I was first exposed to San Francisco through the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. It came out in 1993, when I was 6 years old, and was the first PG-13 movie I was allowed to see. It was also the only VHS in our minivan, so I watched it a lot. Twenty years later, and a couple years after moving to SF, I watched it again, if only to figure out where the hell they were supposedly swimming outside in this city.
At one point in the movie, Sally Fields' character gives her address over the phone as "2640 Steiner." Sitting in my apartment off Duboce Park, I suddenly realized that the Doubtfire house is just up the street, give or take 25 blocks and a steep spectrum of fanciness. I sent a letter to the address asking if I could come by and find out what it's like to live in a "famous" SF house. A week later, I got a call from Douglas Ousterhout, who introduced himself, chuckling, as "the proud owner of the famous Mrs. Doubtfire House." We arranged a time to meet, and a few days later, there I was in Pac Heights, walking up that familiar porch from which a goat once ate begonias.
Douglas bought the house in 1997 for $1.395 million. Although he knew quite a bit about the home's role in the filming, when I asked what it was like to watch the movie from inside the house it takes place in, he offhandedly admitted he'd never watched it. Restraining my shocked bewilderment to this news, I asked instead if people seem to know about the house or often seek it out. He explained that the open-top tour buses stop outside nearly every hour, and he's literally had to clean nose prints off his windows. (I later discovered dozens of pictures on Google images of people waving from his porch.) He installed wooden blinds to prevent an audience at dinner, but otherwise, he's not bothered by the attention.
Aside from living in the Doubtfire house, Mr. Ousterhout is a fascinating person to talk to, and my quick set of questions about the famous abode turned into a couple hours of conversation about his life. He's a plastic surgeon who came up with a ground breaking procedure to make masculine faces feminine and feminine faces masculine. (When I brought up the point that the Mrs. Doubtfire plot revolves around a man making himself look like a woman, he didn't see any similarity.) He was also Robert Redford's college roommate, and an avid collector of antiques. Masks and figures (he likes "things with faces") are hung on the walls, dating as far back as 700 B.C., and halfway through our chat he told me that I was sitting at Napoleon's table and chairs. It was sort of an out of body experience, casually chatting with a ballin' older man in the Mrs. Doubtfire dining room, from a seat many times graced by a short emperor's butt cheeks. The life I lead!
I was able to take a few photos of the house, and matched them up with stills from the movie. Most of the interior scenes were filmed on location (Douglas noted to look for the pattern in the hardwood floor), but the kitchen was built at a soundstage in the city. It's interesting to see, next to photos, how closely it was modeled after the actual kitchen.
House aside, watching scenes around town is also really interesting, now that I'm so familiar with the city, and little details stand out. For example, I know this was 20 years ago, but I found it pretty incredible that when Daniel (Robin Williams) moves to his apartment after the divorce, (a roomy 2 bedroom in what I discovered to be North Beach) his daughter deems it "detestable."
And THIS! Like we're supposed to believe that the family rode the Powell-Hyde cable car to some sweaty, tropical paradise. It makes me wonder if it's part of some huge ploy conceived by the SF fleece market, ensuring that weather-misled tourists won't pack their sweatshirts and will have no choice but to buy one of those ubiquitous zip-up sweaters.
If you've got two hours and a Netflix account, I highly suggest you revisit this classic. Though be warned that "Dude Looks Like a Lady" will get stuck in your head for days.
If this has awakened a deep thirst for Doubtfire, quench it by going to Roxie Cinema's screening of the cinematic gem this Monday, April 1st, 2013.
Photos by Jessica Saia & Google Maps. Screen grabs courtesy of 20th Century Fox.