Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont

Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont – Cinema Scholars

One of the most legendary places to stay in Hollywood is without a doubt The Chateau Marmont. Dating back nearly 100 years the walls of this storied hotel have seen just about everything (good and bad) that could people could experience. This is the story of the hotel and some of its most famous guests.

History of the Chateau

1926 was the year that the idea of what would become The Chateau Marmont was forged in the mind of Fred Horowitz. A successful Los Angeles attorney, his idea was initially to create an apartment building based on 18th-century French architecture. This is because he was inspired by a vacation he had recently taken to Europe.
Sometime in 1927, Horowitz decided to move forward with the project, which would be located on a plot of land at the intersection of Marmont Lane and Sunset Boulevard. He commissioned his brother-in-law, architect Arnold A. Weitzman, to design the property. It would be based on photographs of buildings Horowitz had taken in while in France.
Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont
The Chateau Marmont.
The apartment building opened its doors on February 1, 1929. However, the timing of this business enterprise was extremely unfortunate. In just a handful of months, the world would be thrust into the throes of a financial crisis as The Great Depression began.
Due to the financial hardship imposed upon him, Horowitz sold the property in 1931 to Vitagraph Studios co-founder Albert E. Smith for $750,000, approximately $13 million when adjusted for inflation. After the purchase was completed, Smith converted the apartments into hotel rooms. In order to furnish the project, Smith went to estate sales and bought furniture and knickknacks to fill in the property. With this aspect handled Smith needed someone to manage the hotel. He turned to silent film actress Ann Little to fill this role.
This conversion proved to be a fortuitous decision. In the 1930s two events helped keep the hotel occupied for a long stretch of time. The first was the 1932 Summer Olympics, which were held in L.A. The other event was far less festive. As the Nazis gained power in Germany and Fascism grew in power across Europe, a considerable amount of Jewish people in the Berlin film industry abandoned their homeland and headed to Hollywood. The Chateau Marmont was the main hotel where they lived during this transitional phase of their lives.
Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont
MGM cinematographer Harold Rosson with wife actress Jean Harlow and her parents at the Chateau Marmont in 1933.
In 1942, Smith sold the property to Erwin Brettauer, a German Banker who despised the Nazis. He used his considerable wealth to fund resistance efforts throughout Western Europe. During his tenure as owner, Brettauer purchased nine Spanish cottages and a swimming pool adjacent to the property, integrating them into the Chateau’s grounds.
During the ownership tenure of Brettauer, the Chateau Marmont was desegregated. This appealed to black entertainers who were prohibited from staying in ritzy establishments in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Jazz legend Duke Ellington was a frequent guest at the hotel.
As the years passed, the Chateau Marmont began to show signs of age. By the 1970s the establishment was in dire need of updates and repairs. In 1975, the property was sold to Raymond R. Sarlot and Karl Kantarjian of Sarlot-Kantarjian, a real estate development firm, for $1.1 million. The following year, after investing considerable time and money into updating the Chateau, it was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont
A read-through of Rebel Without a Cause in director Nicholas Ray’s bungalow.
In 1990, the Chateau Marmont was sold again, this time to hotelier André Balazs. He gave the property another restoration. In September of 2020, Balazs was accused by nearly three dozen former hotel employees of racial discrimination and sexual harassment practices. Multiple employment discrimination lawsuits were filed against the hotel.

Movie Star Playground

Because the Chateau Marmont was not built as a hotel, the features one would expect, such as a lobby, a pool, and a restaurant, were not part of the property. These missing elements provided a bit of privacy and intrigued Old Hollywood.
The first star to become entangled in the hotel’s web was Jean Harlow. The original blonde bombshell, was only 22 years old when she moved into the property with her third husband, MGM cinematographer Harold Rosson in 1933. The marriage, arranged by the studio, was essentially a sham. The couple lived in separate rooms for the duration of their three-month marriage. Clark Gable frequently visited Harlow’s room during this period.
Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont
Led Zeppelin at the Chateau Marmont in 1969. Photo by Jay Thompson
Over the years many anecdotes about the celebrity antics and shenanigans within the walls of the Chateau Marmont began to accumulate. Some of these are detailed below.
  • Sixteen-year-old Natalie Wood engaged in trysts with director Nicholas Ray and actor Dennis Hopper at the chateau while working on Rebel Without A Cause. She would often bounce between their rooms multiple times on the same day. It is rumored that James Dean jumped through Ray’s window to audition for the leading role in the film, catching him in bed with Wood. Ray lived at the hotel for eight years (1952-60) and engaged in affairs with stars such as Joan Crawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Marilyn Monroe during his time there.
  • In the early 2000s. actress Lindsay Lohan wracked up huge bills at the Chateau. She was eventually blacklisted for refusing to pay.
  • Throughout the 1940s, Howard Hughes would rent the same room, 64, which had a view of the swimming pool. He would often spy on women sitting poolside.
  • In 1956, Montgomery Clift was looked after by Elizabeth Taylor after Clift was in a near-fatal car crash nearby.
  • Director Billy Wilder stayed in a closet next to the women’s restroom in the lobby when he showed up and found no availability.
  • In 1955, Anthony Perkins and Tab Hunter began an affair after being introduced to each other by the Chateau pool.
  • Vivien Leigh didn’t like the décor of her room so she decorated it with artwork from her personal collection. This included works by Picasso and Renoir.
  • Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate lived at the Chateau Marmont when they arrived in Hollywood as newlyweds fresh from Europe.
  • Unfortunately, the Chateau has been associated with death over the years. This is specifically due to the heroin overdose of comedian John Belushi on March 4, 1982. Over two decades later a photographer was in a fatal car crash resulting from losing control of his car, wrecking into a wall on January 23, 2004.

    The Chateau in the Movies

Hollywood History: The Chateau Marmont
Jim Morrison at the Chateau Marmont in 1968. Photo by Art Kane.
The Chateau Marmont is no stranger to Hollywood movie productions. In addition to rehearsals for Rebel Without A Cause (1955), many films have been shot at the property over the decades. These include Myra Breckinridge (1970), La La Land (2016), The Doors (1991), and A Star is Born (2018). In 2010 director Sofia Coppola shot her movie Somewhere at the hotel.

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