Let’s begin with a statement for the record: I do not believe in ghosts.
But with Halloween approaching, I decided to suspend my doubts and seek out spirits in the one place I figured they would want to be seen: Hollywood.
After all, Tinseltown is rife with legends that have turned its grand hotels and marble theaters into a virtual graveyard of landmarks.
I toured some of the famous haunts and discovered the spirits of filmland grumbling for attention.
Along the way, I felt a touch of the supernatural. Maybe it was the power of suggestion. But maybe, as ghost buffs say, it was a phantom or two returning to the place where they once sipped champagne, ruled the town or met untimely demises.
“A lot of spirits stick around for unfinished business,” said Laurie Jacobson, author of the book “Hollywood Haunted” and my guide for this adventure. “Perhaps they’re trying to regain some of their success.”
Inside Room 928 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the brooding spirit of Montgomery Clift turns up the heat and switches on the radio to let guests know he’s around--and still angry about an unfulfilled life.
Clift, who lived in Room 928 for three months while filming “From Here to Eternity” in 1952, was one of Hollywood’s most appealing leading men, a slender Tom Cruise with edgy good looks.
But Clift also had a dark side. He was a loner who was said to drink heavily, and he hid his homosexuality from an adoring public. To make matters worse, a late-night car crash in Benedict Canyon in 1957 left his face scarred. To attract Clift’s spirit, Jacobson brought two black and white pictures of the star--one before the accident and another after. She laid the photos side by side on one of two double beds in the room.
Moments later, Clift arrived.
“Monty is here. I can feel him,” Kelly Greene, the hotel’s film coordinator, insisted as she walked between the beds and a wooden chest of drawers. “There’s lots of angry energy here.”
Jacobson agreed, rubbing her temples to ease a headache that she says indicates the presence of ghosts.
“I am getting such a throbbing in my head, like I’m stoned,” she said. “I feel foggy. It’s like a tension from the arms up.”
I felt a faint headache, but attributed it to the glare of camera lights from a television crew that was accompanying our group. The show “Hard Copy” had come to film a Halloween episode about Hollywood.
The crew’s producer, Kate Caldwell, experienced her own strange reaction. Caldwell halted an interview with Jacobson, collapsed in a chair and breathed deeply before regaining her composure.
“I felt a rush of anxiety,” Caldwell said. “I felt the back of my neck get prickly and it quickly spread throughout my body. The hair is standing up on my arms.”
Ozzie Nelson has proven to be a more affectionate spirit.
Nelson’s ghost inhabits his former home at the base of the Hollywood Hills.
The Nelson family lived in the blue Colonial house for more than 25 years and used it as a model for the set in their show, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
Nelson died in 1975. When a new couple moved in a few years later, they reported strange activity, including faucets and lights turning on by themselves.
But something far stranger also was happening. On several occasions, the woman of the house felt someone--or something--pulling down her covers in bed and caressing her body, a situation that led them to contact parapsychologist Barry Taff.
“A couple of times she lay down to relax, without even sleeping, and the covers started to be pulled down,” Taff recalled. “That’s what really got to her.”
Taff, a veteran of more than 3,300 ghostly investigations whose resume includes consulting stints with the FBI and CIA, told the couple not to worry. Investigators of supernatural phenomena, he said, had reported numerous instances of sexual activity involving ghosts.
“They were running into something in the house that had properties of a physical human being,” Taff said. “The only problem was that most of the time . . . this thing was not visible to the naked eye.”
Taff told the couple that moving was the only way to rid themselves of the problem. The owners left a short time later.
The ghost has yet to make an appearance before the home’s latest owners, who moved in about a year ago.
But the couple--who asked that their names not be used--are excited about the prospect of a ghostly encounter.
“Ozzie Nelson is a cool guy. We would welcome the experience,” said one of the new owners. “This house has a good vibe. It has a very loving energy.”
One of the ghosts at the nearby Oban Hotel is far less receptive to human intrusions.
Rick Rivera can tell you all about it. Rivera manages the hotel, a run-down place that once provided a cheap flop for budding stars like Clark Gable, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
The spirits of those who failed to make it in Hollywood remain, traveling up and down the stairs as they seek recognition.
One of the ghosts apparently ventured into Rivera’s room recently. Rivera says the ghost--which he described as a blond woman about 50 years old--appeared in the closet next to his bed, turned on the light and began rifling through his belongings.
“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Rivera recalled. “She replied, ‘Just going through your clothes.’ ”
When Rivera got out of bed to confront the intruder, the ghost disappeared through a locked door on the far side of the closet. Rivera speculates that the ghost might have been an undiscovered starlet searching for an outfit.
Still, Rivera feels certain of one thing: The ghost shredded his green silk jacket, which he gladly offers as proof.
“I have put it out of my mind because I didn’t want to believe I was going crazy,” Rivera said of the incident.
I asked Rivera if I could spend a few moments alone in the closet. As I stood in the dark, pressing against the locked door where the ghost had fled, my heart began to race. I chalked the reaction up to claustrophobia, thinking perhaps that Rivera had even imagined the whole affair.
I returned home that night, and noticed for the first time my front door slowly creaking open and the darkness in front of me. I paused a moment, then made a mad dash for the living room lights.