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Jim Calio Headshot

Hollywood on the Hudson

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I suppose you could say that I slept with Jane Russell, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate. I did sleep in the Jane Russell Suite at the Warwick hotel in midtown Manhattan, but that's as close as I got to the real thing. Still, it was quite an experience as I tried to conjure up what it would have been like to be in the presence of the 1940s and 1950s movie icon, the voluptuous, raven-haired actress who was often portrayed as a rival to Marilyn Monroe's blonde bombshell. The fact that there was never a real rivalry except what was cooked up in the tabloid press didn't matter. It was good copy.

The Jane Russell Suite is seemingly part of a plan by the Warwick to create a kind of Hollywood-on-the-Hudson, a hotel theme park for nostalgia buffs who want a feel for what it might have been like to live like one of those old time Hollywood stars when they stopped over in New York. Even the old black dial-up telephones (nonworking) on tables in the hallways add to the mood.

The hotel was originally built as a private residence for Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst's mistress and a Ziegfeld Follies Girl. Her photos are everywhere. Hearst, the legendary newspaper magnate, was 34 years older than Davies, an age difference that set tongues wagging but didn't seem to bother either one of them.

The 35-story building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street gradually became a sort of clubhouse for out-of-town Hollywood friends of Hearst and Davies. Among them was Cary Grant, who for years kept large apartment with a wraparound balcony and stunning view of New York City.

In 1965, a year after they made their American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles stayed at the Warwick. The police had a hard time holding back the screaming crowds of mostly teenage girls who wanted to see and touch their new idols. One man in his mid-forties who was passing by asked a cop what all the excitement was about. "It's the Beatles," the cop said, "like Sinatra in your day, dad."

There is no evidence that Frank Sinatra ever stayed at the hotel, but Elizabeth Taylor did and so did James Dean and, yes, even Elvis Presley.

In all, there will be eight or nine so-called Signature Suites, with five already completed. In addition to the Russell Suite, they are the Marion Suite, the Follies Suite, the Randolph Suite and, the odd man out, the Modern Art Suite, a bow to the Museum of Modern Art across the street. But despite the emphasis on old-style Hollywood glamour, all the rooms are equipped with the most modern amenities, including Wi-Fi, flat screen tvs, etc.

I spent two nights in the Jane Russell Suite. The actress, who died in 2011, appeared in a 1941 movie called The Outlaw. The publicity photo shows her reclining provocatively against a pile of straw, with her blouse falling dangerously low over one shoulder, her right hand held languidly behind her head, and her left hand holding a gun. The movie ran into censorship problems before it was finally released in 1943. It made Russell a star.

At the entrance to the suite is a framed black and white photo of a woman (not Russell) posing in a one-piece bathing suit, the kind of pinup so popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Inside the rooms are done in warm grays offset by gold and black. There is a zebra-striped rug that the suite's designer says suggests the actress's curvaceous figure. The bed, a four-poster, is covered in soft white linens.

Maybe the idea of "themed" hotel rooms will catch on. The Warwick says that if you wait about a year, you might be able to stay in a Beatles-themed suite, which is now under consideration. What's next? The George Clooney Suite? The Hunger Games Suite? The Johnny Depp Suite? Why not? New Hollywood becomes Old Hollywood very quickly.