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Millennium Biltmore

Millennium Biltmore by Ward Morehouse III

The Millennium Biltmore Hotel:

A Star-Lit Sanctuary

 Review by Beatrice Williams-Rude

He’s done it again!

Ward Morehouse III, the king of hotel biographers, has chronicled
 the fascinating history of yet another grand hotel.

Born of Hollywood Dreams 
is the subject of his latest tome.

   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 Fitzgerald.

  We are shown celebrities as we’ve not seen them heretofore.

  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 saying,
“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 to lunch.

  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.

     Of 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 do sketches.

  “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.

joyce brooks, gerard mckeon.  photo by:  rose billings

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