The Chateau Marmont is the ideal Hollywood hideout. | Corbis via Getty Images
As Harry Cohn once said: “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont”
Aside from texting in a movie theater once in a while or taking a left after a red, Angelenos are a pretty well-behaved bunch; we even get to bed early. But not at Chateau Marmont.
The history of bad behavior at the Chateau dates to shortly after its founding as a hotel in the 1930s—it was originally built in the 1920s as Los Angeles’s first earthquake-proof apartment building (and would eventually become Los Angeles’s first Lindsay Lohan-proof building). Architect Arnold A. Weitzman modeled it after the Chateau D’Amboise in the Loire Valley, which is believed to be Leonardo Da Vinci’s final resting place!
The hotel’s reputation as the place to go to misbehave dates back to the days of the Motion Picture Code of the 1930s and the purity seal of 1934. The code specified not only what could and could not be shown on screen, but also its expectations of a star’s behavior off camera.
Studios rented apartments and rooms for the express purpose of having someplace safe for their stars to engage in whatever nasty little habits they had. The famous example being Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, telling two of his randiest young stars, William Holden and Glenn Ford, “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.”
When it wants to, Hollywood can be exceptionally good at keeping its own secrets. The Chateau, with its own eccentric and highly personal history, was the perfect coconspirator. With its external appearance of a castle or Gothic fort, combined with its residential past, incredibly thick walls, discreet entry, and highly protective staff who treated guests like members of the family, the Chateau Marmont became the ideal hideout.
European guests found the architecture familiar and comforting, sexual outsiders felt accepted, the emotionally shy were shielded, and anyone else with a reason to hide simply blended into the woodwork—from the start there was the feeling of a shared sensibility. Greta Garbo felt comfortable here, as did Howard Hughes.
Breaking the code of discretion can get plebs banned, by the way, so it would be entirely impossible to chronicle every misdeed or sad story that’s ever gone down at the Chateau Marmont, and probably half of these stories are apocryphal anyway, but here’s a short and very incomplete history (and there’s plenty of good too! The Day of the Locust was written there; Billy Wilder began his career writing at the Chateau, etc.).
— Howard Hughes would supposedly spy on women at the Chateau pool using prism binoculars.
— It’s widely-said that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack at the Chateau in the late 1930s (as Hollywood was slowly beating him to death), but it actually happened across the street at Schwab’s drugstore while he was buying a pack of cigarettes.
— In 1955, James Dean supposedly jumped through a window to audition for Rebel Without a Cause. Director Nicholas Ray lived in a bungalow at the time, where he was having an affair with underaged Natalie Wood.
— There are a few stories, or probably one muddled story, about Jim Morrison of The Doors having a rough time getting into or out of the building. He supposedly jumped off either a roof or terrace, but was so high he walked away fine. And he also supposedly spent “the eighth of [his] nine lives” falling from a drain pipe that he’d been using to try to swing in from the roof.
— Members of Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles through the lobby in the 1960s.
— On March 5, 1982, comedian John Belushi died from a speedball injection in Bungalow No. 3.
— On January 23, 2004, photographer Helmut Newton, who lived at the hotel, lost control of his Cadillac and crashed into the driveway wall. He was killed.
— There is a commonly-denied and non-denied story that Benicio Del Toro and Scarlett Johansson hooked up in the elevator the night before the 2004 Oscars.
— Lindsay Lohan shacked up at the Chateau in the midst of her (first) drunk driving scandal.
— During her public meltdown phase, in September 2007, Britney Spears was temporarily banned from the Chateau for smearing her face with food, disgusting fellow diners.
— Lohan was finally banned in 2012 (she’d been living in Suite No. 33) after racking up a $46,350.04 tab on stuff like cigarettes, candles, iPhone chargers, and copies of Architectural Digest.