The Castle On The Sunset

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The castle in question is the Chateau Marmont, the funky Hollywood hotel which became notorious when John Belushi died there of an overdose in 1982.

That wasn't the first scandal to have taken place at the Chateau, whose history goes back a hundred years. Standing on a hillside overlooking Sunset Boulevard, the Chateau, as author Shawn Levy said, "has appeared, from the day it opened, as if it came from another world entirely." Architecture critic Edgardo Contini added, "The Chateau is a fluke, a marvelous fluke. In the midst of endless low-rise, it is a striking high-rise, like a cathedral in a medieval town."

In its early years, The Chateau "didn't get nearly the attention from Hollywood as did other Los Angeles-area hotels. The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Beverly Wilshire, the Ambassador, and the Roosevelt all enjoyed more prominent names--not to mention more deluxe accommodations and amenities," writes Levy. "The Chateau was still chiefly a haven for Southern California aristocracy. Even the gossip coming out of the place had less to do with film people than with blue bloods."

That changed in the 1930s when such luminaries as Jean Harlow, Lloyd Bacon, Gregg Toland and Billy Wilder moved into The Chateau. Soon the hotel became something of a Hollywood haven, "a place where conventional moral judgement held little or no sway, where guests' proclivities for sex or booze or drugs or unusual work habits weren't merely abided, as they might be at a decorous hotel, but actually accepted, where queer guests and guests with adventurous lifestyles and guests who banged on pianos or typewriters at odd hours and guests who cavorted more than they worked were considered not troublesome invaders but welcome kin."

Over the years The Chateau became more and more infamous. It was where Harlow took lovers during her third honeymoon, Nicholas Ray slept with 16-year-old Natalie Wood, Anthony Perkins and Tab Hunter met pool-side and began a secret affair, and where Jim Morrison hung by his fingertips from a balcony.

You can find all of these stories within the confines of this juicy, gossipy, bawdy book. It's no surprise that it has become a best-seller.

(Doubleday Publishers).