HAUNTED HOLLYWOOD: PART 7
Haunted Hollywood Hotels
The Ghosts & Hauntings of Hollywood's Most
Many of Hollywood’s older hotels are much like Hollywood itself. They are aging and slightly faded old buildings, still trying to hang onto the shimmer of glamour that they enjoyed in the old days. In times past, before you could find hookers on Hollywood Boulevard, the hotels of Hollywood were luxurious pleasure palaces where the stars of the silver screen went to dine, dance and rendezvous with secret lovers. Like some parts of Hollywood though, a few of the hotels have seen face-lifts in recent years, which have stirred up memories and “spirits” of the past. Not all of the ghostly stories, and wicked scandals, are products of recent times however, many of them have been around for years!
The Knickerbocker Hotel was built was in 1925 and throughout the tumultuous decade of the 1920’s, it played a key role at the heart of Hollywood. It first opened as a luxury apartment building and became a hotel later on in its history. One of the attractions of the place was the Renaissance Revival bar, which played host to the cream of the Hollywood crop. One frequent guest was Rudolph Valentino, the silent screen star, who reportedly loved to dance the tango to the live music performed in the saloon. The hotel would serve many guests, and be home to many scandals, over the years.
The hotel lobby features a huge crystal chandelier, which cost over $120,000 in 1925, and it was under this chandelier that epic film director D.W. Griffith died of a stroke in 1948. At the time of his death, Griffith, who was a pioneer in the Hollywood film industry, had been largely forgotten by his peers. He now eked out a painful and lonely existence at the Knickerbocker, spending most of his time in the hotel bar, talking to anyone who was sad enough to listen to him. His dismissal by Hollywood was as great a tragedy as his death and it would not be until years later that he would be regarded as the genius that he undoubtedly was.
The Knickerbocker in its Heyday
Another Knickerbocker tragedy was actress Frances Farmer, whose life was portrayed by Jessica Lange in the 1982 film, Frances. Farmer’s all-too-brief career electrified Hollywood in the 1930’s and 40’s and she made her film debut in 1936 in Too Many Parents. Over the next six years, she appeared in 18 films, three Broadway plays, thirty major radio shows and seven stock company productions. She was only 27 years old, but her star was soon to fade.
As her professional career soared, her personal life began falling apart. After a failed marriage and a string of disastrous relationships, she turned to alcohol and began taking amphetamines to help her control her weight. In January 1943, she starred in the film No Escape but her drinking and erratic behavior began causing problems on the set. She got into a fight and was arrested at the Knickerbocker. When the police arrived, she was taken from her room and dragged half-naked through the hotel lobby. In court the following morning was placed under the care of a psychiatrist. He stated that she was suffering from “manic-depressive psychosis”. The following day, she was sent to the screen actor’s sanitarium in La Crescenta. For the next seven years, she became trapped in the “dark world” of psychiatric treatment and the abuse she suffered would strip her of both her sanity and her talent.
In the asylum, Frances was subjected to insulin treatments that caused her to go into shock. She suffered from brain damage and she was unable to concentrate or learn her lines. Convinced that she would be destroyed if she remained in the hospital, Frances escaped but was recaptured in March 1944. She was then admitted to the Western Washington State Hospital, where she endured electroshock treatments and ice water baths. She was eventually released but in May 1945, she was hospitalized again, this time for five years.
Conditions in the hospital were worse than barbaric. Criminals, patients and mentally retarded people were housed together and their meals were thrown on the floors for them to fight over. Frances was again subjected to regular electroshock “treatments” and in addition, she was prostituted to soldiers from the local military base and repeatedly raped and abused by hospital orderlies. The hospital stay spiraled downward even further and ended with Frances being given a lobotomy. Although eventually freed from the hospital, she was never the same again. The once-beautiful star died at the age of only 57, penniless, alone and broken forever.
Tragedy and legends continued to be born at the Knickerbocker as time went by. The stories say that author William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter, a script girl from the Fox studios, began their lengthy affair at the Knickerbocker. Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio honeymooned here in 1954. Elvis Presley often stayed at the Knickerbocker and in 1956, when he was filming Love Me Tender, he posed for Heartbreak Hotel photos in one of the rooms. Other stars who lived and stayed at the Knickerbocker included rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, Mae West, Lana Turner, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Sinatra, Laurel and Hardy and many others.
Actor William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on the I Love Lucy show, lived at the hotel for decades. In March of 1966, he was walking into the Knickerbocker when he dropped dead of a heart attack on the sidewalk outside. His nurse carried him into the lobby and attempted to revive him, but it was too late.
Perhaps the strangest tragedy took place in November 1962 with the suicide of Irene Gibbons, a costume designer at MGM. She designed costumes for a number of famous actresses like Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Hedy LaMarr, Judy Garland, Lana Turner and many others. Later in her career, she worked on several Doris Day films and became close friends with the actress. In 1962, after Day noticed that Irene seemed upset and nervous, the costume designer confided in her that she was in love with actor Gary Cooper and that he was the only man that she had ever loved. Sadly, Cooper had died in 1961.
On November 15, Irene took a room at the Knickerbocker, checking in under an assumed name. She cut her wrists but when this did not prove to be immediately fatal, she jumped to her death from her window on the fourteenth floor. He body reportedly ended up on top of the hotel awning, where it was discovered later that same night.
Undoubtedly, the first thing of a supernatural nature to occur at the Knickerbocker was the anniversary séance to contact the spirit of magician Harry Houdini. During his life, Houdini had been an opponent of the Spiritualist movement but made a pact with his wife and friends that should contact be possible from the other side, he would attempt it. For ten years after his death, his wife, Bess Houdini, continued to hold séances in hopes of communicating with her late husband. The last "official" Houdini séance was held on Halloween night of 1936.
A group of friends, fellow magicians and Bess Houdini herself gathered in Hollywood, on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel. They attempted to contact the elusive magician for over an hour before finally giving up. At the moment they did, a tremendously violent thunderstorm broke out, drenching the seance participants and terrifying them with the horrific lightning and thunder. They would later learn that this mysterious storm did not occur anywhere else in Hollywood... only above the Knickerbocker Hotel! Some speculated that perhaps Houdini did come through after all, as the flamboyant performer just might have made his presence known by the spectacular effects of the thunderstorm.
Although Houdini’s ghost has never been reported to make an appearance at the Knickerbocker, the place has long been considered to be haunted. The most “spirited” spot was always thought to be the hotel bar, so not surprisingly, when the Knickerbocker closed in 1971 and became a senior citizen’s retirement building, the old bar was sealed off. The rooms remained closed and unused for nearly 25 years until the early 1990’s, when it was re-opened as a nostalgic coffee shop called "The All-Star Theatre Café & Speakeasy." The art-deco cafe’ opens at 7:00 in the evening and stays hopping until the early morning hours. Star spotters will be intrigued to know that it frequently attracts studio wrap parties and film shoots, playing host to celebrities like Sandra Bullock and Leonardo DiCaprio.
However, these are not the only stars that have been spotted here. Many believe that celebrities from the past often put in appearances here as well. The ghost of Valentino (once again... Hollywood’s most traveled ghost!) occasionally has been reported, along with the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, who has been seen in the women’s restroom. Other anonymous spirits sometimes show up as well and staff members are quick to recall instances of lights turning on and off and things moving about on their own. Even after all of these years, the Knickerbocker remains a glamorous, and often mysterious, place.
The Alexandria Hotel opened in Hollywood in 1906 and for many years several the restaurant and theater crowds of the surrounding district. It became a natural meeting place for the burgeoning film industry and by 1910, the dining room had become the lunch location of choice for studio heads, famous actors and those of Hollywood power. During its heyday, it played host to people like Winston Churchill, Enrico Caruso, King Edward VIII and American presidents like Taft, Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. It would be at the Alexandria that D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks would make movie history by announcing the formation of their independent company, United Artists.
But Hollywood would not remain so kind to the Alexandria. As Los Angeles began to develop in a westerly direction, the hotel was abandoned by the stars for the more modern Biltmore and Ambassador Hotels. The Alexandria became a just a memory and it fell into silence and disrepair. Then, in the early 1970’s, the hotel was given a multi-million dollar facelift and the past began to come alive at the hotel... in more ways that one!
Nancy Malone and Lisa Mitchell were hired to bring back the flavor of old Hollywood to the hotel. They named rooms for the hotel’s famous former residents and decorated the hallways with portraits of stars and photographs of Hollywood in its early days. Is it possible that this connection to the past helped to awaken the ghosts of the old hotel?
Author Laurie Jacobson interviewed Nancy Malone and she vividly recalled her first sighting of the hotel’s famed “lady in black”. Nancy was hanging pictures on the wall in a hallway in the early morning hours when she spotted a woman dressed all in black and wearing a large black hat. She was standing at the other end of the hall and began walking away. Nancy remarked that she could not see through the woman, but that “she wasn’t solid either”. She walked a short distance and then vanished.
Since that time, she continues to be seen, but who is she? Lori Jacobson believes that she might be a former resident of the hotel who died while in mourning for some loved one. “Stricken with grief,” the author writes, “she barely noticed her own passing and continued to grieve for more than seventy years”.
The most famous haunted hotel in Hollywood is, without a doubt, the Hollywood Roosevelt. Today, the hotel has been refurbished and remodeled to capture the spirit of its early days but the new furnishings and decor don’t stop the stories of the old spirits from being told!
The Hollywood Roosevelt was opened in 1927 and was, from the beginning, designed to serve the new movie industry as a luxury hotel. The most prestigious movie stars of the day, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, helped to bring the hotel to life and the grand opening hosted the biggest celebrities of the day like Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Will Rogers and Clara Bow, among others. The hotel remained popular for many years and then in 1984, underwent a restoration. Since that time, the ghosts, they say, have been putting in frequent appearances.
The first strange event took place in December 1985, about two weeks before the grand re-opening. Alan Russell, the personal assistant to the General Manager, was in the Blossom Room, where the first Academy Awards banquet was held in 1929. He was sweeping the floor when he
The Hollywood Roosevelt in the early days
noticed an extremely cold spot in one part of the room. He and the other employees who were present were perplexed to find there were no drafts or air conditioners to explain away the chill. Psychics who have investigated the hotel believe there is a man in black clothing who haunts this room, although who he may be, no one knows.
On that same day, another employee named Suzanne Leonard was dusting a mirror in the manager’s office. She looked into the glass and saw the reflection of a blond woman there. She turned quickly around but there was no one behind her, although the reflection remained for some time before fading away. So, who was this mysterious figure? It was later learned that the mirror once hung in Suite 1200 of the hotel, a suite that was frequently used by Marilyn Monroe. Could she still be lingering behind at the Roosevelt?
Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926. Thanks to the fact that she never knew her father and her mother was considered mentally unstable, she lived in a foster home, and later an orphanage, during her early years. As time passed, she also stayed infrequently with her mother and during one of these periods in 1942, she met Jim Doughtery, who she married on June 19. Jim was sent overseas during the war and Norma Jeane worked in a factory, inspecting parachutes. In 1944, she was photographed by the Army as a promotion to show women on the assembly line contributing to the war effort. One of the photographers asked to take further pictures of her and by the following spring, she had appeared on 33 covers of national magazines. In July of 1946, she signed a contract with Fox and selected a new name for herself, Marilyn Monroe. She also had a minor part in the movie Scudda-Hoo and by that fall, was granted her first divorce.
In 1949, she met agent Johnny Hyde of the William Morris Agency and he became her mentor and lover. She also agreed to pose nude for a calendar that year and her career was on its way. Her first major role came in 1950 in The Asphalt Jungle and she received favorable reviews and that was followed by her leading part in Don’t Bother to Knock in 1952. It was in that same year that she baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. They soon fell in love. She also began filming Niagara with Joseph Cotten, a film that would establish her stardom, although Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Jane Russell would make her a legend.
On January 14, 1954, Marilyn and DiMaggio were married. The wedding made headlines all over the world, but the “dream romance” was never meant to last. Joe was a jealous type who was looking for a housewife, something that Marilyn was never destined to be. In the fall of 1954, they separated and were later divorced. Despite this personal crisis, Marilyn’s stardom continued to skyrocket as she filmed her classic role in the Seven Year Itch.
In early 1955, Marilyn went to New York and joined the Actors Studio, intent on becoming known as a serious actress. Here, she renewed her acquaintance with playwright Arthur Miller and the two of them began an affair that would later lead to marriage. To Marilyn, Miller represented the serious theater and a bright intellect that she found very attractive. Marilyn returned to Hollywood in February 1956, after over a years absence, to film Bus Stop. After completing the film she returned to New York in June. She and Arthur Miller were married on June 29. This marriage was also doomed to fail and after many separations, they divorced in 1961.
After going to London with Arthur, Marilyn did not return to Hollywood until 1958 to make Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. It was around this time when her health began to deteriorate thanks to her increased dependency on drugs, especially sleeping pills. She was often late arriving on the set and was unable to remember her lines. In 1960, she began seeing Dr. Ralph Greenson, the so-called “psychoanalyst to the stars”. As was common during this time, he relied heavily on prescribing barbiturates and tranquilizers to accompany his therapy.
July 1960 marked the start of filming The Misfits. The movie was based on a short story by Arthur Miller but while on location, he and Marilyn lived in separate quarters and were hardly speaking. Drugs were flown in for Marilyn from her doctor but somehow she managed to give an exceptional performance. The shoot would be marked with tragedy though. On the day after filming was completed, co-star Clark Gable would suffer a serious heart attack and die. Marilyn felt a tremendous amount of guilt over his death, further aggravating her depression.
In 1961 Marilyn purchased a house in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. At the urging of her doctor, she hired Eunice Murray as housekeeper. Murray, calling herself a nurse, had neither the training or credentials. Strangely, it is believed that Murray was essentially a “spy” for Dr. Greenson, who continued to have more and more control over her life. He saw her almost daily when she was in Hollywood. Also in 1961, Marilyn began her alleged affair with President John F. Kennedy and she was also reported to have had an affair with his brother, Robert Kennedy, in the days just before her death.
Marilyn began production on Something’s Got to Give in April 1962 and frequent illnesses kept her from working on may days of shooting. No one at the studio was very happy, especially in light of the dept that had been created for the studio by the schedule and overruns of Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It is believed that if Fox cancelled Marilyn’s film, with a lower budget and fewer actors, they could be reimbursed by their insurance company for losses due to a star's illness, and recoup monies spent. Fox fired Marilyn on June 7.
Around this same time, Marilyn had been seeing Joe DiMaggio again and had finally agreed to remarry him. The wedding date was set for August 8. Fox rehired her on August 1 to complete Something’s Got to Give ... but of course, the wedding and the film would never come to pass. Marilyn died on August 5, 1962 and since that time, there has been much speculation about the events surrounding her death and who exactly was involved in it. Most believe that a suicide seems unlikely though and it has even been suggested that her drug overdose was administered by someone other than Marilyn herself. Could this be why her ghost is rumored to linger behind?
The “haunted” mirror is still hanging on the wall at the Roosevelt and can now be found in the lower level elevator landing. It is said that some visitors still catch a glimpse of a beautiful blond in the glass as some believe that Marilyn’s sad life has been permanently impressed in the glass.
As guests began to arrive at the refurbished hotel, the staff was told of other encounters. They frequently heard complaints about loud talking in nearby rooms and of voices in hallways.... rooms and corridors that would prove to be empty. Phones were lifted from receivers in empty suites... lights turned on in empty, locked rooms ... a maid was inexplicably pushed into a supply closet ... a typewriter began typing in the middle of the night in an empty, locked office .... a man in a white suit (who was seen by three different people on two different days) walked through a door and vanished ... extra bedspreads that were hung on a rod in the basement began moving on their own... a little girl was seen playing in the lobby and then vanished before the eyes of a startled staff member... and much more.
Some employees also reported strange shadows on the Ninth floor, prompting many of them to refuse to work on that level. Strange things were especially connected to Room 928. Here, housekeepers have reported cold spots that brush by them and others have felt a strong presence watching them or walking beside them. One night in 1992, a female guest reported that a man’s hand patted her on the shoulder while she was reading. She turned, thinking that it was her husband, only to find him sound asleep.
Room 928 has been most prominently connected to actor Montgomery Clift, who lived in the room for three months in 1952 while filming From Here to Eternity. Clift was said to restlessly pace his room and the corridor outside, rehearsing his lines and practicing the bugle. And some say that he still does...
Montgomery Clift was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1920. He grew up the privileged so of a Wall Street stockbroker and traveled all over the world with his family and private tutors. When Wall Street crashed in 1929, the Clift’s changed their lifestyle and moved to a small home in Sarasota, Florida. Here. Clift would try acting for the first time at the age of 13. He joined a local youth theatrical group and his mother, realizing his natural talents, pushed him toward an acting career. After the family moved to Massachusetts, Clift was able to audition for a part on Broadway. He won the role and his new career was started at the age of only 17.
Over the next three years, Clift played a number of leading roles on Broadway, while members of the film industry tried to lure him to Hollywood. He rejected every offer though until he finally was able to get the studios to agree to hire him on his terms. Almost immediately, United Artists agreed to what he wanted and he was cast alongside John Wayne and Walter Brennan in what became one of the most famous westerns of all time, Red River.
After that, Clift began to work in other roles and became friends with actress Elizabeth Taylor, who he appeared with in A Place in the Sun. He would later appear with Taylor in two other films, Raintree County (1956) and Suddenly Last Summer (1959). He accepted both roles without even looking at a script. He just wanted to act with Taylor.
After a two year hiatus after A Place in the Sun, Clift returned to the movie screen with From Here to Eternity, with Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra. The film would be nominated for eight Academy Awards and Clift would be nominated for Best Actor. After that, he starred in the Alfred Hitchcock film, I Confess, and in Indiscretion of an American Housewife. He would not be seen on the stage or screen again for more than three years.
At about this time, Clift’s personal life began to be plagued with rumors about homosexuality and clandestine affairs. Then tragedy struck... On a night in May 1957, Clift attended a dinner party at the home of Elizabeth Taylor. As he was leaving, he veered off the road and his car collided with a telephone pole. The accident left Clift with a broken jaw and nose, a crushed sinus cavity, two missing teeth, and severe facial lacerations that required plastic surgery. Somehow though, he remarkably recovered and returned home from the hospital after just eight weeks. He was able to complete filming on Raintree County.
After the accident, Monty starred in seven movies, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Judgement at Nuremberg. He also co-starred in The Misfits, which was Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable's last movie. In 1962, he was cast for The Defector, which would be his last role. While waiting to start a new role with Elizabeth Taylor, Clift died in 1966. Officially, he suffered a heart attack at the age of only 46, but rumors soon spread about suicide. Regardless, he is remembered today as one of the great actors of all time.... and a continuing guest at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Haunted Places: The National Directory By Dennis William Hauck (1996)
Hollywood Haunted by Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wannamaker (1994)
Hollywood and the Supernatural by Brad and Sherry Steiger (1990)
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger (1975)
Hollywood Babylon 2 by Kenneth Anger (1984)
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (official website www.hollywoodroosevelt.com)
(C) Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.