All the world's a stage, and there are a few former Hollywood stars, it seems, who simply will not relinquish their place upon it.
Ghost tales abound throughout every culture our planet has been able to develop, but in Hollywood, inevitably, they take on a glamorous tint. Where else can you be haunted by Groucho Marx?
There's no reason for "The X-Files" to have to film up in Vancouver when there are plenty of paranormal activities for David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson to investigate right here in town.
Here's just a smattering of the legends:
* Ozzie Nelson still hangs out in his home at the foot of the Hollywood Hills (he apparently got fresh not long ago with a female resident).
* Joan Crawford's former home in Beverly Hills has a rather chilly spectral visitor.
* In author James M. Cain's former Beachwood Canyon residence, the spirits veer from friendly to ominous, depending on the folks living there.
* A Sunset Plaza place where director John Schlesinger lived was visited from time to time by a female ghost wearing clothing from a previous era who only occasionally wields a tomahawk.
One of the most poignantly creepy Hollywood stories involves George Reeves and his former home in Benedict Canyon. Reeves reportedly committed suicide there in 1959, but that fact is in dispute--many of his fans believe he was murdered.
"That house is haunted to the rafters by George Reeves," declares Laurie Jacobson, Tinseltown historian and co-author of the book "Hollywood Haunted." "He keeps showing up--some say in his Superman outfit, some say in normal clothing. He was supposed to be generous to a fault, but he was murdered and every newspaper around the world carried the story, 'Superman Commits Suicide,' and his legion of child fans were devastated and I imagine that pisses him off. So there may be an agitated air to his spirit as it seeks truth, justice and the American way."
In one case, a foursome were enjoying drinks downstairs in the living room a couple of years ago and heard quite a ruckus upstairs in one of the bedrooms--yes, the same room where he was found shot.
"They raced upstairs and the whole room has been turned upside down," Jacobson says. "The mattress is over here, clothes have been pulled out of the dresser. They cleaned it up, and when they went downstairs, they found their drinks had been moved from the living room to the kitchen. 'Get out,' I think, is what they were being told."
We'll all agree that that's creepy enough, but what about being told that your own father is a ghost? That was the special fate that befell Willie Wilkerson III, whose father, Willie Wilkerson Jr., created and owned the Hollywood Reporter, discovered Lana Turner and conceived the Las Vegas Flamingo hotel ("Bugsy" notwithstanding). He died in 1962; a decade later, an employee of the Reporter reported to Wilkerson that his father was still residing in the trade paper's offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
"I thought it was a joke," the younger Wilkerson says. "But here was a guy who was a shop foreman. He was very right-wing, very conservative, and when he told it to me, he told it in a very gruff voice. For this story to come from this very conservative man added more credibility to what he told me. He had no interest before that in anything paranormal."
The Reporter moved in 1993, and the L.A. Weekly made plans to move in. Wilkerson says that his father was angry "that his residence was being remodeled. During remodeling . . . apparitions occurred that caused builders to flee and not work anymore."
They saw things disappearing into the wall, and a radio kept dialing back to a classical music station whenever a worker would try to tune in any other kind of music, Wilkerson says.
"I met with one of the construction contractors," he says. "He had guys who ran off the construction site and said, 'I'm not going to work here anymore.'
"His office is still intact, the original wood and the fireplace is still there. It's now a conference room. I feel that as long as certain things are familiar to him, he'll still be there."
Mike Sigmund, publisher of the Weekly, recalls an incident in Wilkerson's former office. "The strangest moment was about a year ago. We were having a board of directors meeting. It was this very intense moment, someone had just made a proposal, and then everyone was silent. At that moment, this wonderful clock above the fireplace, which was solidly secured to the wall, came crashing to the floor. We took pause at that.
"I'm from New York, and never believed in ghosts, but now. . . ."
Judith Lewis, the Weekly's arts editor, remains skeptical. "I don't think there are any spooky things that prevented the move from happening, there were just logistical problems," she says, but apologizes for raining on our parade. "I will say, though, that there are a lot of strange temperature changes. It gets hot and cold really fast. But I don't think it's Willie Wilkerson's doing, it's just a drafty old building."
"If my dad's at the [old] Reporter, I'm glad he's there," Wilkerson says. "But I'm not sure I want to go there with candles and stay up all night and have a conversation."
Wilkerson's legacy does not end there--Wilkerson used to own Ciro's in the '40s, and was in cahoots with Ben "Bugsy" Siegel; no one takes issue with the possibility that a few out-of-favor gangsters might have been popped within its walls. Today, Ciro's is the Comedy Store, a building with a myriad of hallways that go nowhere and secret rooms; it is one of the most famously and, by author Jacobson's estimation, one of the most frighteningly haunted buildings in Los Angeles.
"In the Main Room [the Comedy Store has three different performance areas], we have seen ghosts of mobsters, men in wide lapel suits standing watching the action," Jacobson reports. "These spirits hated Sam Kinison's act. That scream he did drove them nuts, so something would always go wrong when he went on. To my mind, Sam is the only comedian who was heckled from beyond."
And it doesn't stop there. Mike Becker, vice president of business affairs for the club, recalls his encounter with the beyond.
"I was in my office with another person; we were talking to someone on the speaker phone. I left the office to make another call, and out of the corner of my eye, saw this guy, six feet tall, in a tweed jacket with big shoulders. I turned to the switchboard operator who also saw him and said, 'Who's that guy? Get him out of there.' He went in, there was no one in there, the guy in my office hadn't seen him and he couldn't have walked out without our seeing it.
"It didn't really scare me, I just felt very weird. To realize that it wasn't a physical person was a strange feeling."
Becker has also heard his share of stories from other employees--bouncers have seen ashtrays and candles hurled across empty rooms, one bouncer routinely had the door to the upstairs Belly Room slammed in his face, drinks materialize out of nowhere and move around empty rooms.
Comedy clubs, for some esoteric reason fathomable only to those in another spiritual realm, seem to be a favorite haunt for ghosts. The Laugh Factory is ostensibly visited occasionally by Groucho Marx, who once used the Sunset Boulevard edifice to do his writing.
Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, recalls one night: "I locked the doors, turned out the lights and left. I went home, and realized I had forgotten my house key, so I came back to the club, opened the door and was in shock. There were candles on the tables that had been relit and the spotlight of the club was on. Cigar smoke was in the air. I grabbed my keys and left."
Unconvinced? Masada can do better. "Another time, they were plastering a wall. The plasterer worked until 1 in the morning. We closed and left. The next day, I came back and someone had embossed an image of Groucho Marx on the wall. No one else had a key to get in. I freaked out. I couldn't believe it, the plaster guy could not believe it. It was such a detailed drawing. We took pictures of it."
At other times, Masada says employees have heard clomping on the roof and up the stairs of the club, as well as laughter on the upper levels when no one was up there. And Masada has a table that once belonged to Marx that he has on occasion discovered covered with cigar ash.
An all-star lineup is said to inhabit the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Kelly Greene, film coordinator for the hotel, happily rattles off a number of stories, including several that she witnessed. Occasionally as she relates a tale, goose bumps rise on her arms, which she promptly rubs down.
"Our ghosts are friendly, not scary," she says. "They're people who were happy here in life, and keep hanging around."
Among Greene's stories: A recently hired secretary found her electric typewriter typing by itself; phone calls to the hotel switchboard operator abound from rooms that are empty (and, in one case during the building's renovation, a room that didn't even have a phone); a ghostly maid rustling among hanging bedsheets. She personally heard metal scraping against concrete in an unfinished penthouse room once leased to a mobster.
Then there's the mirror that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe, located in the hotel's lower level. One woman saw the reflection of a blond behind her in the mirror, and when she turned, no one was there. Psychics have "read" much sadness from the mirror.
Montgomery Clift spent three months at the hotel in Room 928 while he made "From Here to Eternity," and has apparently spent far longer than that there since his death. "Guests tell me they hear voices outside their rooms late at night on the ninth floor, then they'll look outside and no one's there," Greene says. "There's a lot of activity on the ninth floor. People hear conversations and furniture being moved around in empty rooms. We turn off the heat when a room is unoccupied, but Monty turns it back on, so when you go into the room, the heat's on full-blast."
There's also a ghost who has been repeatedly seen wearing a tux, whom psychics have described as filled with anxiety as if he were waiting for something, and a persistent "cold spot" in the hotel ballroom that practically every employee has experienced. When, in 1993, the Roosevelt re-enacted the first Academy Awards from 1928 in the ballroom, Greene, theorizing the ghost may have been someone who had hoped to win an Oscar on that historic evening, arranged to have a special table in place for it, and when she made a ceremonial presentation to the empty table, "the spotlight suddenly went out. . . . But there was no cold spot for three days."
Across the street from the hotel is where Jacobson encountered her first ghost: Mann's Chinese Theatre. Paul Person, assistant manager of the theater, admits to his and other employees' having heard strange, inexplicable "human sounds" when alone in the theater in the morning.
Person says the rumors are pretty consistent: The ghost is named Fritz, he used to work in the theater and he hanged himself in the backstage area. "Everybody we've hired, we tell them all the story," he says, an unusual employee initiation, to be sure. "Some of the girls get scared then when they go to the locker room."
Other haunted locations Jacobson has turned up include the Hollywood Athletic Club (home away from home to many celebrities from Hollywood's Golden Age, such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weismuller), Park La Brea (haunted by Native Americans) and, as this is after all a weird Hollywood story, Madonna's home in the hills (her groundskeeper has reportedly been the subject of many pranks from beyond the grave).
"The canyons seem to hold a lot of spirits, Beachwood Canyon especially," adds Jacobson, who, it must be stated, lives in Beachwood Canyon.
Montgomery Clift, George Reeves, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe, Ozzie Nelson, Willie Wilkerson Sr. and Fritz were unavailable for comment.