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Beverly Hills Hotel marks 100 years as stars' discreet retreat

Beverly Hills Hotel has hosted countless celebrities in its Polo Lounge, rooms and bungalows during its 100 years. Despite its age, it's still in the pink.

May 22, 2012|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times

For some, romance — forbidden or otherwise — seems to be at the heart of the appeal. Paul and Linda McCartneys' relationship took off when Paul came home from a night of clubbing to find Linda sitting on the stoop of his bungalow. John Steinbeck was staying in a suite there when he met Ann Sothern, the actress who introduced him to his third wife, Elaine Scott, after a date with Ava Gardner fell through.

Then there are the tales from Hollywood's golden age — before the era of TMZ, Twitter and smartphone cameras. Carole Lombard carried on an affair with Clark Gable in the hotel's bungalows, as did Spencer Tracy with Katharine Hepburn. Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned there (several times).

It's not surprising that Hollywood and the hotel came of age together — both Universal and Paramount studios are also turning 100 this year, says Robert S. Anderson, the great-grandson of the hotel's original owner and its official historian. He also is the author of a coffee-table book "The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows: The First 100 Years."

"People used to be paged here or by the pool just to have their name in people's ears," Anderson says. "The deals that were made here …"

With the Valley studios just north over the hill and the tony industry homes of Bel-Air, Holmby Hills and Brentwood to the west, the hotel is well situated for power breakfasts and lunches at the Polo Lounge.

"It's geographically convenient, and that's a very big deal," says former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing, who regularly lunches at the Polo Lounge (the chopped McCarthy salad is her singular obsession).

Like an architectural Dorian Gray, the hotel's general look (including its signature pink-and-green color scheme) has remained consistent despite numerous changes in ownership. The sultan of Brunei bought it in 1987 and in 1996 it became part of the Dorchester Collection, the sultan's group of international luxury hotels. A gentle restoration is currently underway, but Mady stresses that not much will change — even the iconic banana leaf wallpaper that lines the hallways is protected by the historical landmark status that the hotel is due to receive in September.

The hotel was built by a single divorced mother named Margaret Anderson with financial help from the Rodeo Land and Water Co. Anderson had previously owned what was then the ritzy (and now long gone) Hollywood Hotel near Hollywood and Highland. Her privileged clientele followed her to her new address, which she dubbed "midway between Los Angeles and the sea."

When wealthy families from the East came to stay in the bungalows for the winter, the hotel became self-contained with its own school, Western Union office and stables from the teens through the mid-20s.

PHOTOS - The Beverly Hills Hotel: Past and present

By 1950, the population of Beverly Hills had ballooned from about 100 at the time of the city's incorporation in 1914 to nearly 30,000.

Those years may have been the hotel's most glamorous, remembers Norman Brokaw, a former chairman of the William Morris talent agency who once represented Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak and Clint Eastwood, among others.

"I often went there to meet Marilyn with Joe DiMaggio," says Brokaw, who claims he was responsible for introducing the two. "She had her own table. It was a good place to meet; you could go into a corner and do whatever you wanted."

That's not quite the case today, notes Zanuck, as social media is forcing celebrities who want privacy to take a much lower profile.

"Still, last time I was there a few months ago, I saw Al Pacino eating outside," says Zanuck. "It's just not where you'd go to meet your girlfriend because it's public.... Although I'm sure those bungalows on the sides get plenty of action."

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