You always run into a star at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, but the hotel is a star itself. It was seen in movies like "The Stripper" and TV shows like "Starsky and Hutch" and it was even going to be the subject of a movie that later fell through. It was to be entitled "Bogart Slept Here" (he probably did; Garbo floated in the pint-sized pool).
Once in a fifth-floor room with a balcony overlooking Sunset Boulevard, early on a cool L.A. night, I was startled by a burst of light that barged into the room from outside. It wasn't a close encounter. It was a TV film company on location. The phone rang. A polite voice said he was from Quinn Martin Productions and would I please turn on all the lights in my room to help with the atmospherics for the shot.
At the Chateau Marmont, you do such things gladly. No price is too steep for the privilege of staying here, although we oldtimers can recall when a stupendous-colossal suite -- living room, kitchen, bedroom, bath -- could be had for 24 bucks a night. That was when the Marmont was going broke and before she was declared a historical landmark. Now the prices are high, but not much higher than for a glorified shoebox at some big, dumb impersonal tourist-toadying hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.
Words like comfortable are inappropriate to the Marmont; it isn't comfortable, it's amusing. It's an unspoiled icon in the theology of Hollywood Gothic. The lobby that looks like a set for "Knights of the Round Table," complete with grand piano. Topless starlets tanning around the pool and reading the trades. A deep, inscrutable, murmuring voice that answers the phone with a whispered "chateaumarmaw." Friendly, first-name faces behind the desk who seem to share the worldly fatalism everyone who stays here likes to think they bring with them.
Lucky people have bumped into Laurence Olivier or Shelley Winters or Richard Gere or Buck Henry or Carol Lynley or Whoever's Who here, but the pleasure is in feeling like a celebrity yourself and taking no overt notice of others. John Belushi has the habit of storming into the lobby and checking the guest register and, if he doesn't find any of his friends in residence, of storming right out again.
Ah, but they understand. There is a tolerant decorum comparable to no other hotel, abused only by the occasional pack of louts from a rock group, usually British, who occupy a suite or one of the cabanas around the pool.You want to go up to these slugabeds as they slobber wine in the chaises and say, "See here. Have some respect. This is the Marmont."
On a visit last year, it was something of a shock to wake up and find a Siamese cat in my bed. This moody, blue-eyed beauty had wandered in off the balcony adjoining the apartment next door, where the young actress who owned her was Keeping Irregular Hours. The cat paid many visits during the weeks that followed, sometimes to play a game in which she ran in one door, through the room, down the hall to the kitchen and out the kitchen window, repeating this whirl several times and finally alighting bravely on the balcony railing, where she flaunted herself shamelessly to my thinly veiled delight.
It's the Marmont that's home, and everything else that's away.