The old Ambassador Hotel, doomed to give up its site for a new school or a skyscraper, still inspires romantic memories for many who were young in its heyday.
I remember walking impudently through its elegant lobby as a teen-ager, hoping to see celebrities, going to its movie theater (25 cents) or playing pitch and putt on its miniature golf course (also 25 cents).
I never spent a night in the hotel or patronized its famous Cocoanut Grove until long after its fame as the playpen of the stars had faded.
Stephen J. Grob, who must now be well into his 70s, recalls a fabulous six months he spent as a resident of the hotel in the 1920s when he was 10 years old. Grob lived in the hotel with his mother, an older cousin, and a Cousin Helen, who was just his age.
Stephen and Helen attended a nearby private school, but spent their spare time exploring the hotel and its grounds, swimming, playing tennis, and hunting movie stars and other celebrities for their autographs.
In this pursuit they became the antagonists of the management, using their children's imaginations to outwit the house. They found willing allies among the staff. A bellboy told them that John Barrymore would be checking in late one night and would be domiciled in a certain cottage.
At 7 the next morning, the two children appeared at Barrymore's door and banged on it. There was no response. They banged again. Still no response. Again. This time the door was yanked inward and a wild-looking man appeared in the doorway, his hair standing up on end. "What do \o7 you \f7 want?" the Great Profile growled.
Stephen said, "Is Mr. Barrymore here?"
Barrymore rose to his full height, raised his eyebrows, and roared, "I am Barrymore!"
Then he backed up and slammed the door. It was one of their few failures.
It took an uncommon audacity, or naivete, for the children to bang on Mr. Barrymore's door at 7 in the morning, given his notorious habits.
A more successful adventure was Stephen's encounter with the famous novelist, Elinor Glyn. Glyn was the author of "It," the story of a Jazz Age flapper that gave Clara Bow her most successful movie role. Clara became known as the "It Girl" personified.
Tipped off by a bellboy, again, that an exotic looking woman reclining by the swimming pool was a celebrity, Stephen approached the glamorous Glyn and asked for her autograph.
As he recalls the incident, she said that, of course, she would be delighted. She then inscribed his book as follows:
"Be good and well and smart," and signed it.
She then invited Stephen to come up to her penthouse apartment that afternoon for tea.
Stephen somehow knew he should ask his mother's permission. He told her he had met Elinor Glyn and that she had invited him up to her apartment. "My mother raised her hands in shock and said, 'Not without me, not with \o7 that \f7 woman.' "
Grob does not say whether he and his mother called on Glyn or not. My feeling is that he should not have \o7 asked \f7 his mother. How many chances does a 10-year-old boy get to be alone in an apartment with a notorious woman?
Stephen had more success with Claire Windsor, one of the screen's true beauties. Evidently without asking his mother's permission, he knocked on her door one morning and was told to come in.
"There was this gorgeous woman lying in her bed, surrounded by beautiful pillows and bed linens and wearing what I presume was a lovely negligee, though it was hard for a 10-year-old to figure that out.
"When I asked her for her autograph she replied, 'Of course, dear,' and motioned me to come to her bed, whereupon she signed the book, gave me a big kiss, and I left."
On star's night at the Grove, Stephen and Helen ingeniously crept into the balcony and lowered their autograph books on strings to stars seated at the tables below. Caught in the act by the management, they were ejected and barred from the Grove.
They got even when an industry banquet was scheduled in honor of Carl Laemmle's 50th birthday. The manager warned them that they were not to go near the Grove. He threatened to have the police on them. The afternoon of the banquet the two culprits sneaked into the room and changed the place cards at the head table all around, so that instead of sitting next to her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford would be next to Charles Chaplin, and so on.
A few days later the family left Los Angeles. Stephen and Helen never did find out what consternation they had caused.