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Vintage Photos of the Garden of Allah Hotel Part Two

Garden of Allah Hotel

In 1938 infamous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a now famous postcard—to himself! It read, “Dear Scott, How are you? Have been meaning to come in and see you. I have living at the Garden of Allah. Yours, Scott Fitzgerald.” The writer of The Great Gatsby was living at the Garden of Allah in 1938, drowning in debt, struggling with alcoholism and the demands of screenwriting in Hollywood; he was flailing to bang out a draft for The Last Tycoon while his wife, Zelda, was rotting in a dank sanatarium back east. He justified the then costly $400 a month rent as a “business expense.” He was, in actuality, living and working under a dark, Scotch-laden hedonistic cloud. After a late night binge, Fitzgerald crawled a hundred yards from his bungalow to the front desk. The horrified clerk asked if a doctor was in order. Fitzgerald gasped in protest, “No doctor. Just get me somewhere where I can die in peace!” (Fitzgerald, subsequently, suffered two heart attacks in late-1940. After the first, he moved in with Sheilah Graham, the ornery gossip columnist, who lived one block east of the Garden.)

Errol Flynn

Around the same time, the diminutive, free-swinging bisexual French actress, Lili Damita, was hooking up with the suave, debonair, devil-may-care ladies-man Errol Flynn—a tryst of equally voracious libidos, martinis and violent love—and only the Garden, where the affair called its home-away-from-home, knew the true sordid details. (They then married and divorced a few years later.) But when Flynn began a torrid affair with actress Lupe Velez in 1937—much of their meetings also taking place at the Garden—she introduced him to a novel use for the “white powder.”  The Mexican Spitfire would reportedly dab the head of Flynn’s manhood with cocaine to dull the sensation and enable him to last longer. Flynn would indulge in coke until his death in Vancouver in 1959.

Time magazine wrote in 1959, as Allah was closing its doors: “Through the intoxicating ’20s and ’30s, the Garden of Allah was more house party than hotel. Robert Benchley was resident clown; John Barrymore kept a bicycle there so as not to waste drinking time walking between the separate celebrations in the sprawling, movie-Spanish villas. Woollcott, Hemingway, Brice, Flynn, Olivier, Welles, Bogart, Dietrich all lived at the Garden during its green years.”

MADAME ALLA’S LAVENDER HOLLYWOOD For over three decades, beginning in the late-20s, a picturesque oasis sat at the mouth of Laurel Canyon and Sunset Blvd., serving primarily as den of debauchery for some of the world’s most famous people. The Garden of Allah was the clandestine pied-à-terre of choice for the film industry’s most talented and illustrious transients: writers, actors, directors, producers. When Hollywood wanted to escape the scrutiny of the prying public, it went to the Garden, checked into one of its picturesque villas, pulled the shades and let its hair down. Hollywood lore is full of wild antics that went way off the meter of legality and acceptable public decorum—but no spot in Tinseltown hosted so much unbridled revelry, shameless behavior, and continual inebriation as the Garden.

Clara Bow

But very few ever got a peek inside. Being on the Garden’s guest list became a rough gauge of a star’s popularity. Clara Bow, the silent film actress and star of Poisoned Paradise, epitomized the flamboyance of the silent era at the Garden. Producers had advertised her to the world as the “It Girl” and she became a popular figure at the poolside cocktail hour. Occasionally, she would dive off the high board in a dinner gown, martini in hand, or push tuxedoed escorts into the pool; she made the evening-dress swimming parties part of the Garden’s early lore. During her lifetime Bow was the subject of wild rumors regarding her sex life; most of them were untrue. A tabloid called The Coast Reporter published lurid allegations about her in 1931, accusing her of exhibitionism, incest, lesbianism, bestiality, drug addiction, alcoholism, and having contracted venereal disease. The publisher of the tabloid then tried to blackmail Bow, offering to cease printing the stories for $25,000, which led to his arrest by federal agents and, later, an eight-year prison sentence.

“There were no rules,” reminisced one early resident. “Nearly everybody partied—and partied hard. You would come back late at night and look around for a lighted window. That meant a party, where, of course, you’d be welcome.” The informality took many forms. Wrote New York drama critic Whitney Bolton, who lived at the Garden: “If a stark naked lady of acting fame, her head crowned by a chattering monkey, chose to open the door to Western Union, no one was abashed, least of all the lady and the monkey.” But the informality was not for strangers and voyeurs. The hotel management posted a guard at the front gate and maintained a discreet patrol of the grounds after dark, one of the watchmen leading a formidable dog that residents fondly called the “Hound of the Baskervilles.” The private police were strictly for security; they had orders not to harass the guests or interfere with their personal foibles and pleasures.

The lagest collection of Garden of Allah Hotel photos are on the hollywoodphotographs.com website. All photos are available for purchase.

 

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