For Hotels, Scandals Add to Lodging's Allure

There's a reason why a lot of scandals happen in hotels.

Whether it's the anonymity, the convenience or the Frette sheets, people behave differently in hotels than they do at home. The fact that many often choose to behave badly is what makes them so interesting.

According to Francisca Matteoli, author of the upcoming Hotel Stories (Assouline, May 2002), hotels create a sense of freedom.

"Salvador Dalí was completely crazy when he stayed at the Hotel Meurice, bringing in animals and half-naked women and drawing on the walls," she says from her home in Paris. "You can bet he wasn't doing that in his home."

Which highlights another reason why people, especially rock stars, are always trashing hotel rooms: Someone else will clean it up for you.

The Better the Hotel, the Juicier the Scandal

It isn't the fault of the hotels that unusual events tend to take place within their walls. In fact, it's usually a compliment. The better the hotel, the juicier the scandal. They attract rich and famous people, and things tend to happen.

All of these events only add to the allure of a hotel and elevate it to "legendary" status.

Some hotels, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel, embrace these events as part of their lore. The hotel seems rather proud that the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes rented three of their bungalows, and it was the site of Michael Milken's Thursday night "no wives" party. After all, Milken could have chosen any hotel, but he chose theirs.

And as the adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity … only bad timing, such as in the case of the TriBeCa Grand and Mariah Carey having her breakdown there.

Other hotels hate to admit it, but acknowledge that a scandal only helps bring in rubberneckers. Two months after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, people were still flocking to the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City to see exactly where Linda Tripp taped her. Every time the news covered the taping (and her 11-hour interrogation), the façade of the hotel would be flashed on TV. No amount of money can buy that type of publicity.

Click here to take a quiz matching the hotel to its scandal

Below are more examples of famous hotels and their infamous tales:

The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, Calif.: The pink stucco Beverly Hills Hotel is home to dozens of Hollywood tales. Eccentric recluse Howard Hughes lived there on and off during the 1950s, paying as much as $350,000 per year (more than $2 million in today's dollars). Hughes rented three bungalows: one for his wife, one for his Muslim bodyguards and one for himself. Rumor has it that he ordered his roast beef sandwiches to be left in the fork of a tree in the garden so he could fetch them unseen.

More interestingly, and out in the open, is that the Beverly Hills Hotel was home to former junk bond king Michael Milken's Thursday night "no wives" party, which was a highlight of his annual "Predator's Ball." (The hotel was owned by Milken's fellow indictee and 1980's master of the universe, Ivan Boesky.) The hotel confirms that ladies' underwear often hung off the crystal chandelier. Spokespeople for the hotel were more than happy to talk about the Milken parties; we can only imagine what else has happened behind its pink walls that they're not telling us.

The Biltmore, Coral Gables, Fla.: The Biltmore in Coral Gables opened in 1926 as a fashionable hotel that attracted the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. During World War II, it was converted into an army hospital, and ghosts of dead soldiers supposedly haunt the building. But one ghost is more enduring — the legend of Al Capone.

The mob gangster is rumored to have stayed at the hotel at the height of his power, and the top floor Everglades Suite is known as The Al Capone Suite. In true mobster fashion, the suite has rotating walls that reveal gambling tables and a secret stairway for quick getaways. The rotating walls have been sealed off, though, so guests have to take the hotel's word that they do exist. Hmmm… The ominous sounding 13th floor was once a speakeasy, and one Capone crony, Fats Walsh, was murdered there. Some guests swear the elevator will occasionally stop on the 13th floor without the button being pushed. Today, Al Capone's suite rents for $2,850 a night.

Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro: Her name wasn't Lola…it was Orson. Long before it was fashionable to trash hotel rooms (think Johnny Depp in the Mark Hotel), Orson Welles threw furniture out of his room here in 1942. The filmmaker came to Rio at the urging of Nelson Rockefeller, to film a documentary about Brazil called It's All True. He stayed for eight months at the Copacabana, Brazil's first luxury hotel, which looks like an enormous wedding cake and faces out on the famous Copacabana beach.

By this time, the Copacabana had already achieved legendary status, as its first guest was King Albert I of Belgium. In 1931, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, once scooped goldfish out of the hotel aquarium with his bare hands and later jumped into the pool.

Welles never finished the documentary, and when his girlfriend Delores Del Rio broke up with him, he threw his furniture out of his bedroom. (Some accounts have him throwing the furniture into the pool.) This being Brazil, there was also lots of nakedness at the hotel. In 1939, Errol Flynn pranced naked around the hallways, and Jayne Mansfield caused a stir by tanning topless by the pool in the '60s.

The Peabody, Little Rock, Ark.: Little Rock isn't known for its hotels, but everybody knows about the Peabody, formerly and infamously known as Hotel Excelsior, thanks to Paula Jones. She claims that on May 8, 1991, she agreed to meet up with then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton "because she thought it might lead to an enhanced employment opportunity with the state," as stated in her 20-page complaint.

In her sexual harassment suit, Jones alleged that Clinton exposed himself and asked for sex. Her case was thrown out of court in 1998. The Hotel Excelsior was bought by the Peabody group two years ago and reopened in January as the Peabody Little Rock. The hotel underwent a complete makeover, just like Paula Jones. But we think the hotel looks a heck of a lot better.

The Phoenician, Scottsdale, Ariz.: Banker Charles H. Keating Jr. should have stuck with real estate development. Keating built the sprawling, over-the-top Phoenican resort and would rather be known as the man who masterminded planned communities (complete with fake lakes.) However, the man once nicknamed "C-note Charlie" for his $100 tips will forever be associated with the savings and loan scandals of the '80s.

In 1989, his Lincoln Savings & Loan bank collapsed in a heap of worthless junk bonds, wiping out the life savings of 23,000 California seniors and costing taxpayers $3.4 billion. The feds seized his $300 million Phoenician hotel, built to honor his wife, Mary Elaine. Keating, who was fined $125 million, had served nearly five years in prison on 73 counts of fraud and racketeering when his convictions were reversed and he was released in 1996. Later, he pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud, but he did not serve more time. The Phoenician lives on and is considered one of the best resort hotels in the U.S.

Sheraton Palace Hotel, San Francisco: President Warren G. Harding picked an eerily fitting place to die: the Presidential Suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, now the Sheraton Palace. In June of 1923, Harding set out on a cross-country trip to meet the American people and drum up support for his struggling re-election campaign in 1924. When the president and his wife got to San Francisco, they stayed at the Palace Hotel where Harding fell ill. He died suddenly on Aug. 2, 1923, and rumors still abound over the circumstances of his death. The official cause is listed as a "stroke of apoplexy," but legend also blames food poisoning.

One rumor is that his wife killed him because of his numerous affairs and illegitimate children. Harding was well-known for his carnal appetite and once told reporters, "It's a good thing I'm not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can't say no." (Theodore Roosevelt's famously caustic daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, once said of him: "Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob.")

The hotel is also known for a certain towel episode. In 1906, the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso was staying at the hotel when the great earthquake struck. He ran out of the hotel wearing only a towel and vowed never to return to San Francisco. He kept his word and never did. The Palace's sales coordinator, Liz Pasha, says that guests rarely inquire about Harding. "I don't think people know about it because it happened such a long time ago," she says.

TriBeCa Grand Hotel, New York City: The TriBeCa Grand Hotel would rather be known as the hip downtown hotel that just hosted a fabulous Oscar party, but it is also the place where pop singer Mariah Carey had her breakdown last July.

While specific details of what happened are murky (and the hotel is staying mum), Carey was staying in the hotel's penthouse suite, which includes a bedroom, kitchenette, guestroom and roof deck. The official version is that Carey became extremely agitated and started throwing plates and dishes around. She stepped on some shards and cut her foot, and then asked to be taken to the suburban home of her mother, Patricia. Later Carey checked into a Connecticut psychiatric facility. We bet the room service wasn't nearly as nice as the TriBeCa's.

Westin St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco: The St. Francis Hotel has seen its fair share of scandalous events. On Labor Day, Sept. 5, 1921, silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and friend Fred Fishbach were partying in Suite 1219-122l. A young starlet named Virginia Rappe also attended the party and died of internal injuries four days later. Arbuckle was accused of injuring her during a sexual assault. Although he was tried three times and never convicted (two hung juries and an acquittal), the trial ended his career, also due in part to William Randolph Hearst's yellow press and inflammatory coverage of his trials.

In 1950, the 64-year-old entertainer Al Jolson died during a card game in a penthouse suite. According to Mark Gordon of "The Great Frisco Crime Tour," Jolson said, "Fellows, I'm not feeling well," went back to his room and died. The San Francisco Examiner dispatched a photographer to the scene, who re-arranged the card table to give Jolson a pair of aces and eights — deadman's hand.

In 1975, the St. Francis was also the location where deranged would-be assassin Sarah Jane Moore fired a shot at then-President Gerald Ford. Marsha Monro, director of sales and communications for the hotel, says that very few guests mention Arbuckle or Ford. "Honestly, we have more people asking us if we still wash coins or if J. Lo is staying here," she says.

During the '30s and '40s, the St. Francis employed people to wash coins so that ladies' white gloves would not get dirty. For the record, the hotel will still do this "upon special request." Now that's one way to launder money.

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