Just what is it about a hotel room that inspires outrageous, flamboyant, or destructive behavior? Is it the anonymity that leads guests to believe they’re not accountable—or the coddling of an unflappable staff? Do people go wild in hotels to attract attention, or to spite the attention they already receive? Does the temporary nature of staying in a hotel inspire the urge to make a lasting impression or cause permanent damage? Or is it the knowledge that all indulgences—or at least most—will be forgiven the moment the bill is signed? So many rationales, none of which begin to explain why you would dangle your baby out the window (Michael Jackson, the Hotel Adlon Kempinski , Berlin).
The paradox of a hotel room is that it offers the illusion of private, protected space—a nameless numbered room, a secret playground for the id—within what is essentially a very public venue, and a closely watched one at that. Add thin walls and loose-lipped housekeepers and you have the recipe for a well-publicized scandal.
The list of famous hotel-room excesses is long but, over time, fairly consistent. Bad behavior tends to fit into one of a few broad categories: (1) drug benders; (2) getting naked, whether alone or in numbers; (3) murder; (4) appliance-tossing; and (5) baby-dangling.
Some hotel-guest antics are more amusing than dangerous, more cynical than sincere. Hurling TV’s out of windows is kind of a hollow gesture by now, no? And the ritual of the room tantrum has been played out by so many celebrities, from Johnny Depp and Kate Moss to certifiable wannabes—Ms. Winehouse, your suite is ready to be destroyed—that it comes off like a sad publicity ploy.
Certain hotels seem prone to scandal. Three years after Errol Flynn danced naked in the halls of the Copacabana Palace , in Rio de Janeiro, the property hosted the first publicized instance of celebrity room-trashing: in 1942, freshly jilted by Dolores del Rio, Orson Welles resolved that his furniture would look better at the bottom of the swimming pool, and set about realizing this until security persuaded him otherwise. And not one but two infamous gangland hits went down at New York’s Park Central Hotel (then a Sheraton). Mobster Arnold Rothstein was shot here in 1928, allegedly having welshed on a $320,000 poker debt (he died the following day, after purportedly telling police, “Me mudder did it”). Twenty-nine years later, mafia boss Albert Anastasia, capo of the Gambino family, was gunned down in the hotel barbershop.
Certain geographic locales, too, have seen an inordinate share of drama. Within a half-mile of one another on L.A.’s Sunset Strip stand the Sunset Tower Hotel , where John Wayne kept a dairy cow on his terrace so he’d always have fresh milk; the Chateau Marmont , where John Belushi fatally overdosed and Helmut Newton died after a car crash in the driveway; and the former Continental Hyatt House, a.k.a. “the Riot House” (now the Andaz West Hollywood ), down whose corridors Led Zeppelin and crew once roared on their Harleys.
Sometimes a good hotel story can make the involved parties seem more interesting than they really are. Encamped at London’s Portobello Hotel during his 1970’s heyday, Alice Cooper kept a boa constrictor in the bathtub. Fans love to repeat this tale, probably because it’s far more entertaining than Cooper’s music.
We might assume this inanity is practiced only by spoiled celebrities, but ordinary people are equally capable. Just ask your hotel’s general manager. He could tell you about the unassuming businessman at a Manhattan hotel who stripped naked, rode the elevator to the lobby, grabbed a bowlful of apples, and began throwing fruit at arriving guests. Or about the moody guest at the Raffles L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills who, whenever irritated by anything in his room—a ringing telephone, a buzzing mini-fridge—would toss the offending item into the hallway or over the balcony.
Of course, privacy is still sacrosanct: no GM will name names. Which may explain why their guests feel they can get away with it.