Many of the grand, old hotels of yesterday are still trying to hang on to the glamour that once made them famous. The hotels of Hollywood were luxurious pleasure palaces where the stars of days gone by went to dine, dance and rendezvous with secret lovers. As the hotels have taken time to revamp themselves over the years they stirred up spirits from the past. Today it is known as The Hollywood Knickerbocker Apartments which is a retirement home. Perhaps the ghosts of yesterday now enjoy the quieter life among the seniors living here.
The Knickerbocker Hotel was built in 1925. When it first opened its doors it was a luxury apartment building and became a hotel later on. One of the attractions at the hotel was the Renaissance Revival Bar. A frequent guest here was Rudolph Valentino, the silent screen star. He loved to dance the tango to the live music performed here.
The hotel lobby featured a huge crystal chandelier which in 1925 cost over $120,000. Under this same chandelier famed film director D.W. Griffith died of a stroke in 1948. At the time of his death, he had become a recluse. Forgotten by his peers he lived a lonely existence at the Knickerbocker. His time was mostly spent at the hotel bar talking to anyone who would listen telling them of how it had been. It was only years after his death that he was recognized as the genius he truly was.
Another Knickerbocker tragedy was actress Frances Farmer. Her life was portrayed by Jessica Lange in a 1932 film. Frances made her film debut in 1936 in “Too Many Parents”. Over the next 6 years she appeared in 18 films, 3 Broadway plays, 30 major radio shows and 7 stock company productions. At the time she was only 27 years old. While her professional career went flying high her personal life started falling apart. After a failed marriage and many disastrous relationships, Frances turned to alcohol and started taking amphetamines to control her weight. In January of 1943, she starred in the film “No Escape”.
Howeve,r her drinking and erratic behavior began causing problems on the set. Frances got herself into a fight and was arrested at the Knickerbocker. The police arrived, took her from her room and dragged her half-naked through the hotel lobby. The following morning in court she was placed under psychiatric care. The diagnosis was that she was suffering from “manic-depressive psychosis”. Francis was sent to the screen actor’s sanitarium in La Crescenta. Over the next 7 year,s she was bound by psychiatric treatment and the abuse she suffered would strip her of both her sanity and her talent. She was eventually freed from the hospital. She never again became the star she once was and finally died at the age of 56 from esophageal cancer in 1970.
There have been stories that say that author William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter, a script girl from the Fox Studios had a lengthy affair at the Knickerbocker. Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio honeymooned at the hotel in 1954 and Elvis Presley frequently stayed there. While Elvis was filming “Love Me Tender” in 1956 he posed for “Heartbreak Hotel” photos in one of the rooms. Among the many other stars who came and went at the Knickerbocker were rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, Mae West, Lana Turner, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Sinatra, and Laurel and Hardy.
Actor William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on the “I Love Lucy” show, lived at the hotel for decades. Frawley was walking into the Knickerbocker in March of 1966 when he dropped dead of a heart attack on the sidewalk outside.
One of the strangest tragedies happened in November of 1962. It had to do with the suicide of Irene Gibbons, a costume designer at MGM. Irene designed costumes for many famous actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Hedy LaMarr, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and others. Later in her career she worked on several Doris Day films. In 1962 Doris Day noticed that Irene was upset and nervous. She confided to Day that she was in love with actor Gary Cooper and that he was the only man she had ever loved. Unfortunately, Gary Cooper had died in 1961. Then on November 15 Irene booked a room at the Knickerbocker under an assumed name. In that room Irene slashed her wrists but this didn’t prove to be immediately fatal. So then she jumped to her death from her window on the 14th floor. Irene’s body wound up on the hotel’s awning where it was discovered later that same night.
The first thing of a supernatural occurrence happened at the Knickerbocker during an anniversary séance to contact the spirit of magician Harry Houdini. Houdini made a pact with his wife and friends that if it could be possible to make contact from the other side he would do so. So for ten years after his death, his wife Bess Houdini continued to hold séances in hope of communicating with him. The last “official” Houdini séance was held on Halloween night 1936.
Bess Houdini, a group of friends and fellow magicians gathered on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel. They finally gave up after trying to contact Houdini for over an hour. At the moment that they gave up a violent thunderstorm broke out, drenching them all and terrifying them with horrific lightning and thunder. Later on, they learned that this sudden storm didn’t occur anywhere else in Hollywood only on top of the Knickerbocker Hotel. Some speculated that this may have been a Houdini show.
Although Houdini’s spirit has never been reported to have been seen at the Knickerbocker it is considered to be haunted. The most haunted place is the hotel bar. Therefore when the Knickerbocker closed in 1971 and became a senior citizens retirement home, the old bar was sealed off. The rooms remained closed and unused for nearly 25 years until the early 1990s.
It was then reopened as a nostalgic coffee shop called “The All-Star Theater Café & Speakeasy”. This art deco café opened at 7 in the evening until the wee hours of the morning. It frequently attracted studio wrap parties and film shoots, playing host to celebrities like Sandra Bullock and Leonardo Di Caprio.
There are occasional visits from stars that have long gone from this world. The entities that have been spotted are Valentino and Marilyn Monroe who has been seen in the women’s restroom. Staff members also recall times, when lights would turn on and off by themselves and things, would move about on their own. Perhaps some of these entities think that they are still at the Knickerbocker. However, checking on line it really is true that nothing lasts forever because it also appears that this café has closed its door truly leaving the famous spirits to wander about the retirement home if they still think they are at the fashionable hotel.