Chateau Marmont - Welcome to the Hotel California

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Sofia Coppola's new film is set in LA's Chateau Marmont, scene of scandals from Harlow to Depp. Gillian Orr checks the guest book

Last weekend Sofia Coppola won the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion for Best Film with her much-anticipated latest offering, Somewhere, which stars Stephen Dorff as a jaded but successful movie star called Johnny Marco. He is a man coasting through life, one who has fallen victim to the hedonistic side of Hollywood celebrity, his days filled with parties, drugs, girls and loneliness.

And where else should Marco be living out this debauched existence but the Chateau Marmont, naturally? The famous hotel, located on Sunset Boulevard, is a Hollywood institution and, in a fickle town like Los Angeles, it remains one spot that has never really gone out of style, despite its many different incarnations.

Coppola says of Somewhere: "I started with this character of Johnny Marco. I thought, 'he lives at the Chateau Marmont', because it seems like every young actor I've talked to has a story about living at the Chateau. They've all done a stint there: 'oh yeah, I lived there a year', or, 'I lived at the Chateau for a couple of months'. It's kind of a rite of passage; it's so linked with making it in Hollywood while showing that you're still down to earth." She has even described the chic yet shabby hotel as the third main character in the film.

Chateau Marmont was opened as an apartment block in 1929 by a local attorney, Fred Horowitz, but high rates kept renters away and it was turned into a hotel in 1931. Because of the large suites and full kitchens that feature in many of the rooms, as well as the numerous bungalows and cottages in the grounds, it makes sense that someone shooting a film, writing a book or recording an album would stay there.

Balazs took over the hotel in 1990 and has said: "The hotels I love inspire excess in human behaviour. Hotels unleash passions in people. "

For Somewhere, Coppola thought that Chateau Marmont would capture her lead character's alienation from the world. Some of the most revealing moments come "when he's alone with himself at the Chateau; that moment of having to look at yourself, which is always scary for anyone."

On any visit to the Chateau Marmont you are guaranteed to spot a star enjoying some lunch in the sheltered courtyard, a swim in the pool, or maybe a cocktail in the bar, perhaps being serenaded on guitar by one of the elderly and much-loved members of staff. It is frequently referenced in Entourage, the television show charting the exploits of a rising Hollywood actor and his group of friends. And Dorff checked in to the hotel for four or five months in 1996 and held a suitably boisterous party there for his 21st birthday.

"It has an incredibly seductive atmosphere," Sandra Bullock once said. "No wonder people come here to have affairs – it's got that air of history, where you know a lot of people did things they weren't supposed to do."

The Chateau has its moment each decade. Recently, it was Lindsay Lohan's destination for her first night out after leaving rehab. In the 1990s, Johnny Depp claimed that he and Kate Moss had made love in just about every room. The writer Jay McInerney moved there from New York in the 1980s to write the screenplay for his hit debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City. Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles down the hotel hallways in the 1970s. The Rolling Stones and the Beatles caused chaos there throughout the 1960s. Natalie Wood and James Dean were introduced at a script read-through of Rebel Without a Cause in Bungalow Two in 1955.

But its legacy stretches right back. In 1939, the Columbia Pictures boss, Harry Cohn, used to tell his stars, "if you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont," a piece of advice that still appears to hold weight.

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