Starting in 1921 when
plans were first made, the writer takes
us through the glamorous opening in
1923, changes of ownership and redesigns
right up to the present—a span of more
than 90 years.
While the luxurious
amenities are described in detail, it’s
the guests and their antics who are the
focal points. These sections with their
often hilarious anecdotes provide the
fun. As is usually the case with books
by Ward Morehouse, there is a trove of
information, much of it a mirror of the
period in which it occurred.
The legions of luminaries
that light up these pages include
Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Clark
Gable, Spencer Tracy, Olivia de
Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Betty Grable,
Harry James, Henry Fonda, Rita Hayworth,
Lauren Bacall, Michele Pfeiffer, Shirley
Temple, Ronald Reagan, Jack and Bobby
Kennedy, Churchill, FDR and F. Scott
We are shown
celebrities as we’ve not seen them
There’s a charming
vignette about Humphrey Bogart. When
newspaperman Joe Hyams went to interview
Humphrey Bogart, Bogart was behind the
bar and offered him a drink. Hyams asked
for a Coke but Bogart reacted angrily
“I don’t trust any bastard who doesn’t
drink, especially a pipe-smoking
newspaperman … or a man who has more
hair than I have.” Hyams then pocketed
his notebook and headed for the door
declaring “I don’t drink…and I certainly
have more hair on my head than you do.”
Bogart was impressed
and not only granted Hyams an interview,
but as soon as it appeared invited him
There is a riveting
chapter on “the Black Dahlia,” who was
last seen in this hotel and whose murder
was never solved.
Many pages are devoted
to the Oscars, which were held at the
Biltmore for years.
We learn who won what when, and who set
what precedents. For instance, Luise
Rainer was the first actress to win
consecutive Oscars—for “The Great
Ziegfeld” and “The Good Earth.” We learn
about the Biltmore Theatre and the
efforts to turn Tinsel Town into a Left
Coast Broadway. When Alfred Lunt and
Lynn Fontanne appeared there in “The
Visit” the balcony had to be reopened
and its underpinnings strengthened, so
great was the demand for tickets.
Theater buffs in
particular will enjoy the material
about the Lunts.
There is a chapter on
the Democratic Convention of 1960.
particular interest are the chapters
involving the author’s father, the
theater critic and Broadway columnist
Ward Morehouse, Jr., and his most famous
step-mother, Jean Dalrymple. Interviews
and observations by Ward Morehouse père
include an account of his meeting
Somerset Maugham, whose “Of Human
Bondage” was made into a movie several
times. Jean Dalrymple was a power in New
York City Center.
Names of Broadway and
Hollywood producers range from John
Golden, Cohan and Harris to David O.
Selznick and Darryl Zanuck.
There are 20 pages
devoted to productions for the silver
screen and small screen that were filmed
at least in part at the Biltmore,
including “Mad Men.”
There are also brief
sketches of other famous Hollywood
hostelries: Chateau Marmont, the
Ambassador, and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Photographs abound as
“When is an omelet not
an omelet? When it’s a creation, when it
has soul, when I, Jascha Heifetz, make
it.” This is what the great violinist
said as he stood in the Biltmore Hotel’s
kitchen with two eggs in his pockets
and a hot frying pan in his left hand.
This book brims with
stories about the storied in fields
ranging from every facet of
entertainment to politics.
Yes, Ward Morehouse III
has done it again.
Beatrice Williams-Rude is the author of
“Misadventures of a Would-Be Muse,” a
merry memoir, and just competed a
novella, “The Manipulator: Folie à Trois.”
She also contributes “think pieces” to
The Constant Columnist.