For 90 years, Hollywood's Chateau Marmont hotel has kept guard over Sunset Boulevard, providing a discreet haven for celebrities, rock stars, writers, and artists to let loose and be themselves in private, away from prying eyes. It might not have been the most glamorous or expensive hotel in L.A. but it certainly was-and still is-the most infamous. Anyone who was anyone in this town had a Chateau Marmont story to tell. "If you must get into trouble, go to the Marmont," Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn once said. In Shawn Levy's new book, The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont, which is being adapted into an HBO series by John Krasinski, the author-not to be confused with the filmmaker of the same name-delves into the storied hotel's rich, colorful-and oftentimes painful-history. Below are ten of the most scandalous tales from behind the Marmont's tall hedges.
Billy Wilder Slept in the Lobby Bathroom
Before he became one of the most famous filmmakers of Hollywood's Golden Age, with credits including The Seven Year Itch, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment, for which he became the first person to win producing, screenwriting, and directing Oscars for the same film, Billy Wilder was a budding writer fleeing Hitler's Germany in the 1930s. By 1934, he had made his way to Hollywood. He stayed at the Chateau Marmont three times. The first time was in the cheapest (and windowless) room they had. Then he left to visit his mother in Europe and when he returned, the hotel was completely sold out. As a compromise, Wilder was allowed to stay in a closet-sized antechamber of the women's lobby restroom. "It was a small room," he said, "but it had six toilets." His status was upgraded by the time he came back for a third stay, this time with his wife Judith Coppicus-they got a suite with a view.
Howard Hughes Exhibited Lots of Inappropriate Behavior
Erwin Brettauer, the third owner of the Chateau Marmont, instilled a policy of openness and tolerance, stemming from his firsthand experience seeing the rise of anti-Semitism in his native Germany during World War II. But according to Levy, Howard Hughes wasn't on board. He writes: "[Hughes] was so averse to interacting with the hotel's black employees that he would go to rigorous lengths to avoid any contact with them, parking his car out on the street when a black parking valet was on duty in the garage and climbing the stairs to the penthouse rather than share close quarters with the black elevator operator." It was the beginning of the business magnate and director's descent into mental illness. He also had a habit of using his penthouse view to spy on girls sunbathing in the pool with binoculars.
Desi Arnaz Stayed at the Chateau Marmont Whenever He Fought with Wife Lucille Ball
They became famous as the endearing Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, but behind the scenes, the marriage of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball was hardly as cute-or funny. He would constantly cheat, she would find out, they would fight, and he would escape to a suite at the Marmont. Eventually they would make up, then the whole cycle would start again. One time, according to legend, the two were arguing on the terrace of his suite when a briefcase was thrown. It burst open and a shower of cash rained down Sunset Boulevard.
Rebel Without a Cause wouldn't have been made without the Chateau Marmont
"One of the most iconic films of the decade was largely written, conceived, cast, rehearsed, and, in some ways, lived on the grounds of the Marmont," writes Levy. In 1952 writer-director Nicholas Ray moved into a bungalow after finding his second wife, actress Gloria Grahame, in bed with his 13-year-old son Tony from his first marriage. He rebounded quickly, with stars like Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Not long after he got his studio pitch for Rebel Without a Cause approved and began meeting actors and screenwriters, Ray met James Dean. Then, writer Stewart Stern entered the mix and began work on a screenplay. Ray was big on entertaining industry folk in his bungalow and hosted Sunday gatherings where Dean, Dennis Hopper, and other actors would often show up. As the movie's script progressed, Ray started to use his bungalow as a rehearsal space.
Then There was Nicholas Ray's Affair with a 16-Year-Old Natalie Wood
Among the Sunday gathering set was Natalie Wood, who was desperate to shed her goody two shoes image and get herself cast in Ray's movie. She would make a point of showing up wherever Ray was. He took her out to dinner a few times and then they eventually became lovers. He was 27 years her senior. During one of Ray's bungalow parties, Wood took a liking to the 18-year-old Dennis Hopper. After a night of partying together, the two got into a car accident on the way back to the Marmont. At the hospital, Wood told doctors to call Ray. When the director arrived, she said, "They called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent. Now do I get the part?"
Bette Davis Almost Burned Down the Hotel-Twice
In 1958, the actress fell asleep in her bungalow while watching one of her old movies and lit the room on fire with her cigarette. Actor Lou Jacobi, staying next door, saw smoke coming out of the window and probably saved her life. The entire hotel had to be evacuated. It happened again a few years later when an electrical short set off an alarm. She never went back.
Led Zeppelin's Wild Partying Got Them Kicked Out of the Main Building
During their visit in 1968, the band's loud partying, constant flow of girls (they stole a food cart to transport nude girls from one room to another), and repeated calls to room service for more alcohol got them moved into a bungalow. But "their stay was relatively tame," writes Levy. In the early 60s, the actor and singer Richard Harris was banned forever when he returned to the hotel drunk and went around banging on guest doors yelling that a nuclear bomb had dropped. The next morning he found his belongings on the curb. And then there was Jim Morrison, who stayed at the Marmont in 1970, a year before his death. In addition to the booze and drugs, he had a habit of swinging between windows and balconies using tree limbs and drainpipes. He tried to do it here and fell two stories.
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski Moved Out of The Chateau Marmont Six Months Before the Manson Murders
In the late sixties, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, young, newlywed, and in love, took up residence in the Chateau Marmont. They would host parties on Friday nights, bringing together their group of friends that included Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Mia Farrow. When Tate became pregnant in early 1969, the two decided to move into a proper house. She thought it would be inappropriate to raise a newborn in a hotel. That February they found 10050 Cielo Drive, which had just been vacated by Candice Bergen and Terry Melcher after their breakup. Mr. and Mrs. Polanski then went to Europe to shoot Tate's new movie and by her eighth month, she decided to return to California while Polanski stayed behind. Tate, her unborn child, and her friends Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and a visitor named Steve Parent would be the victims of brutal murders by members of Charles Manson's cult. In a cruel twist of fate, it was really Melcher that Manson was targeting because the record producer had stopped helping Manson develop his aspiring musical career. "The sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969," wrote Joan Didion.
The Tragic Deaths of John Belushi and Helmut Newton
Thirty three-year old comedian John Belushi was already in bad shape by the time he checked into his bungalow in February 1982. His aggressive drug use was already well-known-but tolerated-around town. His wife Judy and best friend Dan Aykroyd's attempts to get him help were futile. Robert De Niro and Robin Williams were among the last people to see Belushi alive. He was found unconscious in his room on March 5, 1982, by his personal trainer and bodyguard, Bill Wallace. Needle marks on his arm indicated an overdose. It wasn't long before the media got wind and paparazzi swarmed the hotel. For years after, the Chateau Marmont would become known as the place where John Belushi died.
In 2004, the hotel was the site of another tragic loss when Helmut Newton, the legendary fashion photographer, seemingly lost control of his car coming out of the Marmont garage and fatally crashed into a wall. It was later revealed that he had had a heart attack that caused the accident.
Andre Balazs'-and the Marmont's-#MeToo Moment
In 2017, the New York Times published a report article detailing the numerous sexual assault allegations leveled at hotelier Andre Balazs, owner of the Marmont, along with the Standard Hotels, Soho's Mercer, and London's Chiltern Firehouse. There was the time he groped Jason Bateman's wife Amanda Anka after the premiere of Horrible Bosses 2 at his London property, and more harrowing stories from former Chateau Marmont employees. Not long after, the Times ran another story, this time about the predatory behaviors of fashion's most famous photographers, with graphic details about how Mario Testino used his hotel room at the Chateau Marmont as ground zero for sexual assault. "If you wanted to work with Mario, you needed to do a nude shoot at the Chateau Marmont," said model Jason Fedele.
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