Sole Survivor of Hollywood’s Golden Age? The hotel that saw it all

The hotel’s pool, seen here in 1938, was surrounded by golden sand sent specially from Arizona and has seen its fair share of sensational activities (Beverly Hills Hotel)

When James Caan’s death was announced last month, the movie legend’s favorite table at the Polo Lounge – the famous restaurant and bar at the Beverly Hills Hotel – was cordoned off. On hidden Table One, which was also Charlie Chaplin’s favorite booth, was placed a candle and a picture of the star, as well as Caan’s most beloved meal; the house special of a chopped “McCarthy” salad, with chicken, bacon, beetroot and avocado, and an extremely dirty martini with extra olive brine. “When one of our big, well-known regulars passes by, we always put their favorite table aside and leave it all day and all night,” says Steven Boggs, the hotel’s director of global guest relations and a true source of Hollywood history. . “We call this ‘setting a final place’.”

Carrie Fisher, James Garner, and Burt Reynolds are just a few of the other deceased regulars who have received this same honor. As you may have noticed, Beverly Hills Hotel regulars are not like other regulars. They’re Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Paul McCartney and – going through last week’s posts from Instagram celebrity gossip account Deux Moi – Kim Kardashian, Megan Fox and rapper Machine Gun Kelly. While other places have fallen and lost popularity with the cream of celebrity culture, no other location in Los Angeles has the same sustained level of star power as the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“We’re also sitting where Al Pacino likes to sit,” says Boggs, who set Caan and Chaplin’s table aside for our conversation, a cozy corner seat with sage green velvet banquettes. “I can show you where Frank Sinatra sat, where Marilyn Monroe sat, where Elizabeth Taylor sat and so on,” he adds, pointing to the table where Sinatra celebrated Dean Martin’s 49th birthday complete with a subsequent bar brawl. , which ended with a good bar fight. well-known art collector suffering a fractured skull.

“But I can also show you the table where Steven Spielberg likes to write and the table Leonardo DiCaprio likes to have. Dinner is also interesting. Jimmy Fallon will come in and sit at the piano and play some songs. People still come here – business is done constantly. It’s still the potency.”

Los Angeles is a city that likes to play fast and loose with its history. Although it has been the world-famous center of the film industry for just over a century, many of its architectural treasures and buildings steeped in pop cultural folklore have been razed to the ground. Despite its legendary status, the Garden of Allah hotel (adored by Greta Garbo, Clara Bow and Errol Flynn), the imposing Ambassador Hotel – complete with the Rat Pack-friendly Cocoanut Grove nightclub – and rock’n’roll paradise The Tropicana Motel all fell victim to the wrecking ball. More recently, the majestic Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard was purchased by Netflix, leaving many worried about the future of the 100-year-old movie palace, built during a period of Egyptmania.

However, the Beverly Hills Hotel still stands tall. Built in 1912 on 12 acres in the pristine foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles, the hotel was originally planned to create a land rush so owners could sell adjacent plots of land. Almost as soon as it rose, it attracted the first wave of Hollywood, with stars like Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, WC Fields and Harold Lloyd all passing by. Silent movie golden couple Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford followed the hotel’s trail and bought a cottage next door, which they remodeled in mock Tudor style into the luxurious “Pickfair” – one of America’s most famous private residences.

Marilyn Monroe was a regular at the hotel (Beverly Hills Hotel)

Marilyn Monroe was a regular at the hotel (Beverly Hills Hotel)

In the 1930s, with the rise of talkies, a new wave of actors made the hotel their playground. Among them was Marlene Dietrich, who defied the rules of the Polo Lounge bar – no unaccompanied women and no women in pants – by appearing alone in elegant pants. An extension in the 1940s by renowned black architect Paul Revere Williams made the hotel even more appealing to Hollywood’s growing celebrity community. The exterior was painted in their trademark pink — check out its peach spiers on the cover of The Eagles’ seminal 1976 album Hotel California — and the property’s famous green and powder pink color scheme was coined.

However, it’s not the hotel’s main building that has the most star power: that claim pertains to the bungalows right behind it. These freestanding holes – 23 of them, the first five of which were built in 1915 – had direct access from the street and were perfect for residents who wanted more privacy. One such guest was Elizabeth Taylor, who stayed in several bungalows after six of her eight marriages. The British-born icon’s favorite bungalow was number 5, and after her death in 2011, her family hosted a private memorial service within its walls.

The bungalows also saw one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s long bed-ins (on a divan that Dietrich had commissioned for the suite), while Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman spent a week secluded in another shortly after they met. Marilyn Monroe was also a big fan of bungalows, often staying at No. 1 and No. 7 — where she spent Christmas with her second husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio — and having an affair with her. Let’s make Love co-star Yves Montand in adjoining rooms, 20 and 21. Reclusive director and entrepreneur Howard Hughes used to stay at number 4, reserving several rooms at a time so no one knew exactly where he was staying. “The only person in the hotel who knew exactly where he was was the executive chef,” explains Boggs. “Because Howard Hughes loved his roast beef sandwiches.” Even so, the chef would not deliver the lunch directly to Hughes, but would leave it in the crook of a tree outside his bungalow for the insomniac director to fetch in the middle of the night.

Then there’s Bungalow One, where Gore Vidal’s socialite mother Nina had an affair with Clark Gable. “I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t say anything is definitely true unless I’ve seen it with my own eyes, or someone who has was drunk enough to tell me,” Boggs assures me. So who told you about the case, I ask? “Gore Vidal!” he says with a laugh. The American writer and intellectual was a longtime lover of the hotel, spending his final days in 2012 in the lobby by a roaring fireplace, singing to himself after another martini-filled lunch. “Gore, bless his heart, at the end of his life he spent every day at the Polo Lounge,” explains Boggs. “He would bring his own sheet music and make the pianist play. He had a tremendous ear for music, but a horrible voice – people who didn’t realize who he was were very upset!”

Marlene Dietrich in 1940: she defied the rules – no unaccompanied women – of the Polo Lounge bar (Beverly Hills Hotel)

Marlene Dietrich in 1940: she defied the rules – no unaccompanied women – of the Polo Lounge bar (Beverly Hills Hotel)

It’s not just the entertainment tradition that is buried deep within the bungalows, but the political history as well. Bungalow Three is where Robert Kennedy’s sons tragically discovered that their father, presidential hopeful, had been assassinated after watching it on the news.

The Beverly Hills Hotel’s pool—once surrounded by golden sand sent especially from Arizona—has also seen its fair share of sensational activities. British actor Rex Harrison liked to sunbathe naked, with nothing but a scarf covering his Doctor Doolittle, in the private cabins where composer Leonard Bernstein came up with the idea. west side history. When the Beatles stayed at the hotel, they had to enter through the pool exit to avoid the hordes of screaming fans. Their manager Brian Epstein even met with Colonel Tom Parker at the Polo Lounge to arrange a meeting between the band and Elvis, which unfortunately did not materialize on that occasion.

The pool is also the site of one of the most iconic Oscar photos of all time – that of Faye Dunaway reclining dramatically the morning after she won the Best Actress Oscar in 1977. Newspapers litter the floor, one announcing the posthumous award for Best Actress. Peter Finch. Actor wins for the same film. Finch was also indelibly attached to the hotel, dying of a heart attack in the lobby just two months earlier.

Celebrating 110 years since it opened, the Beverly Hills Hotel remains as popular as ever, with Oscar and Grammy weekends filled with the world’s biggest celebrities. “It’s still relevant,” Boggs says proudly. “We are literally the last of our kind.”

Rare Elizabeth Taylor photos of Bert Stern will be on display in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel from August 1 to September 30

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