With at least two beautiful wives, a newly purchased Beverly Hills mansion and a direct family tie to the Saudi royal family, Sheik Mohammed S. A.-Fassi should be the happiest of men. But, two weeks after his redecoration of an old Sunset Boulevard estate began snatching headlines from coast to coast, the 23-year-old shiek is upset.
For 2 1/2 years the once stately white mansion, built in 1917 by Beverly Hills founder M. H. Whittier, had been on the selling block. At $2.4 million the 3 1/2 acre estate along one of the world's best known boulevard was simply too expensive - until the sheik came to town.
Like any proud new homeowner, the sheik, an architecture student at UCLA, wanted to make some changes around the place. The Spanish white stucco was painted mint green, the classic [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tile roof was suddenly turned to copper and the Italian statuary, glistening white in the California sunshine was suddenly painted a fresh color, with genitalia, including public hair.
Newspaper article have quoted residents' descriptions calling it "a dirty Disneyland." Onlookers blocked traffic along Sunset, gawking at the painted nudes and plastic flowers adorning the walls of the estate. Neighbors and Beverly Hills city council are considering ways to curb the young Saudi's taste. The council will take it up later this summer.
To the young prince, accustomed to high-walled security and privacy, not to mention lack of criticism of royal family members, these attacks are an affront. During the remodeling, he has retreated to a cottage at the Beverley Hills Hotel.
In the entryway to the cottage, large security men and several advisers pace around the room, handing Scotch and Perrrier water to the press. The blaring canned laughter of "Three's Company" comes from the television in the corner.
"If his name was Jones or Williams, no one would care," says an Arab-American advisor."But right now this is something to break the monotony in Beverley Hills." "I hope people understand he's a young man with a lot of vitality and a lot of energy. He didn't mean to hurt anyone at all."
Fifteen minutes later everyone suddenly stands up. Into the room walks a frail little man in a black suit, balding slightly, who looks more like a bookkeeper than an heir of one of the world's wealthiest and largest families. His sister is married to Saudi King Khalid Ibn Aboul Aziz. With him is Victoria, who is his second (at least) wife - he doesn't talk about his personal life. Another, Dena, has gone back temporarily to Saudi Arabia with their two children.
The dark, diminutive man sits down and is literally swallowed by his chair. "What are your questions?" he asks through an interpreter while Victoria sits silently in a long black dress, her long black-brown hair and almond eyes dominating the room.
I have no problem with this situation because I am totally oblivious to what is going on outside my home," the Saudi prince says. "I am proceeding like any other human being would." He claims "hundreds" of letters have come to him, mostly in support, and believes the reaction against him is, in part, a result of the fear in heavily be the first in a wave of Arab invaders.
Sunset Boulevard is known the world over and I am the first big Saudi Arabian man to live here and because of the religious affiliation of Beverley Hills they are afraid the Arabs are taking over," he says gravely. "I am not fully aware of the intricacies of American national politics. This is for governments, not me. But I don't feel uncomfortable with the people here. It's not going to affect my life. Many of my neighbors have visited me and welcomed me to Beverley Hills."
While he speaks softly, the sheik is tough about the issue of what he's doing in and around his home. The place is being decorated to his exact specifications and that, he says, should be that. "I am not disturbed by this reaction. I am going to continue to proceed with our remodeling. If my home has become a point of attention, then I am determined to do what I want with it. The freedom of the U.S. is one of the basic virtues of the area. Freedom is for everyone. If one of my neighbors paints his house pink, nobody would question it."
Asked if he could have the same freedom back in Arabia, he turns to his translator who smiles before giving the sheik's response. "The statues come with the home. I elaborate on them in my own way. If the statues were allowed in Saudi Arabia, I would have them. But, of course, we are not to show them there. We have high walls in Saudi Arabia - you can't tell what's going on inside."
The sheik, something of a super oddity in a city full of strange goings-on, believes people will, in the long run accept him. Movie stars, he says, have already come to visit him and have even asked to have parties in the discotheque in the mansion's basement. Asked who the stars are, the sheik refuses to answer, allowing only that he told them no.
There are some 74 new paintings in the 5-room house, all depicting biblical scenes in a glossy realism, including some literal interpretations of what the Book describes as "begatting." All these paintings have been done in the last three months by the sheik's personal Egyptian artist, Mohamed el Hawahly.
The poolroom is so red in its paints, carpets, furniture that you feel you're inside a bubbling volcano. Other rooms are heavily mirrored with rounded beds in the middle and there are baths throughout, including one $18,000 Italian-made one in the shape of a scallop shell.
But whether Hollywood chic and the first sheik of Hollywood ever get together depends largely on the public's willingness to let the young prince have his way. "This is the top of the line for me, Beverly Hills, and I like it," the sheik says, getting up for a late night supper engagement. "I do not want to give lavish parties and entertain right now but I just want to enjoy the privacy of my own house. I would like to be able to just walk down the street like any other person." CAPTION: Picture 1, Sheik Mohammed S. A. Al-Fassi with statuary; Picture 2, the spruced-up mansion, by John Barr for The Washington Post; Picture 3, The Scallop-shell bath: $18,000 and made in Italy, By John Barr for The Washington Post