Monday, May 27, 2019

Marmont Monday: Castle on Sunset Review

I normally don’t do book reviews on here, but since this one was on the Chateau, I felt an obligation. I REALLY wanted to like this book, as it's about one of my favorite places to stay. I was so excited about its release I even contacted the author, Shawn Levy, as soon as I heard about its upcoming publication. Here was his response:

Funny thing: I came across your site while doing research and would occasionally refer to the images to get a specific detail right. Always meant to drop a note of thanks!

Huh...always meant to...but didn’t get around to it.

He also explained his reason for writing it:

As a book subject, the Chateau kind of fell into my lap. My agent and I were discussing ideas with an editor at Doubleday and he said, "Has anyone written a history of Chateau Marmont?" And while one does exist (the Raymond Sarlot/Fred Basten "Life at the Marmont"; the Andre Balazs "Hotel Hollywood" really isn't a history), it isn't, you know, very good: as journalism, as history, as writing. And once I knew that Sarlot and Basten had left a hole on the bookshelf, Doubleday and I agreed that I should try to fill it.

So how is it? His explanation rings true, as it feels like something that was not really a passion project. Instead, it is not much more than an updated and expanded rehash of the book “Life at the Marmont” by former owner Raymond Sarlot. Instead of hearing background about the celebrities who stayed at the hotel, I would much rather have read some new nuggets about these people WHILE they stayed at the hotel. What you end up with are the same stories you can read in Vanity Fair and other magazines. Looking at the bibliography and reading the acknowledgements, one can easily see that there were very few insider interviews. Lots of articles and books; I would even say a very liberal use of Sarlot’s.

I can understand the difficulty Levy had in getting actual interviews from the Chateau’s staff due to non-disclosure agreements, but without a true insider perspective, there didn't seem to be much purpose in writing the book. I do give Levy kudos on "getting" the allure of The Chateau; he definitely nails its vibe. That’s probably the one positive about the book. I did enjoy learning about a few movies that had been filmed there that I wasn’t aware of, such as 1973’s “Blume in Love” with George Segal and Marsha Mason.

Still, not much of a reason to buy or read it. Levy also admitted that this was not really an authorized book or a project that had the cooperation of the hotel.

The hotel may or may not take kindly to…the book; they offered no cooperation. So you might want to keep your interest in it under your hat until they actually read/see it and realize that it's a celebration and not a scandal sheet.

I would disagree with the last sentence, as the end of the book deals with the well-known Lindsay Lohan stories and finishes up with a big bang: André Balazs’ (the current owner of the Chateau) alleged part in the “Me Too” movement (and not in a positive way) as well as his various romances.

Interestingly enough, most of the glowing reviews on Amazon appear to be from people who received free copies of the book (which obviously did not include me. I paid for mine).

On his Instagram page, Levy has been posting a series of vintage celebs/artists/musicians using the repetitive tag line “So and so were Chateau Marmont.” The idea is to demonstrate the history and vibe of the hotel while pushing sales of the book. The most telling shot is a selfie, which is Levy on the outside of the hotel. This is how the book comes off; someone on the outside wanting to get in but doesn’t quite know how to penetrate the inner circle of knowledge.

Or perhaps didn’t want to take the time and effort to try.

My recommendation? Hunt down Sarlot's account. While it’s an older account, he actually lived it. AND owned it.

See more Chateau Marmont photos at my main website.


Martin Turnbull, the Garden of Allah novels said...

Wow Dave, given your history with the Chateau Marmont, I was expecting a rave, but this sounds more like a "meh." It think I just saved myself 20 bucks!

Daveland said...

Martin - You can probably find a used copy of Sarlot's book on eBay for $20! You'd enjoy that one a lot more!

Fifthrider said...

In a world filled with paid reviews and phony opinion, its refreshing to hear someone give an honest opinion. You could have written that book and done it more justice.