The Inn Crowd: Hotels from Somewhere to "Satori"

Slide 1: Somewhere at the Chateau Marmont

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) enjoy their room at the Chateau Marmont. Photo: Merrick Morton

Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere tells the story of fictional happenings in a real hotel, in this case the life of movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) in Los Angeles’ Chateau Marmont.  Coppola, in an interview with Gillian Orr of The Independent of London, described the genesis of Somewhere this way: “I started with this character of Johnny Marco. I thought, ‘He lives at the Chateau Marmont,’ because it seems like every young actor I've talked to has a story about living at the Chateau. They've all done a stint there: ‘Oh yeah, I lived there a year,’ or, ‘I lived at the Chateau for a couple of months.’ It's kind of a rite of passage; it's so linked with making it in Hollywood while showing that you're still down to earth.”

Slide 2: Fantasy at the Chateau Marmont

The Chateau and its inspiration, the Château d'Amboise

Built in 1929 on Sunset Boulevard, the Chateau Marmont was modeled after the 16th century Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley.  Originally intended for deluxe apartments, the Chateau was turned into a hotel in 1931 when its owners found it suddenly impossible to demand the high rents they had intended to charge. As a hotel, the fairytale castle soon became a place of fantasies, both grand and gaudy. As A.M. Homes writes in Los Angeles: People, Places and the Castle on the Hill, “I had always wanted to live at the Chateau Marmont and dip into my own fantasy life about what it is to call a hotel a home. … The [Chateau Marmont] itself, suspended in time, lost in the glamour of old Hollywood, echoes my questions about the state of the Dream, about how heroes and icons are made and maintained.” For Homes and others, the Chateau occupies a unique spot in Los Angeles, being both the center of and oasis from Hollywood culture. Baltimore-based filmmaker John Waters recalls, “I’ve been staying there for … thirty years. … it is really the place where everyone stays that hates L.A., if you’re from Europe, from New York. And all the people that love L.A. don’t understand why you ever want to stay there. … The whole point is that the Chateau Marmont is reverse snobbery against L.A.”

Slide 3: High Jinx at the Chateau Marmont

A sign for all times

Although the Chateau developed a following among New Yorkers and Europeans, it was equally attractive to the locals. Eve Babitz, author of Groupies: Confessions of a Hollywood Veteran, told Homes: “It was built for, you know, peccadilloes. So obviously the people who built it knew what they were doing. You know, if you want to commit suicide, if you want to commit adultery, go to the Chateau.” Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, renting a couple of the hotel’s bungalows for William Holden and Glenn Ford, told his stars, “If you are going to get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.” And celebrities have been getting ‘in trouble” there for decades, sometimes with tragic consequences. On March 5, 1982, actor John Belushi’s death from a drug overdose while staying in Bungalow 3 made worldwide news.  Less talked about is the creative high jinx the Chateau inspires. Billy Wilder, who once stayed in a cot in the lobby rather than go to another hotel, conceived of Sunset Boulevard while staying there, and the scripts for The Day of the Locust and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were hammered out at the Chateau.

Slide 4: Staying at the Chateau Mamont

An early photo of the hotel, and the cover of Chateau Marmont Hollywood Handbook, the definitive history of the hotel edited by its current owner André Balazs. Helmut Newton, who took the picture of a model on the hotel’s penthouse for the cover of the book, died on January 23, 2004, when his car crashed into a wall as he was wending his way up the Chateau Marmont driveway.

Chateau Marmont Hollywood Handbook, a compendium of stories about the Chateau collected by its owner André Balazs, tells the history of this West Hollywood hostel in loving and sordid detail with anecdotes from many of its long-term guests. Jay McInerney, who adapted for the screen Bright Lights, Big City, his own novel about life in New York, while staying at the Hollywood retreat, quips, “It’s the kind of place where you feel over-dressed in a tie and underdressed without a cigarette.” For Sandra Bullock, “It has an incredibly seductive atmosphere. No wonder people come here to have affairs—it's got that air of history, where you know a lot of people did things they weren't supposed to do.”

Slide 5: The Algonquin's Round Table

Al Hirschfeld’s cartoon of the Algonquin Round Table. Seated at the table, clockwise from left: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood. In back from left to right: frequent Algonquin guests Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield and Frank Case

The Algonquin Hotel which has sat at 59 West 44th St in New York since 1902, was once the fabled New York haunt of both America’s literary elite and Hollywood legends—many of whom spent the night here: Helen Hayes, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin. Situated around the corner from the offices of Vanity Fair, the hotel soon became a favorite lunch spot for a number of its writers, including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood. The Algonquin, originally named The Puritan, was a dry hotel for much of its history, making it a strange rendezvous for figures who would later become notorious for their alcoholism. The hotel moved from lunch spot to literary institution in 1919, when a fake welcome home party for New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott brought the initial circle together. From 1919 to 1929 the group that regularly met became known as the Algonquin Round Table, although members referred to themselves as “the Vicious Circle.” President John F. Kennedy once said, “When I was growing up I had three wishes. I wanted to be a Lindbergh-type hero, learn Chinese and become a member of the Algonquin Round Table.”

Slide 6: The Algonquin's Vicious Circle

“A Vicious Circle” by Natalie Ascencios, which hangs in the hotel, portrays from left to right (standing) Robert Benchley, Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Sherwood, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woolcott, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, (seated) Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun.

The Round Table members were dangerous wits. Edna Ferber once arrived at the Algonquin dressed in a new suit that happened to look like the suit that Noël Coward was wearing. “You look almost like a man,” said Coward. To which Ferber replied, “So do you.” When Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor offered member George S. Kaufman only $30,000 for the movie rights to one of his plays, Kaufman sent Zukor a telegram offering $40,000 for Paramount. And when an agent asked Kaufman, who was the New York Times drama critic in the 1920s, “How do I get our leading lady’s name in the Times?” Kaufman replied, “Shoot her.” Groucho Marx, who unlike brother Harpo was not part of the Algonquin Round Table, deemed the “the Vicious Circle” too mean, saying: “The price of admission is a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.”

Slide 7: Life and Death at the Chelsea Hotel

Built in 1883 as an apartment co-op – and until 1899 the tallest building in New York – the Chelsea became a hotel in 1905.

While the Algonquin banks on its literary laurels, the Chelsea Hotel, at 222 West 23rd Street in New York City, bills itself as “a center of bohemian and artistic creativity.” Another difference between the two is that many of the famous guests of the Chelsea died young. On November 9, 1953, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who’d railed two years earlier in perhaps his most famous poem against going “gentle into that good night,” died of alcohol poisoning while staying at the Chelsea Hotel. On September 21, 1968, Charles R. Jackson, the author of the alcoholic drama The Lost Weekend, committed suicide there. And on Oct. 12, 1978, the Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious may have stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death on Oct. 12, 1978. (Vicious, born John Simon Ritchie, was under the influence when she died and unable to recall how she ended on the bathroom floor, having bled to death after being stabbed in the abdomen by his knife.) At the same time, the Chelsea Hotel has given birth to a number of books and movements. In 1962, nine years after Dylan Thomas’ death, a Minnesotan boy named Robert Allen Zimmerman there renamed himself Bob Dylan, in honor of the dead poet. Arthur C. Clarke wrote the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey while a guest at the hotel. “The Chelsea has always been a sort of Tower of Babel of creativity and bad behavior,” observed an International Herald Tribune reporter. “Some of the world’s most gifted and destructive minds have called 222 West 23rd St. home.” Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard R. Lingeman put it this way: “The Chelsea Hotel may be one of the few civilized places in New York, if we mean by civilized freedom of the spirit, tolerance of differences, creativity and art.”

Slide 8: Edie at The Chelsea Hotel

Edie Sedgwick in Andy Warhol’s Beauty #2

Andy Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls in Room 442 of the Chelsea Hotel. The original star of the show was the well-born Warhol protégé Edie Sedgwick. After a dispute with Warhol, footage of her was excised from the film, and she was replaced by the German singer Nico. Following the split with Warhol, Sedgwick began living at the Chelsea, allegedly having an affair with fellow resident Bob Dylan. Sedgwick was famous for setting fire to her hotel room. The first blaze occurred when after injecting heroin in one arm and an amphetamine in the other (i.e. doing a speedball), her cigarette fell from her lips and set fire to her bed. Sedgwick was burned, and Betsy Johnson, the dressmaker, bragged: “When Edie set her apartment on fire, she was in one of my dresses.”

Sedgwick was moved to Room 105, above the lobby where the hotel staff could keep an eye on her. When she finally moved out, the staff is said to have cheered her departure. Today, the Chelsea limits guest visits to 24 days. But the guest register, which went beyond downtown and punk rock, included Eugene O'Neil, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur C. Clarke, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, William S. Burroughs, Willem de Kooning, Tennessee Williams, Jasper Johns, Quentin Crisp, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

Slide 9: Eloise at The Plaza

Eloise painting in the lobby of the Plaza, and the hotel itself.

The 20-story hotel, built in 1907 at Central Park and Fifth Ave, is one of two New York hotels designated as a National Historic Landmark, the other being the Waldorf-Astoria. Eloise, the heroine of the 1955 children’s book of the same name, lived in a “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza with her Nanny, her pug dog Weenie, and her turtle Skipperdee. Kay Thompson, the creator of Eloise who for a while lived in the Plaza, was a great friend of Noël Coward, a regular visitor to the hotel. The first guests to sign the register were Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I and his wife Ellen (née French). The same year famed tenor Enrico Caruso made history, tearing his suite apart trying to get the room’s new-fangled electric clock to stop ticking. When it opened, the Hotel was considered the height of elegance, charging an unheard of $2.50 a night. Ernest Hemingway told F. Scott Fitzgerald (who’d set several of his novels in the hotel) that upon his death he should leave his liver to Princeton and his heart to the Plaza.

Slide 10: Hitchcock at The Plaza

Cary Grant in the Plaza’s Oak Room bar in North by Northwest.

Alfred Hitchcock used the Plaza as a set for North by Northwest (1959), a location which proved extremely easy for the film’s star, Cary Grant, who stayed at the hotel during the film. He would remain in his room until production called up to tell him they were ready. Grant’s character, Roger O. Thornhill, visits there in search of George Kaplan, the man he has been mistaken for. Only Kaplan’s room number, 796, doesn’t actually exist; the rooms end at 769. The hotel has also been featured in Plaza Suite, The Great Gatsby, Barefoot in the Park, Home Alone II: Lost in New York, Sleepless in Seattle and several episodes of The Sopranos.

Slide 11: Truman at The Plaza

Truman Capote invited 500 of his nearest, dearest, and most famous friends to the Party of the Century.

On November 28, 1966, Truman Capote, flush with cash from his novel In Cold Blood, put on his famous “Black & White Ball” to honor Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in the Plaza’s Grand Ballroom. Cecil Beaton, royal photographer and former member of the Bright Young Things of London’s inter-war years, wrote is his diary: “What is Truman trying to prove? The foolishness of spending so much time organizing the party is something for a younger man or a worthless woman to indulge in, if they have social ambitions.” Invitees were to wear masks, though many took them off. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II (1912-1999) arrived in a cat mask, and taking it off, explained, “It itches and I can't see.” The party, which included the crème de la crème of Manhattan society, would be later remembered with the title of “party of the century.”

Slide 12: The Savoy and its Stars

In 1956, Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier promoting the film The Prince and the Showgirl at the Savoy, where Olivier had met his lover and later wife Vivien Leigh twenty years earlier.

The Savoy in London heralded its cutting-edge technology when it opened on the Strand in 1889. Boasting of its “ascending rooms,” the Savoy proclaimed: “They never stop, they are absolutely safe, and the transit from the earth to the realms is swift, the finest elevator service yet seen on this side of the Atlantic.” In addition, the hotel boasted of the wonders of electric lighting: “This Hotel was the first to introduce an all-night service of light, so that the oft-maligned man who ‘reads in bed’ can do so with easy comfort and with no fear of setting himself, his sheets, or his fellow-guests on fire.” In addition to its luxurious amenities, the hotel bore a theatrical pedigree, having been built by Richard D'Oyly Carte from profits made from bankrolling Gilbert and Sullivan operas. As such, it was a natural stopping off spot for entertainers like Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Barrymore, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh (who met her future husband Olivier at the hotel), Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, among many others.

Slide 13: The Savoy and its Scandals

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas; Elizabeth de Gramont, a smoker

Along with its constellation of stars, the Savoy hosted a number of scandals. In March 1893, Oscar Wilde used the hotel, specifically Room 361, for assignations with young male prostitutes. Room 362 was occupied by his lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. As Wilde was being tried for gross indecency, with evidence presented in the most graphic detail, the presiding magistrate felt moved to comment on the high price Wilde had paid for chicken. “I know nothing about the Savoy,” said the judge, “ but I must say that in my view chicken and salad for two at sixteen shillings is very high. I am afraid I shall never supper there myself.” Another scandal at the Savoy featured Elizabeth de Gramont of France, who is said to be the first woman in London to smoke in public. This she did, in 1896, to the amazement of the gawking crowd, at the Savoy Restaurant, while on her honeymoon with Philibert, the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre. She later became known as the “red duchess,” for her support of socialism, and gained infamy as the lover of the Parisian writer Natalie Barney, an American ex-pat from Dayton, Ohio, with whom she signed a marriage contract in 1918. Barney was also a lover of Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece.

Slide 14: The Savoy and its Subjects

In 1965, Savoy guest Bob Dylan filming the music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in an alley near the hotel.

Theater stars, from Noël Coward and George Bernard Shaw to Sarah Bernhardt, loved to stay at the Savoy. In 1925, George Gershwin held the British premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue” in the hotel. And the hotel repaid the compliment by paying special attention to its guests, keeping meticulous notes on their various desires. The staff, for example, photographed Coward’s toilet paraphernalia, so they could lay them out in the bathroom exactly as he liked when he came to visit. But the Savoy also opened its door to all sorts of artists. Claude Monet and James Whistler both painted pictures of the River Thames as viewed from their windows. Frank Sinatra would sing at the hotel’s cabaret. In 1965, the year before he took up residence at the Chelsea Hotel, Bob Dylan stayed in the Savoy, filming the clip for his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in an adjacent alley.

Slide 15: Coco at the Ritz

Chanel in her room, and Coco’s reconstructed bedroom at the Ritz

The Savoy’s equivalent in Paris was the Ritz. The hotel, famous for its high-priced and tasteful elegance, was home to Coco Chanel from 1934 to 1971. The Leading Hotels of the World company recently advertised a three-night Paris package featuring Chanel’s Ritz suite (7,700 euros a night), “still complete with the legendary designer's own furniture including original rare Coromandel screens and magnificent art and antique pieces, as well as views of the city's famous Place Vendôme.” But the Ritz was not to everyone’s taste. Edith Wharton hated it. One woman of her circle said that Paris ladies can be divided into two groups: “Ritz and anti-Ritz. The anti-Ritz class contains only Mrs. Edith Wharton.” The Ritz is featured in films like Love in the Afternoon, How to Steal a Million, The Da Vinci Code and The Devil Wears Prada.

Slide 16: Coward at the Ritz

Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence

When he was 27, Noël Coward wrote the play Ritz Bar, later titled Semi-Monde, which is set in the Paris Ritz between 1924 and 1926, a period during which, as Coward wrote, “we tried to hide our happiness by appearing to be as blasé, world weary and ‘jagged with sophistication’ as we possibly could.”  Semi-Monde, with a cast of 30, is considered Coward’s most daring play due to its frank portrayal of gays and lesbians—the kind of queer characters Coward would have encountered at the Ritz hotels in London, New York and Paris, all of which had bars frequented by gay men. Philip Hoare, in his biography of Coward, describes the play this way: “In a chic Parisian hotel, a series of sexual pairings take place through rendezvous, arguments, infidelities and reconciliations; sexual deviance is undisguised, and it appears to have been written for a very sophisticated audience.” The play was never produced in his lifetime. In his 1937 autobiography, Present Indicative, Coward wrote, “Its production in London or New York seemed unlikely as some of the characters, owing to lightly suggested abnormalities, would certainly be deleted by the censor.” Semi-Monde made its debut in the Citizen’s Theater in Glasgow in 1977, four years after Coward’s death.

Slide 17: Hemingway at the Ritz

Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris.

In 1944, as the Nazis were being chased out of Paris, Ernest Hemingway reportedly liberated the Ritz, taking his rag-tag team of soldiers to the cellars to open up the bar. Years later, the hotel named their little bar after him. Hemingway wrote, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place at the Ritz Paris.” For others, the Ritz was the end of life. In 1997, Pamela Harriman, Bill Clinton’s sponsor and later Ambassador to France, died at age 76 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while swimming in the Ritz’s pool. Later that year, Princess Diana ate her last meal at the Ritz before she crashed and died.

Slide 18: A Meeting of Minds at the Hotel Pont-Royal

Photos of literary denizens grace the lobby at the Hotel Pont-Royal, but the hotel’s famous basement bar, which Capote later derided as “the favored swill bucket of haute Boheme’s fatbacks” is now gone.

Following World War II, the Hotel Pont-Poyal on Paris’ Left Bank became the literary hangout of Aldous Huxley, TS Eliot, James Joyce, Albert Camus, Henry Miller, Arthur Koestler, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and Truman Capote. The painters Juan Miró, Marc Chagall and Bernard Buffet also stayed there.

Slide 19: A Parting of Ways at the Hotel Pont-Royal

Truman Capote (photographed by Carl Van Vechten) in 1948, the same year the 24-year old writer ran afoul of Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre during his stay at the Pont-Royal.

Truman Capote first visited the Pont-Royal in 1948, observing, “Despite the waterfall hangovers and constantly cascading nausea, I was under the strange impression that I was having a damn good time, the kind of educational experience necessary to an artist.” Capote did not make much of an impression on Beauvoir, who did not like his 1948 novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, was not fond of “fairies,” dismissed the diminutive American as a “white mushroom,” and joked with the Pont-Royal barman that his name combined that of the American president and the French vernacular for “condom.” In his book Answered Prayers, Capote, snarked back: “At the time the Point-Royal had a leathery little basement that was the favored swill bucket of haute Boheme’s fatbacks. Wall-eyed, pipe-sucking, pasty-hued Sartre and his spinsterism moll, Beauvoir, were usually propped in a corner like an abandoned pair of ventriloquist’s dolls.” (Nor did Capote invite them to his Black and White Ball in the Plaza Hotel in 1966.) Antony Beevor writes in his book Paris After the Liberation 1944-1949, “[Albert] Camus was the only one who was always kind to the young American. Capote, however, later claimed that one night Camus, the great womanizer, had suddenly succumbed to his attraction and gone to bed with him—a story impossible to deny, but unlikely.”

Slide 20: A Rendezvous at the Hotel Pont-Royal

Simone de Beauvoir in 1946, and Arthur Koestler in 1948

Arthur Koestler fared better than Capote with the Pont Royal set, at least initially. Journeying to Paris on October 23, 1946, following the publication of the French translation of Darkness At Noon, he met the existentialists at the Pont-Royal basement café. Beauvoir told him she stayed up all night to read his novel and found it “enthralling.” He spent the week with his new friends, and on October 3, got drunk in the Pont-Royal basement with Beauvoir, Sartre and Jean Genet. Koestler had sex that night with Beauvoir, who years later told her biographer, Deirdre Bair, that Koestler, who she had since grown to dislike, kept “pushing and pushing” for her to go to bed with him until she said yes in order to shut him up: “It wasn’t any good. It didn’t mean anything. He was too drunk, so was I. It never happened again. Only that night was real, the rest is how I loathed him. I really detested him, that arrogant fool.”

Slide 21: Hoshi Ryokan is Built

Mt. Hakusan, one of Japan’s three holy peaks, and Yakushi Nyorai, the healing Buddha.

The Hoshi Ryokan, considered to be the world’s oldest inn, has many stories, most of which are lost to time—and the legendary Japanese circumspection. According to legend, in 717, a logger named Gengoro Sasakiri guided the Buddhist priest Taicho Daishi high up on snow caped Mount Hakusan (2702 meters) for a spiritual retreat. During his first night there, after a day of meditation, the god of Mount Hakusan told Taicho Daishi: “Lying [20-24 kilometers] from the base of the mountain is a village called Awazu. There, you’ll find an underground hot spring with wondrous restorative powers that Yakushi Nyorai [the healing Buddha] has bestowed upon it. The people of the village, however, do not know of this good fortune. Descend the mountain and head to Awazu. With the people of the village unearth the hot spring-it will serve them forever.” So Taicho went to the village, uncovered the springs, and when the sick bathed in them, they were immediately cured. Taicho ordered Garyo Hoshi, his disciple, to build and run a spa at the site. His family have run a ryokan in the village of Awazu ever since.

Slide 22: Hoshi Ryokan becomes a Hotel

Hoshi Ryokan, founded in 718 and as such the world’s oldest hotel (and business), has divine origins.

Each Hoshi Ryokan proprietor bears the name Zengoro Hoshi. The first Zengoro was was Garyo Houshi, the second son of woodcutter Gengoro Sasakiri, who guided Taicho Daishi to the top of t. Hakusan. Zengoro Hoshi XLVI (46) currently manages the inn. The Ryokan’s 100 rooms can house 450 guests, each of whom is welcomed to the inn with a Japanese tea ceremony, and provided with a yukata, a cotton kimono, for use after soaking in the single-sex indoor and outdoor hot springs. After doing as the God of Mt. Hakusan commanded—and helping establish the inn—Taicho resumed his spiritual training and experienced “satori” (a state of intuitive illumination). Stories of his mystical powers made their way to the Imperial Court in Nara, helping make Taicho the respected Etsu no Daitoku (Great Man of Virtue from Etsu).

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