L.A. THEN AND NOW
Like ghost stories? Hollywood and environs will oblige
A TV producer tells of apparitions and strange happenings at former showbiz hangout Ciro's, now the Comedy Store. Apparitions are said to haunt hotels and the Queen Mary as well.
NIGHTSPOT: Ciro's on the Sunset Strip was replaced by the Comedy Store, but some say spirits from the past remain. (Marc Wanamaker)
Almost anywhere you look in Southern California, from private houses to public places, tales abound about the shades of the living walking among us. The spirits are benign for the most part, said Laurie Jacobson, a TV producer, historian and writer who specializes in the haunted side of Hollywood.
"Hollywood doesn't have the corner on ghosts, but it does have the corner on famous ghosts," said Jacobson, whose book "Hollywood Haunted," co-written with Marc Wanamaker and published by Angel City Press, continues to sell devilishly well 15 years after it debuted.
"When you have something with the drama and passion and emotion that you've got in this business, there's no question you're going to have ghosts," she said.
Take Ciro's, for example, now the site of the Comedy Store. The swanky nightclub once was the most glamorous spot on the Sunset Strip, which, in the Hollywood heyday of the 1940s and '50s, pretty much made it the most glamorous spot on the planet.
Performers such as Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. got their starts there, while the likes of Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart filled the booths.
Though the club is gone, its history lives on. And so, Jacobson believes, do more than a few ghosts.
"I was a waitress at the Comedy Store in '81 and '82, and there was all sorts of paranormal activity from the attic to the basement," she said cheerfully.
She tells a tale of ashtrays that moved across tables. Lights that mysteriously turned on. Men in 1940s-era pinstripe suits who would suddenly appear and then vanish. In one story, a worker, who climbed the stage to shut off a light, turned around and 40 chairs were piled up in front of him.
In the basement, a more malevolent force awaited, according to ghost stories told by Blake Clark, a comic who handled security for the Comedy Store in the early '80s. Clark tells how he was making his rounds at 3 a.m when a guttural, growling sound seeped up the stairs. Clark drew near and saw the metal security gate that barred the entrance as it rattled, then bulged forward. Suddenly an enormous shape broke though, darker than the darkness around it, and loomed over him. The feeling of evil was so strong, Clark later told Jacobson, that he fled the building.
The paranormal scene is quite different at the Queen Mary, the retired grande dame of the sea, which is reportedly haunted by scores of ghosts. The ship's modern-day operators have turned their ghost stories into popular haunted encounter tours, drawing visitors from throughout the world.
The Queen Mary made its first transatlantic crossing May 27, 1936, launching from Southampton, England, and arriving six days later in New York Harbor. The ship had just three years of peaceable sailing before World War II broke out and the floating hotel was turned into a troop transport.
Passengers such as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and the duke and duchess of Windsor were replaced by young men on their way to battle. The ship returned to transatlantic cruising after the war and in 1967 was retired and sold to the city of Long Beach for $3.45 million.
During the Queen Mary's 30-plus years of service, 49 people were known to have died aboard ship. Some of them, according to psychics, seers and ordinary citizens, have never left. Legend has it that at the first-class swimming pool, which is drained and dry, witnesses have heard splashing and seen the wet footprints of a trio of women who materialize from the shadows wearing period swimwear.
Deep in the depths of the ship, 50 feet below the water line, lies the notorious Door No. 13, a watertight entrance near the engine room. Two men have been crushed to death by the steel door, the most recent in 1966. Numerous witnesses believe they've seen one of the men stride through the corridor, then vanish upon reaching the site of his grisly demise.
Los Angeles landmarks also include tales that haunt the imagination. The ghost of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia, supposedly still wanders the halls of the Biltmore Hotel, the last place she was seen alive before her murder. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, built in 1927, is said to be haunted by the ghost of actor Montgomery Clift, whose footsteps reportedly echo in the hallway where he used to study his lines. Miles away, in the darkened carousel building on the Santa Monica Pier, there are those who say they still see Marilyn Monroe, who was a frequent visitor in the months before her death.
Jacobson, meanwhile, is still on the lookout for new haunts.
"We all go someplace when we die," she said. "It's only logical that some of us get lost on our way there, or take our time getting there. We linger, we leave a part of ourselves."
If you believe, that is.
Special correspondent Veronique de Turenne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.