A Los Angeles Hotel with a Theatrical Flair
As the Hotel California burned from its roof on Aug. 7, 1959, thousands of passengers, along with thousands of musicians and extras and some 2,500 tourists, were trapped inside the building on an evening so hot that it was thought to have caused a greenhouse effect. The hotel’s rooftop was the setting for what was perhaps the most famous moment in the history of American entertainment: the “big hit,” the big break, that launched a legendary career and an enduring career as a global icon. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, and other newspaper reporters were in the lobby to cover the event, which is the subject of the new documentary Hollywood Hotel: On Fire, directed by John Mankiewicz, who also wrote the script for a play that he has co-produced with the film’s director, Robert Redford.
The Los Angeles Times called Los Angeles’s Hotel The Hollywood, which was at the time considered the most luxurious hotel in the world. The movie-star-starved city was desperate for a celebrity to create a scandalous diversion. It didn’t matter that the hotel was located on the edge of Tinseltown—a few steps from where Frank Sinatra had built his house—and that it was not a place that would receive visitors of the class of the studio moguls who had a stake in the hotel. They didn’t need a scandal; they had a celebrity.
The movie-star-starved city was desperate for a celebrity to create a scandalous diversion.
The movie-star-starved city was desperate for a celebrity to create a scandalous diversion, and it chose a celebrity whose popularity rivaled the most iconic celebrities of the day. Sinatra had the cachet of having starred in the movie version of the movie A Caddyshack (his nickname during the series of sequels—Hogan’s Heroes) and of having sung “That’s Life,” which he had written for Gene Kelly when he was 24. But he was also a self-publicist. He knew the type of publicity that would have the most impact on Hollywood: a big flop on Broadway, a hit on the radio. His biggest hit was called My Blue Heaven,