I've known a fellow named Robby Anderson for about a dozen years. A former real estate guy, he now devotes himself to philanthropic efforts for children... and to celebrating the many charms of the city of Beverly Hills. You see, Robbie's great-grandmother, Margaret Anderson, and grandfather Stanley were primarily responsible for the building in 1912 of one of the most glamorous hotels in the world, the Beverly Hills Hotel, in the center of 10 acres of open fields.
When I first met him, he gave me a little booklet of historical pictures of the hotel and the city, and told me that he was working on a big, big project. This May, he revealed that project, a massive book entitled The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, The First 100 Years. I went online at the beveryhillscollection.com and bought a copy of the book ($100). It is also available at the hotel's gift shop and at Book Soup on Sunset. Yes, expensive, but then again it's a 396-page tome with 540 illustrations, and he later told me that he has spent over 10 years collecting, scanning and correcting the many photos and documents, while writing the fascinating history.
You see, I have a long history of my own with this hotel... and was curious to see how it mixed with his story. When I was young, just out of college in the early '50s, I was hired to do publicity for Ronson lighters and Kaywoodie pipes, products which were premier objects in those days and now don't even exist. The cigarette lighter company sent me to Los Angeles to place their distinctive silver table lighters on the sets of movies being filmed at the various studios.
I was told they had booked a room for me at the Beverly Hills Hotel and had shipped out a dozen cartons of lighters. Actually, they had booked a former broom closet for me on the first floor, a narrow windowless room with just enough space for a bed and those cartons. (I think the rate was $23 a day). But my first indelible memory of Hollywood was that first night walking down the hall to the Polo Lounge... and seeing Cary Grant in a tuxedo walking into the dining room. I knew then that some day I would end up in this magical town.
As I slowly moved from publicity to film production I spent more time at the hotel, and quickly learned that the cabana scene at the pool was the place to make deals and contacts. (My friend, football team owner Art Modell, introduced me to Marvin Davis there, we talked about his father Jack and my father, who were old friends, and I closed a major Fox TVdeal with him.)
Svend Petersen, who was the pool manager for 43 years and my accomplice in many adventures, attended the hotel's party this month. As I have written in Huffington, over the years, as I came here once a month all through the '60s, I traveled with my two squirrel monkeys (and my German model wife), and kept a cage in the hotel's basement for my tiny animals; it probably is still there.
The book by Robbie is not only a comprehensive history of the century-old hostelry but also of the 98-year old history of the city itself. I quickly turned to the chapter about Muriel and Burt Slatkin, who briefly owned the hotel when she inherited it from her father, Ben Silberstein. They were close friends of my third wife and I, and their sons now own two hotels at the beach. I saw pictures of my long-time tennis coach, Alex Olmeda, who patiently taught me how to swing a racket correctly and much more, importantly, how to behave on -- and off -- the court.
In the later '70s, I was involved with legendary Broadway writer Neil Simon in a movie project and we spent a month at the hotel while they were filming his play, California Suite, with Walter Matthau (who later co-starred with Jack Lemmon in my Billy Wilder film, Buddy, Buddy), Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor (who had made his film debut in my Billie Holiday film, Lady Sings the Blues), and Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for this. At this time I was involved with Carol Burnett, who later co-starred with Alan Arkin in my film, Chu Chu & The Philly Flash.
Ed Mady, the General Manager and custodian of this and other hotels owned by the Dorchester Collection, the Sultan of Brunei's company, tells me that my friend and subscriber, architect-designer Adam Tihany, will be overseeing a subtle revamp of some of the hotel's spaces during the next three years, "highlighting the patina of the hotel." They assure me that the banana leaf and green-and-white striped motifs will stay the same. To celebrate the anniversary, every week this month in each of the hotel's dining venues a table will be randomly picked to have their bill converted to 1912 prices.
With hundreds of never-before-seen photos and documents, which Robbie uncovered or found in his family's archives, he and his associate Victoria Kastner have told for the first time the true inside story of what makes this city and this hotel a mecca for the ambitious, the rich or striving-to-be rich and famous of the entire world. I suggest you check in now, take a swim and enjoy the view.
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