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Oh, If Only These Walls Could Talk

Places: Thrill-seekers are checking in to check out hotel rooms where famous people stayed or infamous acts were committed.


Washington? Who cares where he slept. Inquiring minds at the end of the millennium are more interested in Marion Barry and Dick Morris. John Belushi and Janis Joplin. Warren Beatty. Selena. The "Pretty Woman."

Ordinary people want to sleep where they slept.

Hoteliers across the country say they receive thousands of calls from potential guests requesting to stay in the very rooms where famous people have performed infamous acts.

Officials at the Industry Hills Sheraton aren't commenting, but police said the hotel was flooded with callers last week who wanted to check into the room where a Houston woman plunged to her death under mysterious circumstances. The dead woman's supervisor said they were having sex on the hotel balcony at the time. Police are still investigating.

Twisted thrills may be only one reason behind the phenomenon. Some people sincerely hope to connect with the spirit of the room's former guest. Others are mindless groupies.


Mostly, said Carol Lieberman, a Beverly Hills-based media psychologist, people want to be part of history. "People want to be on the spot of something they have seen on TV or in newspaper photos. They want to actually feel it in their senses."

What do they do in these rooms? "I can guess," said Jack Guy with a laugh; he's the director of marketing for the Sheraton Sand Key in Clearwater Fla., where TV evangelist Jim Bakker and Jessica Hahn supposedly added a few notches to the bedpost in Room 538 back in 1980. For a while, the hotel had so many requests, Guy said, "We wanted to call every room 538."

This year, the Republicans sought some political mileage from a famous hotel room: room 205 of Washington's Jefferson Hotel, where Bill Clinton's top political consultant reportedly carried on his long-term affair with a Washington prostitute. According to published reports, former Dole strategists hosted an election night party at the hotel and rented the $475 room to hold a "special cursing toast."

Sometimes, pilgrims bring friends and refreshments to the room where an idol spent his or her last earthly moments.

Greg Smith, owner of Hollywood's death-sin-and-scandal Grave Line Tours, said he and some friends thought it would be nice to have a party in the Highland Gardens, the nondescript hotel in Los Angeles where Janis Joplin overdosed 26 years ago. "We had Mama Cass sandwiches and William Holden cocktails," he said.

Or, Smith said, tourists will ask to stay in Bungalow 3 of Hollywood's famous Chateau Marmont, the room where comic Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982.

Many hoteliers are close-mouthed about rooms in which unfortunate events have occurred. They think notoriety will put a pall on business. That's not necessarily so.

When Selena, the queen of Tejano music, was shot to death in room 158 of the Days Inn in Corpus Christi, Texas, motel managers soon learned the fickle nature of fans. Instead of shunning the room in which their idol was slain, Selena worshipers wanted to book it.

According to a reservations clerk, who declined to give her name, the motel was barraged with requests. And those ingrates who got what they wanted proceeded to "sabotage the premises while they were there," the clerk said. Things got so bad that management was forced to close the room to guests, then to go a step further. "All rooms in the hotel have been renumbered. There is no room 158."

And remember Lizzie Borden of Fall River, Mass., who in 1892 took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks, then gave her father 41? The saga of this well-bred alleged murderess has been translated into theater, song, ballet and TV movie--and now, an authentic bed and breakfast.

Martha McGinn inherited the Borden property from her grandparents, who lived there from 1947 until 1994 and ignored what they considered its ignominious history.

McGinn considered that history a potential gold mine. She has played up the home's charming spookiness with chintz and period furnishings, portraits of the murdered and suspected murderer, and a even a guest book in which guests offer messages to the Borden ghosts.

The stately Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel has its own brand of room-groupies, the hotel's Ron Howard said. Though Beatty is long gone as a resident, people still ask to stay in the room where he used to sleep.

Weirdest of all, Howard said, many people ask to stay in the 6,000-square-foot, $4,000-a-day, two-bedroom palazzo where Richard Gere and Julia Roberts frolicked in what most (but not all) people considered a film land fantasy.

Howard recently got a call from a couple who wanted to "reenact the 'Pretty Woman' experience in the 'Pretty Woman' suite, including the actual dress worn by Julia Roberts." The hotel complied.

Concierge Thomas Warrick persuaded the film studio to lend the dress. "Miraculously, it fit like a glove," Howard said. The newlywed couple arrived by limo, Howard ushered them in, then left them to their complimentary champagne, bubble bath and their own devices.

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