TOM LEONARD on Hollywood’s most debauched hideaway

Welcome to the Hotel Scandalous! Johnny Depp boasting he and Kate Moss were intimate in ALL 63 rooms, Scarlett Johansson caught ‘in flagrante in the lift’… TOM LEONARD on Hollywood’s most debauched hideaway as revealed in a new book

An underage Natalie Wood juggled lovers by the pool as she slept her way to film stardom.

Scarlett Johansson and Benicio del Toro were swept away by passion in the lift. And Johnny Depp claimed he and Kate Moss had sex in every one of its 63 rooms and bungalows over the four years of their affair.

Hollywood’s most dissolute hotel — Chateau Marmont — has become a byword for hedonism and debauchery that often left its most outrageous films looking tame by comparison.

The 1930s studio boss Harry Cohn — he kept a suite there for affairs with starlets — would warn his actors: ‘If you must get into trouble, go to the Marmont.’

The historic Chateau Marmont hotel on the famous Sunset Strip, which opened in 1929 and has welcomed many legendary celebrity guests and has been the site of several movies

And generations of stars heeded his advice, disappearing into the French-style castle on a hillside towering over Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, confident that its famously discreet staff would turn a blind eye to many a vice.

Some, such as Warren Beatty, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears were thrown out — their behaviour too much even for the famously indulgent management.

Others never made it out at all. In 1982, the comedian John Belushi famously died in one of the hotel’s bungalows — the secluded locations in the grounds encouraged some of the most depraved behaviour — after a five-day drugs binge. Following a night carousing with friends including fellow guests Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, Belushi, 33, was found dead after overdosing on a mix of cocaine and heroin. 

Marmont staff reassured other guests the next day that there had been a ‘slight disturbance’.

Natalie Wood (1938-1981), shown seated wearing a white gown

Today, the 90-year-old hotel is still going strong. In a new book on the Marmont, The Castle On Sunset, author Shawn Levy describes it as ‘a haven, a place where conventional moral judgment held little or no sway, where guests’ proclivities for sex or booze or drugs or unusual work habits weren’t merely abided . . . but actually accepted’.

Built in 1929 as an apartment building, it was inspired by the Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire Valley and took its name from a road named after a silent era British star, Percy Marmont. In its early, respectable years, it was heavily patronised by British performers such as Stan Laurel, Laurence Olivier and Gracie Fields.

It wasn’t the smartest, nor the most luxurious, in Los Angeles. It boasted few facilities and its mock-Old World interior grew increasingly dilapidated. But it was relatively cheap and actors, writers and musicians loved the decadent ambience, and the privacy and seclusion it afforded.

Guests — and their visitors — could come and go unobserved, driving into the underground garage and heading straight to their rooms in a lift.

It quickly became a de facto club house for Tinseltown’s royalty. ‘I would rather sleep in a Chateau bathroom than in another hotel,’ claimed Billy Wilder, director of Some Like It Hot. And he did just that after staff in the fully-booked Marmont set up a bed for him in the lobby of the ladies’ room.

‘You could do things. Nothing was being reported, except in the hotel log,’ confided director Sofia Coppola decades later.

The Marmont became a hide-away not only for those intent on misbehavingm but also for those fleeing failed marriages, such as John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Paul Newman. Its tolerant attitude attracted closeted gay or bisexual celebrities, such as Psycho star Anthony Perkins and British actor Roddy McDowall, who realised they could enjoy secret trysts with male lovers there. Even after he married and had children, Perkins kept a suite at the Marmont.

Johnny Depp and then-girlfriend Kate Moss leave his hotel to dine out at a French Brasserie in Portobello Road in 1994

Many guests checked in for a few days and stayed for months, sometimes even years. Some had homes in Los Angeles, but still preferred to live at the Marmont. One of the first stars to exploit the Marmont’s discretion for carnal purposes was the 1930s film star Jean Harlow.

The platinum blonde — famous for putting ice cubes on her nipples between every take to draw attention to her breasts — was 22 and Hollywood’s ‘reigning sexpot’ when she honeymooned in a set of Marmont suites with her third husband.

The highly-sexed actress had a separate door installed in the master suite so she could easily smuggle in a stream of male visitors — including her co-star in many movies, Clark Gable — while her husband was away. Whenever she felt in need of a new lover, she would trawl Sunset Boulevard, reputedly hanging a ‘Gone Fishing’ sign on her door first.

Actor Anthony Perkins poses for a portrait at home in 1958 in Los Angeles, California

Rapidly, the hotel became synonymous with sex. ‘Grace Kelly was known by hotel staffers to have a notable appetite for men — particularly other guests, whose room numbers she would try to wheedle out of desk clerks,’ says Marmont’s chronicler Shawn Levy. One of them was reportedly her married High Noon co-star Gary Cooper.

Warren Beatty, who lived at the hotel in his early days in Hollywood, ‘ran up conquests as impressively as he did unpaid bills, finally being asked to leave by management for his financial arrears’. Errol Flynn bedded all three wives there as well as Marlene Dietrich and 15-year-old lover Beverly Aadland.

Not everyone, however, came to the Marmont for debauchery. Marlon Brando moved in to lick his wounds after his divorce from actress Anna Kashfi, only venturing out at night when he would talk into the early hours with hotel staff ‘who found him surprisingly sympathetic and vulnerable’.

The British actress Vivien Leigh also checked in with a heavy heart (and 22 pieces of luggage), plastering her hotel suite with photographs of her recently divorced ex-husband, Laurence Olivier, as well as some Renoirs and Picassos she took to brighten up her room.

As an aspiring actress, Marilyn Monroe took to hanging around the Marmont’s corridors and in 1955 she invited a young journalist, Brad Darrach, to interview her in her suite. She suggested they move to the bedroom.

‘My heart lurched,’ Darrach recalled — but he was to be disappointed. ‘I’m completely exhausted,’ she told him. ‘It would help if I could talk lying down.’ They settled head-to-tail on her bed as they chatted for hours.

Bette Davis brought her marital problems to the Marmont, its corridors and lobby echoing to her screaming matches with fourth husband Gary Merrill. In 1958, Davis, staying in one of the bungalows, fell asleep while smoking and set the room on fire.

Boris Karloff lived there on and off for seven years, charming staff with his courtesy, but often terrifying fellow guests when the lift doors opened to reveal the star of horror films staring at them.

So many of the rooms and suites at the Marmont were associated with specific celebrities. One penthouse, for example, overlooked the pool and reclusive movie mogul Howard Hughes rented it so he could leer through binoculars at the beautiful bodies sunning themselves beside it. It was also home for months to the equally hermit-like Greta Garbo who signed the hotel register ‘Harriet Brown’.

US actress Scarlett Johansson arrives for the World premiere of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame at the Los Angeles Convention Center on April 22

In Room 36, Montgomery Clift recuperated after a near fatal car crash in 1956 following a party given by his great friend and co-star in A Place In The Sun, Liz Taylor. Befuddled by painkillers and alcohol, the tormented bisexual star would wander on to the terrace naked and hurl obscenities.

Bungalow 2 was where the director Nicholas Ray rehearsed for the 1955 film, Rebel Without A Cause, with two of his teenage stars, Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper. He had moved to the hotel after finding his wife, actress Gloria Grahame, in bed with his 13-year-old son from his first marriage.

A bisexual playboy, Ray lived in the bungalow for six years, entertaining lovers including Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Joan Crawford as well as a string of young men on his casting couch — something that the ambitious Wood readily availed herself of.

Ray was 44 when the affair started, she was just 16 and legally a minor but determined to do whatever it took to get a starring role. Simultaneously, she started an affair with Dennis Hopper, who was jealous of Ray and would creep around the Marmont armed with a gun, trying to catch him in flagrante with their shared lover.

Hopper finally confronted Ray and threatened to ‘beat the s***’ out of him unless he gave up Wood. The director took revenge by cutting almost every one of Hopper’s lines from Rebel. His affair with Wood ended after, returning drunk to the bungalow one night, Ray mistakenly drank a urine sample she’d left out ready for a doctor.

The hotel’s bohemian seediness was a big draw. The actor Roman Polanski — arrested in 1977 for sex with a 13-year-old girl — once said of the Marmont: ‘You could sense, simply by walking down its corridors, that the place had had its quota of real-life dramas, of slashed wrists and overdoses, just as you could almost get stoned from sniffing the haze that seeped through the various keyholes.’

John Belushi sighted on April 7, 1978 at the Roxy in West Hollywood, California

As long as you paid for the damage, getting thrown out of the Marmont was difficult — but not impossible. Irish hellraiser Richard Harris managed it in the early 1960s: returning from a drinking spree at 2am, he staggered along the corridors, banging on doors and shouting that nuclear war had started.

Rupert Everett ought to have been thrown out after a prank with two friends in which they substituted presents left under a Christmas tree with an assortment of sex toys in festive wrapping.

The hotel has also been popular with the world’s biggest rock stars. Notorious hotel trashers Led Zeppelin were regulars and although the claim that they rode motorbikes along the corridors isn’t true (that was at another LA hotel), the British band did have a riotous party in a Marmont bungalow at which they borrowed a food trolley to take naked girls from one bedroom to another.

They also poured cold baked beans over their road manager as he writhed on a bed with a groupie.

Jim Morrison, singer of The Doors, was another high-spirited Marmont regular who once tried to swing into a bedroom window from a drain pipe but lost his grip and fell two floors.

In the 1970s, the Marmont was starting to struggle, when its dilapidation and seediness proved too much even for drunk actors. When Bianca Jagger moved in there in 1977, her friend Ryan O’Neal was appalled, telling her: ‘How can you stay in a place like that?’

Yet, by the 1990s, it had been refurbished and was being patronised by successive generations of hedonistic stars who were not deterred by suite prices that now start at $1,000 a night.

It was after the 2004 Oscars that 19-year-old Scarlett Johansson — who’d made her name in The Horse Whisperer and Girl With A Pearl Earring — invited award nominee Benicio del Toro back to her suite at the hotel. Reports that the two of them had sex in the lift soon emerged.

‘Apparently, there was somebody with us in an elevator, and we were making out or having sex or something — which I think is very unsanitary,’ the actress told a magazine. The couple have never denied it.

In 2007, the troubled singer Britney Spears smeared food all over her face in the hotel’s restaurant at the height of her public breakdown and was asked to leave. Three years later, the hard-partying actress with a history of drink and drug issues, Lindsay Lohan, was also thrown out of the Marmont, after running up a $46,000 bill in less than two months.

Today, the hotel’s rakish cachet shows little sign of waning — especially after music superstars Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce now hold a lavish annual Oscars-night bash there. The party is held, of all places, in the Marmont’s garage. 

The Castle On Sunset: Love, Fame, Death And Scandal At Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £20.

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