The Hollywood Roosevelt: Birthplace of the Academy Awards, Scandals and Ghosts

Hollywood, with its historic glitz and glamour, is the quintessential home of the stars. It’s a place known for its intrigue, scandals, and the spot to be seen for the rich and the famous. So, it would only make sense that during the beginning of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the mid-1920s, to also take advantage of Los Angeles’ Golden Era of architecture…by building a hotel fit for Hollywood royalty. And that’s exactly what Louis B. Mayer, Mary, Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Sid Grauman, all power-players in the Hollywood industry, decided to do. Thus, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was born.

Named after President Theodore Roosevelt, and located on the famously bustling Hollywood Boulevard right along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel opened for business in May of 1927 and was designed to be a luxurious place to stay for actors and actresses coming to Los Angeles from other parts of the country to shoot their films.

As the oldest continually operating hotel in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has definitely seen its share of history and scandals. From providing a place for a leading man’s extramarital affairs to being the starting point for a future blonde bombshell’s illustrious career, there are plenty of stories to be told from the walls of this historic hotel in the heart of Hollywood.

Birthplace of the Academy Awards

The 1929 Academy Awards. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Two years after the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel opened, its opulent Blossom Ballroom hosted the very first Academy Awards in 1929. It was a time when Hollywood was moving from silent films into “talkies,” or films with sound as well as going from black and white to Technicolor. Despite the move to a more progressive movie experience, only silent films were allowed to be nominated, as the Academy deemed it was unfair for a movie with sound to compete with a silent picture.

The inaugural Academy Awards ceremony was nothing like the extravagant show put on today. In fact, the ceremony lasted only fifteen minutes, and it was the only Academy Awards ceremony that wasn’t able to be heard on the radio or seen on television. That changed the following year when a radio broadcast of the awards program was introduced in 1930. And what film garnered the very first best picture prize as well as being the only silent film to ever win an Academy Award? That would be “Wings,” a film set during the first World War, which at the time was the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of two million dollars!

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel: Home to Hollywood’s Most Famous Blonde

Marilyn Monroe photographed at the pool of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1951

There’s no question the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has seen its fair share of Hollywood stars. And it doesn’t get any more famous than Hollywood’s “blonde bombshell,” Marilyn Monroe. She called the Roosevelt hotel home for two years, staying in a second-floor room with a balcony overlooking the pool. And it was at that very pool where Marilyn snagged her first professional photo shoot. Of course, she later went on to become one of the most famous actresses of all time, but it can be said that she stayed at the Roosevelt before she hit it big. Guests who are big fans of Marilyn can stay in her suite. Room #229, or the Marilyn Suite as it’s called, will definitely give fans a feel of Monroe’s early career.

Suite Fit for a Hollywood Affair

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard The Roosevelt

Forget Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, one of Hollywood’s original heartthrobs was Clark Gable. Sometimes referred to as the “King of Hollywood,” Gable was probably best known for his roles as Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” and Peter Warne in “It Happened One Night,” with the latter role earning him his first and only Academy Award for best actor.

Carole Lombard was a Hollywood star in her own right. In fact, she was the highest paid actress of her time when she and Gable met on the set of 1932’s “No Man of Her Own.” Both actors had a strictly professional working relationship on set, and both were married. It wasn’t until four years later when the two re-connected at Hollywood’s annual Mayfair Ball, that they began their affair (Gable was still married at the time).

So where would two of Hollywood’s elite carry out their hidden romance…at the Roosevelt Hotel, of course! In fact, the twelfth-floor room today is currently known as the Gable-Lombard suite. However, be prepared to spend quite a considerable bit more than the five dollars per night rate Gable had to pay back in the 30s. He and Lombard continued their affair for many years until Gable finalized their divorce and the pair later got married.

Tap-Dancing into History

There have been many iconic pairings throughout Hollywood’s history. And in the 30s, who could forget the famous pair of the adorable Shirley Temple and the incredibly talented Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  While the two starred in four films together, it’s 1935’s “The Little Colonel” that has ties to the Roosevelt Hotel.  Rumor has it that Robinson taught Shirley Temple the steps to the famous “staircase dance” sequence on the hotel’s stairs leading up to the lobby to the Mezzanine level.  Whether there’s truth to the rumor or not, it’s still pretty cool realizing that such a talented pair may have perfected one of their routines on the steps of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Ghosts of Hollywood Past

Like all historic hotels, stories of ghosts and hauntings are very frequent when it comes to stays at the Roosevelt Hotel. And that may be a good or bad thing…depending on how big of a fan of the paranormal one is. Don’t be afraid though, most have stayed at the Roosevelt without running into any of its rumored ghosts. But for those in search of a ghostly encounter, it may be the perfect hotel choice.

Chances are if a celebrity has stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt, their ghost has been seen at some point by those staying there. However, there are a few who tend to make more repeated appearances. Actor Montgomery Clift, who stayed at the Roosevelt for three months while filming the acclaimed film “From Here to Eternity,” was known to roam the halls rehearsing his lines and practicing his bugle for the role. And apparently, his ghost does the same thing. It’s said that his room (room #928) is haunted by the actor as well as the hallways of the ninth floor outside of his room.

Of course, since Marylin Monroe spent so much time at the Roosevelt, her ghost has been reported hanging around the hotel as well. Her ghost has been reported numerous times in and around her hotel suite, especially around the pool where she shot her first modeling gig. There’s also reports of a full-length mirror that used to be in her suite reflecting the image of Monroe back to unsuspecting guests.

Actress Carole Lombard’s life ended tragically in a plane crash a while after she and Clark Gable got married. So, it might make sense that her ghost has also been spotted on the twelfth floor of the Roosevelt since that’s where she and Gable carried out their secret romance.

The famous Blossom Ballroom has also had its fair share of creepy and unsettling sightings and occurrences. Some have said they’ve seen a man dressed in a tuxedo roaming around the ballroom. Though the identity of the man is unknown, it’s been said that he may have been nominated for an Academy Award and is still looking for his lost golden statue. Other unexplained happenings include the feel of chilled air in certain spots around the room.

A Pool with Prized Artwork

The Roosevelt has undergone many renovations during its long existence on Hollywood Boulevard. And one of those renovations turned the hotel’s famed pool into a work of art. In 1988, British pop artist David Hockney was commissioned to paint the Roosevelt’s pool bottom. So, he covered it with blue “squiggles” that seem to come to life and dance whenever someone dives in or splashed around the pool. And now this piece of art at the bottom of a hotel’s pool is valued at over one million dollars!

Standing the Test of Time

The Hollywood Roosevelt may be Los Angeles’ oldest continually running hotel, but there was a point where it may have never been able to claim that title. The hotel changed ownership many times over the years, with it eventually falling into disrepair. By the 80s, the Spanish Colonial tiles in the main lobby had been blanketed by carpet and original paintings on the ceiling had been covered. But thankfully the hotel was saved from being demolished and when Radisson Hotels purchased the Roosevelt in 1985, they worked from original blueprints and historic photos to renovate the hotel back to its Spanish Colonial architectural origins.

In 1991, the city of Los Angeles deemed the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, permanently saving it from the threats of demolition. The hotel had had several more owners and renovations over the years, with the latest one being in 2015 with updated and more modernized rooms. But even with its modernization, the history-rich Roosevelt will always have its tales of Hollywood to tell.

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