Shawn Levy’s The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont (2019)

The Castle on Sunset

“If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont”–Harry Cohn

“If you want to be seen, go to the Beverly Hills Hotel. If you don’t want to be seen, go to Chateau Marmont.”–pretty much everyone who was anyone in Hollywood since the 1930s

Need a relatively quiet place to write a screenplay or stay while you film a project in town? Check into the Chateau Marmont!

Need a private place to stay after your spouse kicked you out of the marital home? Check into the Chateau Marmont!

Need a discrete place to stay for, ahem, extracurricular activities that could endanger your reputation? Check into the Chateau Marmont!

(Obviously I missed my calling writing ad copy for this place. . . .)

The Chateau Marmont has long occupied a storied place in Hollywood history. Opened on the eve of the Great Depression as a tony apartment complex, it quickly found its niche as a quirky hotel catering to long-term residents, mostly of the artistic and creative variety. It was hardly the most glamorous place in town–it was well known for its oddly endearing “aura of decay.”

However, it was also noted for its discretion and exclusivity and appealed especially to visiting New Yorkers who felt adrift in Los Angeles driving culture and didn’t want to appear to have “gone Hollywood” when they came to stay. It had the added bonus of being a relatively cheap but still fashionable place to stay.

Shawn Levy’s chronicle history of the Chateau, which coincides with its 90-year-anniversary, is a fascinating blend of one building’s offbeat past, a local history of Los Angeles, and a chronicle of decades of pop culture.

It is also a marvelously readable compendium of celebrity gossip. From the days of classic Hollywood stars like Jean Harlow and James Dean to the heady adventures of 1960s/1970s rockers like Jim Morrison and Led Zeppelin and 1980s Brat Pack members to right on up to the present day, there’s sure to be some celebrity anecdote you’ll enjoy–or gasp over–or both.

Some of the stories are tragic (John Belushi’s fatal drug overdose in one of the hotel’s bungalows), others are hilarious (Shelley Winters versus a romantic rival), and others are disarmingly sweet (Sam Rockwell giving away all of the freebies he got from award ceremonies). My personal favorite involved the gaudy giant rotating Vegas showgirl statue that advertised Las Vegas for years outside the hotel. Everyone it seems–except author John Cheever–absolutely detested it.

Beyond the celebrity gossip, Levy provides an intriguing look at how the world of celebrity and popular culture have evolved over the decades and how that affected the hotel; major books, movies, and music projects associated with the Chateau Marmont; and how the hotel itself (and its ownership) have changed over time. Though less scandalous, this information is no less interesting.

That’s not to say the book is flawless. Occasionally, Levy came across as a touch histrionic and overly grandiose with his philosophies about what the hotel represents, especially in the introduction. He also seems to have adopted an “all but the kitchen sink” approach to what he includes in the book. The result can feel a bit all over the place. However, the histrionics were mercifully short-lived and since all the other random information is so riveting, that didn’t bother me.

This summer, our summer reading program focus is the universe, space travel, and the stars in the sky. But if the stars of Hollywood are more in line with your reading interests, definitely check out this book. It’s a highly readable combination of celebrity gossip and social history–I couldn’t put it down!

Recommended for those who enjoy offbeat nonfiction.
What have you been reading lately? What’s your favorite nonfiction topic to read about? Do you like reading celebrity gossip? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information about any of these items.


Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

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