr. Walker-Pearlman how to swim. Almost every wall and shelf contains memorabilia, including photographs of Mr. Wilder playing tennis, dressed as Willy Wonka.

Mr. Wilder, who was born Jerome Silberman, bought the 2,800-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bathroom house in Bel-Air for around $300,000 in 1976, buoyed by the success of the 1974 film “Young Frankenstein,” in which he starred.

Mr. Walker-Pearlman had been living part time in Harlem with his grandmother, and part time with Mr. Wilder, who was his mother’s brother. He soon started spending all summer and time during a few other months in Los Angeles.

In L.A., Mr. Wilder gave him an education rich in the history of film, moviemaking and acting. He says he learned to process the world in terms of film, being hyper-aware of lighting and constantly wanting to change people’s dialogue. He started acting as a child and made and starred in his own film for Nickelodeon as a teenager. He also learned a lot about French red wines and the importance of romance, he says. “I didn’t leave his side.”

Ms. Radner urged Mr. Walker-Pearlman to try college, so he attended George Washington University and Howard University for stints. But she was also upset when he said he didn’t want to pursue an acting career. He says she told him “this house is for crazy people. You have to become one of us.”

The result was a mixed relationship with film. He says he learned to hate what he sees as the commodification and narcissism of the film industry, but he loved being in the editing suites and on set, especially during the filming of “Hanky Panky” in 1981, directed by Mr. Poitier, when Mr. Wilder and Ms. Radner met as co-stars.

In 1991, two years after Ms. Radner died, Mr. Wilder married his fourth wife, the former Karen Boyer. They eventually moved permanently to Ms. Radner’s former farmhouse in Stamford, Conn., where Mr. Wilder had been living much of the time after Ms. Radner’s death. He sold the Bel-Air house in 2007 for $2.7 million to Bristol Capital LLC. Mr. Musk bought it in 2013 for $6.75 million, according to PropertyShark.

Mr. Walker-Pearlman says he’s still mourning his uncle, who died in 2016 at age 83, and Ms. Radner. Living and filming in the house has triggered a range of emotions. “It’s the closest you can get to going back to the past,” he says. He worries that his wife pays a toll for that.

But Ms. Hunter says she’s thrilled to get the chance to live in such a beautiful house in a neighbourhood she never thought she would be able to afford. “It’s magic,” she says.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

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How far can an electric car really go on a full charge? What can you do to make it go farther? We answer these and other questions that EV buyers might ask.

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Many people considering an electric vehicle are turned off by their prices or the paucity of public charging stations. But the biggest roadblock often is “range anxiety”—the fear of getting stuck on a desolate road with a dead battery.

All EVs carry window stickers stating how far they should go on a full charge. Yet these range estimates—overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and touted in carmakers’ ads—can be wrong in either direction: either overstating or understating the distance that can be driven, sometimes by 25% or more.

How can that be? Below are questions and answers about how driving ranges are calculated, what factors affect the range, and things EV owners can do to go farther on a charge.

How far will an electric vehicle go on a full battery?

The distance, according to EPA testing, ranges from 516 miles for the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels to 100 miles for the 2023 Mazda MX-30.

Most EVs are in the 200-to-300-mile range. While that is less than the distance that many gasoline-engine cars can go on a full tank, it makes them suitable for most people’s daily driving and medium-size trips. Yet it can complicate longer journeys, especially since public chargers can be far apart, occupied or out of service. Plus, it takes many times longer to charge an EV than to fill a tank with gas.

How accurate are the EPA range estimates?

Testing by Car and Driver magazine found that few vehicles go as far as the EPA stickers say. On average, the distance was 12.5% shorter, according to the peer-reviewed study distributed by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In some cases, the estimates were further off: The driving range of Teslas fell below their EPA estimate by 26% on average, the greatest shortfall of any EV brand the magazine tested. Separately, federal prosecutors have sought information about the driving range of Teslas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The study also said Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck went 230 miles compared with the EPA’s 300-mile estimate, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV went 220 miles versus the EPA’s 259.

A GM spokesman said that “actual range may vary based on several factors, including things like temperature, terrain/road type, battery age, loading, use and maintenance.” Ford said in a statement that “the EPA [figure] is a standard. Real-world range is affected by many factors, including driving style, weather, temperature and if the battery has been preconditioned.”

Meanwhile, testing by the car-shopping site Edmunds found that most vehicles beat their EPA estimates. It said the Ford Lightning went 332 miles on a charge, while the Chevy Bolt went 265 miles.

That is confusing. How can the test results vary so much?

Driving range depends largely on the mixture of highway and city roads used for testing. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because slowing down recharges their batteries through a process called regenerative braking. Conversely, traveling at a high speed can eat up a battery’s power faster, while many gas-engine cars meet or exceed their EPA highway miles-per-gallon figure.

What types of driving situations do the various tests use?

Car and Driver uses only highway driving to see how far an EV will go at a steady 75 mph before running out of juice. Edmunds uses a mix of 60% city driving and 40% highway. The EPA test, performed on a treadmill, simulates a mixture of 55% highway driving and 45% city streets.

What’s the reasoning behind the different testing methods?

Edmunds believes the high proportion of city driving it uses is more representative of typical EV owners, says Jonathan Elfalan, Edmunds’s director of vehicle testing. “Most of the driving [in an EV] isn’t going to be road-tripping but driving around town,” he says.

Car and Driver, conversely, says its all-highway testing is deliberately more taxing than the EPA method. High-speed interstate driving “really isn’t covered by the EPA’s methodology,” says Dave VanderWerp, the magazine’s testing director. “Even for people driving modest highway commutes, we think they’d want to know that their car could get 20%-30% less range than stated on the window sticker.”

What does the EPA say about the accuracy of its range figures?

The agency declined to make a representative available to comment, but said in a statement: “Just like there are variations in EPA’s fuel-economy label [for gas-engine cars] and people’s actual experience on the road for a given make and model of cars/SUVs, BEV [battery electric vehicle] range can exceed or fall short of the label value.”

What should an EV shopper do with these contradictory range estimates?

Pick the one based on the testing method that you think matches how you generally will drive, highway versus city. When shopping for a car, be sure to compare apples to apples—don’t, for instance, compare the EPA range estimate for one vehicle with the Edmunds one for another. And view all these figures with skepticism. The estimates are just that.

Since range is so important to many EV buyers, why don’t carmakers simply add more batteries to provide greater driving distance?

Batteries are heavy and are the most expensive component in an EV, making up some 30% of the overall vehicle cost. Adding more could cut into a vehicle’s profit margin while the added weight means yet more battery power would be used to move the car.

But battery costs have declined over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to fall, while new battery technologies likely will increase their storage capacity. Already, some of the newest EV models can store more power at similar sticker prices to older ones.

What can an EV owner do to increase driving range?

The easiest thing is to slow down. High speeds eat up battery life faster. Traveling at 80 miles an hour instead of 65 can cut the driving range by 17%, according to testing by Geotab, a Canadian transportation-data company. And though a primal appeal of EVs is their zippy takeoff, hard acceleration depletes a battery much quicker than gentle acceleration.

Does cold weather lower the driving range?

It does, and sometimes by a great amount. The batteries are used to heat the car’s interior—there is no engine creating heat as a byproduct as in a gasoline car. And many EVs also use electricity to heat the batteries themselves, since cold can deteriorate the chemical reaction that produces power.

Testing by Consumer Reports found that driving in 15- to-20-degrees Fahrenheit weather at 70 mph can reduce range by about 25% compared to similar-speed driving in 65 degrees.

A series of short cold-weather trips degraded the range even more. Consumer Reports drove two EVs 40 miles each in 20-degree air, then cooled them off before starting again on another 40-mile drive. The cold car interiors were warmed by the heater at the start of each of three such drives. The result: range dropped by about 50%.

Does air conditioning degrade range?

Testing by Consumer Reports and others has found that using the AC has a much lower impact on battery range than cold weather, though that effect seems to increase in heat above 85 degrees.

I don’t want to freeze or bake in my car to get more mileage. What can I do?

“Precondition” your EV before driving off, says Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. In other words, chill or heat it while it is still plugged in to a charger at home or work rather than using battery power on the road to do so. In the winter, turn on the seat heaters, which many EVs have, so you be comfortable even if you keep the cabin temperature lower. In the summer, try to park in the shade.

What about the impact from driving in a mountainous area?

Going up hills takes more power, so yes, it drains the battery faster, though EVs have an advantage over gas vehicles in that braking on the downside of hills returns juice to the batteries with regenerative braking.

Are there other factors that can affect range?

Tires play a role. Beefy all-terrain tires can eat up more electricity than standard ones, as can larger-diameter ones. And underinflated tires create more rolling resistance, and so help drain the batteries.

Most EVs give the remaining driving range on a dashboard screen. Are these projections accurate?

The meters are supposed to take into account your speed, outside temperature and other factors to keep you apprised in real time of how much farther you can travel. But EV owners and car-magazine testers complain that these “distance to empty” gauges can suddenly drop precipitously if you go from urban driving to a high-speed highway, or enter mountainous territory.

So be careful about overly relying on these gauges and take advantage of opportunities to top off your battery during a multihour trip. These stops could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes during a bathroom or coffee break, if you can find a high-powered DC charger.

Before embarking on a long trip, what should an EV owner do?

Fully charge the car at home before departing. This sounds obvious but can be controversial, since many experts say that routinely charging past 80% of a battery’s capacity can shorten its life. But they also say that charging to 100% occasionally won’t do damage. Moreover, plan your charging stops in advance to ease the I-might-run-out panic.

So battery life is an issue with EVs, just as with smartphones?

Yes, an EV battery’s ability to fully charge will degrade with use and age, likely leading to shorter driving range. Living in a hot area also plays a role. The federal government requires an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries for serious failure, while some EV makers go further and cover degradation of charging capacity. Replacing a bad battery costs many thousands of dollars.

What tools are available to map out charging stations?

Your EV likely provides software on the navigation screen as well as a phone app that show charging stations. Google and Apple maps provide a similar service, as do apps and websites of charging-station networks.

But always have a backup stop in mind—you might arrive at a charging station and find that cars are lined up waiting or that some of the chargers are broken. Damaged or dysfunctional chargers have been a continuing issue for the industry.

Any more tips?

Be sure to carry a portable charger with you—as a last resort you could plug it into any 120-volt outlet to get a dribble of juice.


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