L.A.'s most private hotel sits back among the red-roofed hillside houses just above Sunset Boulevard, a weathered, old castle-for-hire, haunted after six decades of service to the wild, wacky, rich, and reclusive talents of show business. Power wafts in the breeze and seeps through the walls at the Chateau Marmont power not in its more transient manifestations (power breakfast, power tie), but in a deeper, richer form the power of eccentricity, of history, of the Hollywood of myth and lore mingling with the real thing.
The young nighttime desk clerk, who presides over the hotel's 50 rooms and suites plus its 4 bungalows and 9 cottages, says Dan Aykroyd and his production people would sometimes go down to Bungalow 3, years after John Belushi was found dead there in 1982, to feel ''his vibes.'' Robert De Niro called the penthouse home for two years, Tony Randall lived in one of the bungalows on and off for five, and a racist, paranoid Howard Hughes, during his extended stay in the '50s, reportedly climbed the six flights of back stairs to his suite whenever the black elevator man was on duty. This is where Jim Morrison took a walk on the wild side and fell from a balcony, where William Goldman penned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and where recently either Milli or Vanilli no one's sure which did a number on the $450-a-night cottage by the pool, leaving it strewn with bedclothes, cigarette packs, beer bottles, plates of food, and an impressive assortment of condom wrappers.
''This is not a hotel for tourists,'' says manager Philip Truelove, a tall Englishman who once worked at the Ritz hotels in London and Paris. ''Occasionally we get a family who didn't realize what they were getting into, but they don't last.''
The Chateau is a kind of glamorous anachronism; although some rooms have been remodeled in the past year, the ''new'' furniture has had several past lives. The overall effect is a shabbily chic retreat for writers, directors, actors, artists, journalists, and musicians who come to Hollywood to work for weeks or months at a time, and who want privacy, security, and something intangible they can't find at the more mainstream luxury hotels (though they will find the same price range: from $145 for a single to $550 for a two-bedroom penthouse suite). They come to the Chateau for the collective creative vibe that has built up over time. It lives in the masonry walls, blows through the multipaned windows, shines in the glass baubles hanging from the ancient lamps, settles in the worn carpeting, and shimmers in the beveled mirrors.
But the guests want more (more, even, than the five two-line phones with conference-call capability that come with each $250-a-night, one-bedroom suite) they want to know their quirks won't be a problem for anyone they may encounter during their stay. Which is no big deal, considering there's almost no one around the silent hallways and common areas. Except, maybe, for a desk clerk and Romulo Lake, the middle-aged Filipino cook, waiter, busboy, and delivery man, who runs from the kitchen to the elevator, up to the main building and back, a tray in his hands, like a man losing his mind in someone else's paradise.
But whom Lake is rushing to serve is always the big mystery. Is it Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange in the penthouse? Is it Spike Lee (who does business in the typically deserted lobby)? Jeff Goldblum? Rickie Lee Jones?
Maybe Lake is running to deliver cigarettes and a bottle of Dom Perignon to ex-guest James Dean, partying with the other studio shades still hanging, in one form or another, at the Chateau Marmont.