Ron Gluckman

From Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando, to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, the biggest bimbos and hottest hunks have all bedded down in Hollywood's love shack. But few have found true love at the Chateau Marmont until now.

Philip Truelove is the fitting name for the guiding light behind the renaissance of a randy old lodge where everybody who was anybody hobnobbed with everyone else. Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Princess Grace, Sean Penn and Madonna, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. All are in the guest log.

'We don't get a lot of tourists,' says Marmont manager Mr Truelove. 'And we don't advertise. We don't compete with Beverly Hills.' The modest hotel has no bar and is rather rundown. Stocked with flea-market furniture from the 1930s and 1950s, its apartments have neither liquor cabinets nor marble bathrooms. Instead, there are small kitchens with farmhouse fridges and flimsy four-burner stoves.

Greta Garbo bunked at the Marmont, along with the insatiable Harlow. And James Dean and the cast of Rebel Without A Cause. Stan Laurel was an early resident, while Sting and Richard Gere are more recent Marmont devotees. In between, Sean Connery, Howard Hughes, Bill Cosby, Debra Winger, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and John Lennon all signed in. John Belushi got wired on speedballs and checked out. Permanently.

When John Wayne bagged his first big role as Ringo Kid in John Ford's Stagecoach, he celebrated in the Marmont's best room for several weeks. 'I want to know how it feels to be a star,' he said.

Hundreds of others from Hollywood's inner circle have followed The Duke over the past seven decades, frolicking in full view for the gossip sheets. Or slipping secretly from the underground garage into Hollywood's fabled love hotel.

'That's the secret of the Marmont,' concedes Mr Truelove, who appears uncomfortable in the company of a reporter and photographer as Christopher Walken walks by.

'We're a small hotel, and very intimate. The stars go to Beverly Hills to be seen. They come here to get away.' Tucked into a thicket of trees on a quiet side street off busy Sunset Boulevard, the hotel seems anything but a hideaway. Once in the countryside of Hollywood, the Marmont's flowery grounds are now part of the Los Angeles sprawl.

Dudley Do-Right's Emporium, with garish plaster storks on the roof, offers tacky trinkets to tourists across Sunset from the nondescript entrance to the Marmont. Convertibles cruise past carrying stars of the day to getaways in fashionable retreats at Santa Barbara, Big Sur or Palm Springs.

Few heads turn for even a nostalgic glance at the brown turrets of the castle which opened in Hollywood's heyday and instantly became the in-place to party. Both in public or privately.

Lawyer Fred Horowitz envisioned a magnificent apartment house in the outskirts of Hollywood. Modelled after a French chateau in the Loire Valley, ground was broken in grand style in April 1928. Artists painted murals on the ceiling. Everything was first class.

Advertisements appeared in newspapers and a buzz raced through Hollywood when the Marmont opened for inspection on February 1, 1929. Rents ran as high as US$750 per month. Nonetheless, the prestigious residential palace was well received until the disastrous stock exchange crash plunged the US into the Depression.

With bills piling up and occupancy unable to keep pace, Mr Horowitz and his partners sold the upmarket apartment house in late 1931 to Alfred E. Smith for the princely sum of US$750,000. Smith, co-founder of Vitagraph, an early motion picture company, hadcashed out of the entertainment business in 1925. He sold Vitagraph to Warner Brothers and invested in real estate. The Marmont presented an opportunity to meld both interests.

Rather than restrict Chateau Marmont to residential guests, Smith rented rooms monthly, weekly, even daily. He stockpiled old furniture so, like a Hollywood set, rooms could be converted to any style or whim.

One of Smith's key acquisitions was former actress Ann Little, who became resident manager. Credited with coining the expression '15 minutes from everywhere' to describe the hotel between Beverly Hills and Hollywood, Little had the intuitive skills to turn the Marmont into Hollywood's hot-test hotel.

The exclusivity was twisted to suit her clients' carnal desires. Stars swamped the lobby and hung from the chandeliers. But they could also sneak into their rooms unseen through private entrances.

The cottages and bungalows, previously neighbourhood housing, were renovated by the Marmont and prized for intimate encounters. The comings and goings became legend.

Columbia's Harry Cohn kept a penthouse at the Marmont, mainly to protect the reputation of his more robust young stars. Glenn Ford and William Holden had the keys to room 54, but generously shared Holly-wood's pre-eminent bachelor pad with philandering pals like David Niven, Bogart, Errol Flynn and John Barrymore.

Hollywood executives reportedly arranged Harlow's marriage to a cameraman to keep her indiscretions from disclosure. Installed in the Marmont for her honeymoon, Harlow nonetheless kept a bedroom free for guests like Clark Gable. Or else, she would sweep through Hollywood's night-spots, leaving a note with the front desk that she had 'gone fishing', her code for trawling for new partners.

Madonna started her torrid affair with Penn at the hotel, as did longtime paramour Warren Beatty with early conquest Joan Collins. Monroe learned lines and entertained lovers at the Marmont.

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball had the loudest spats; former California Governor Gerry Brown and singer Linda Ronstadt some of the most secret trysts and Paul Newman met Joanne Woodward at the Marmont. Their marriage remains an unusual rock of stability amid a flood of sordid scandals colouring the hotel's history.

There have been sad endings, too. 'We still get calls from TV crews in Japan that want to stay in the room where John Belushi died,' Mr Truelove said. 'We tell them it was torn down long ago.' But Bungalow Number 3 still stands where Belushi mixed his deadly dose of speed and booze, after partying with pals DeNiro and Robin Williams. 'We just refuse to trade in any way upon this tragic affair,' Mr Truelove said.

Nor will he talk about the fast times at the wild Chateau Marmont. Ironically enough, where the Hollywood celebrities had affairs aplenty, the rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s preferred spectacles more suitable for the big screen.

The imagination would be strained to keep pace with the mad reality of the Marmont in those days. Led Zeppelin raced motorcycles down the hotel hallways. Jim Morrison, The Doors' lead singer, drank himself to stupors and, in fact, did fall from a second storey window, as depicted in Oliver Stone's film, The Doors. A group of Alice Cooper's roadies played touch football, completely nude, on the mezzanine.

Van Morrison, the Moody Blues, Steve Miller, Dylan, Boz Scaggs, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Carly Simon and the Velvet Underground were guests. Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame, arrived for a party one night, played the lobby piano, and wound up booking a room for six months.

The attraction might appear hard to fathom by newcomers. Paint peels from exterior walls. The floors sag. Aside from the recent addition of colour TVs and two-line phones, there is an utter lack not only of elegance, but of basic roadside motel standards.

But to entertainment executives, singers and film stars, the drab but uniquely outfitted apartments have proven irresistibly charming. Some cottages even sport built-in ironing boards.

'There's not much flash in the rooms,' admits Mr Truelove, who wearily describes the outrage that greeted Andre Belazs' acquisition of the hotel in 1990. 'There was a general anxiety that we were about to tamper with Hollywood's favourite hotel.' An ongoing room-by-room renovation somehow manages to massage the Marmont's best features in the manner of a make-over for Hollywood's grand madam. The lobby has been restored and cappuccino is served with meals in a tidy cafe in the corner. But, otherwise, even the distinguished dust of the decades seems preserved.

'We were very careful about not tampering in any way with this hotel's character and history,' Mr Truelove said.

Stars lounge by the tiny pool, shaded by trees. It's easy to understand why writers like Gore Vidal used to hole up for months at the Marmont, searching for inspiration in the pool's blue water.

Maintaining the hotel's historic character while running a business was a delicate balance, he said. Although promotional packages like 'Sleep with a Legend' were run by the new owner, Mr Truelove plans to end even this minimal outreach effort. 'Too tacky,' he explains.

Such lofty attitudes might seem out of place at an old hotel renting rooms for US$150-$650 in a market crowded with luxury lodges. However, even without advertising, occupancy at the hotel runs at 85 per cent. The Marmont can afford to be picky.

'We think of it as a country home in Hollywood. Our guests stay long term, often for months at a time, and we cater to their every need.' That might involve limo service or car phones for the convertible. Or walking a brood of exotic animals. 'We had a guest who used to roller-skate through the halls and lobby with his dog on a leash, until it had 10 puppies, which he pulled in a trolley,' Mr Truelove recalls.

'Then, there was another guest who kept a kangaroo ...

'We let people do whatever they want, provided it doesn't disturb the other guests,' he said. 'We don't repeat funny stories or start scandals.

'Besides we've learned to take it all for granted. And the Marmont's thick walls have always been able to take a lot of kissing without telling.'