Director Nicholas Ray, a protégé of filmmaker, Elia Kazan, adored living at Chateau Marmont. Following his divorce from the sultry actress Gloria Grahame in 1952, Ray took up permanent residency at the hotel.
Later, when four freestanding bungalows were built in the grounds of the Marmont, Ray immediately occupied one of them. Surrounded by tall pine and eucalyptus trees and backing onto the hotel’s discreet oval swimming pool, Ray told his friends that it was like inhabiting a grand Hollywood home without all the problems of owning one.
In early 1955 Ray used his rented Marmont bungalow for rehearsals for his forthcoming movie, Rebel Without a Cause. It became a second home for the film’s young cast, which included Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood and the moody James Dean. Screenwriter Stewart Stern would state, “During those early readings of the script, Nick Ray enthroned himself as guru at Chateau Marmont.”
“She quickly realised he was choking and thrust her hand down his throat and removed several teeth that were blocking his windpipe”
However, Ray crossed the line between guru and lover when he began an illicit affair with the underaged Natalie Wood, who, after rehearsals, would stay with him overnight at the Marmont.
On the Warner Bros. film set, James Dean’s style of method acting impressed all of the cast and crew. The intense emotion and improvisations he injected into his characterisation of a juvenile delinquent totally mesmerised Nicholas Ray. So much so that he began discussing with the young actor other film projects he would like to undertake with him. But they would never come to fruition.
On September 30th, 1955, shortly after completing Giant, Dean drove his silver Porsche Spyder from LA to compete in a road race at Salinas, California. He never made it. On Route 46 his car collided with a Ford coupe, killing him instantly. Three weeks later, Rebel Without a Cause was released. The film, combined with his untimely death, turned James Dean into a cultural icon.
In the Spring of 1956, Montgomery Clift – described as “the most beautiful man in movies”– and his best friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor, were half way through shooting the MGM Civil War melodrama Raintree County. On his way home, after attending a dinner party at Miss Taylor’s house in Coldwater Canyon, Clift wrapped his car around a telegraph pole. Taylor arrived at the accident shortly after to find her actor friend bloodied almost beyond recognition. His face was so swollen, his eyes had disappeared and his mouth was ripped apart. She quickly realised he was choking and thrust her hand down his throat and removed several teeth which were blocking his windpipe. Her swift action saved Clift’s life.
Following weeks of extensive facial reconstructive surgery and recuperation, Clift returned to complete the film. When he signed in at the Chateau Marmont, the staff hardly recognised the actor. He was no longer a handsome man. The left side of his face appeared paralysed and both his nose and mouth were visibly deformed. He gave strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed at anytime or by anyone when inhabiting his suite on the third floor.
When Clift left the hotel for the MGM studios, the hotel cleaners could then gain access to his suite. They reported that empty liquor bottles and pill boxes littered the rooms, all the bulbs had been removed from the lamps, the mirrors taken off the wall and the shades on the windows drawn. Speculation around Hollywood was that Clift had lost his self confidence, exacerbated by his visual appearance in scenes in Raintree County (1957) that were shot following his return. Sadly, he never fully recovered from the trauma of his disfiguring automobile accident. Drinking heavily and addicted to prescription drugs, his film career began its decline, ending with his death ten years later, aged just 46.
Over the following years, ownership of Chateau Marmont changed hands several times and it slowly fell into decline. It got progressively worse when the hotel was discovered and invaded by several heavy rock bands during the late 1960s. John Bonham, drummer of Led Zeppelin, rode his Harley Davidson through one of the hotel’s main corridors. The members of Pink Floyd went skinny dipping in the pool, upsetting other guests. So too did Alice Cooper and his roadies when they played naked football in the hotel lobby. A drug-fuelled Jim Morrison, vocalist of The Doors, permanently injured his back when he attempted to leap from the hotel roof into the open window of his room on the fourth floor. Other rock musicians, such as Graham Nash and Van Morrison, quietly booked in to write music. The Eagles’ Hotel California was allegedly inspired by Chateau Marmont – “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave”.
The outrageous comedy actor and one half of The Blues Brothers (1980), John Belushi, certainly checked out in March 1982 when he was found dead in one of the Marmont’s bungalows. A relentless reveller, he suffered a fatal overdose when injecting a “speedball” of heroin and cocaine.
In 1991 the Marmont was bought by hotelier Andre Balazs, who gave it a much needed multi-million dollar makeover and restored it to its former glory. He added a gymnasium and the Bar Marmont that soon became the “must go to” nightspot on Sunset Strip, attracting all the major Hollywood A-listers. The hotel also re-established itself as the venue for before and after award parties, and new celebrity faces now replaced the old ones. Johnny Depp, Nicole Kidman, Keanu Reeves, Scarlett Johansson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lindsay Lohan, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and a plethora of other movie celebrities and filmmakers have and continue to check into the Marmont for extended periods.
The parade of movie stars and filmmakers from Hollywood’s Golden Age has long gone by but their favourite hotel – where they lived, loved and partied – still stands majestically on Sunset Boulevard.
The history of Chateau Marmont has mirrored the last century of Hollywood’s entertainment industry and rarely is its name mentioned today without the added adjective – legendary.