The life of legendary movie director Cecil B. DeMille was as epic as his sweeping films. But around here, he’s perhaps better known as the grandfather of Joe Harper, the president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. DeMille is the subject of Scott Eyman’s new biography, Empire of Dreams, a portrait of the powerful and contradictory Hollywood icon who Harper remembers as “a pretty cool guy” who told great stories.
Harper, who lived with his grandfather for years, recalls that the famous were always stopping by: “Charlton Heston, Gary Cooper, Yul Brynner — there was always someone over there for a meeting.” As a boy, Harper traveled with the circus for the filming of The Greatest Show on Earth and lived in Egypt during shooting for The Ten Commandments. Harper even had a small part as a Hebrew slave. Recently, he returned to Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre for a reception with Eyman and screening of the original Cleopatra, which DeMille directed.
Eyman’s book, which has been well-received by critics, also gets raves from Harper. “It’s good. It’s well-written. It even got the names of all his mistresses right,” says Harper, of his grandfather’s well-known philandering. Even so, Harper says DeMille was “devoted” to Joe’s grandmother. The couple was married for more than 50 years. ANDREA NAVERSEN