Firstly, I’m going to admit to being an absolute Shawn Levy fangirl BUT you know how brutally honest I am when it comes to book reviews, so please don’t assume that my opinions on this book are in any way biased. ‘Cause they’re not.
I wanted to give The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont (phew!) a perfect score of 5/5 stars, but I can’t. Here’s why: this book should have been a coffee table book, not just a typical non-fiction book with white pages full of text and a small insert of grainy photographs in the middle.
Shawn Levy is one of my auto-buy authors, meaning that whatever he writes and releases I’ll buy and read as soon as I can get my hands on it. He could write about gardening and I’d still purchase his book and gobble it up in a matter of days, I don’t care. His writing style is laid back, relatable, snarky, and easy to understand. Though he’s a non-fiction writer who tends to write mostly about classic film and old Hollywood, his books are incredibly easy to follow and digest. They’re approachable and that’s what I love most about them. They don’t intimidate me at all and that’s not always easy to find when you read a lot of classic film non-fiction.
This book taught me a lot about California in the early twentieth century before it became known primarily as the centre of the film-making universe. Levy gets into the nitty-gritty of land development and county borders and though that may sound bland, it’s actually really interesting because there were certain laws that only applied to particular areas of California and not to others. Fascinating stuff. Levy also (obviously) delves into the inspiration, the design, the construction, and the on-going history of Chateau Marmont through the decades – from its birth as merely an idea in the mid-1920s to its current iteration of luxury and exclusiveness in the twenty-first century.
Chateau Marmont began its life in February 1929 as an apartment tower, attracting California’s elite and scions of high society. The structure was then converted into a hotel in 1931 featuring 63 rooms, an intimate lobby, and an underground parking garage. The building was designed and constructed to be earthquake proof – which is really smart considering its location and California’s history of frequent and devastating earthquakes. The property has weathered five violent earthquakes since its opening, sustaining absolutely no major structural damage whatsoever. Incredible.
One thing I’d like to point out before I go any further is that if you’re not a fan of classic film, old Hollywood, or pop culture, you’re probably going to find this book boring and hard to get through. I read through some Amazon reviews of the book a couple nights ago and that seemed to be the main consensus from readers. Many of them said they had to google the celebrities who were featured in Levy’s narrative because they had no idea who anyone was (imagine not knowing who Jean Harlow or Clark Gable were!). When you’re reading about people you’ve never heard of and have no interest in, you’re bound to think this book is “boring” and not worthwhile – and that’s a real shame because it’s plain to see that Shawn Levy put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this book. That’s one thing I can say for sure about him – his research is always so well done and extensive. This guy does not skimp on history or detail.
There are some awesome anecdotes in this book from everyone associated with classic Hollywood, to celebrities who relocated from New York to Hollywood to develop their film careers, to the people who actually worked (and work) at the Chateau Marmont. Another thing Levy doesn’t skimp on are interviews, so you’ll find a lot of first-hand knowledge here. One of my favourite stories from the book involved prolific writer and producer Dominick Dunne checking out of the hotel and leaving a pornographic VHS tape behind in his suite’s VCR.
So, let’s go back to me not giving this book a perfect score, shall we? In my opinion, this should have been released as a coffee table book. The one major thing I kept dwelling on throughout my reading experience was the fact that there were no architectural layouts or floor plans included within the book. Levy spends a lot of time and effort describing the Chateau’s landscape, interiors, and all of its rooms, suites, and penthouses so a few architectural drawings of said spaces would have been awesome to study visually. Levy also devotes many chapters of his book to the Chateau’s neighbourhood, surrounding buildings, and historical landmarks – having high quality photos to look at whilst reading about these places would have been nice.
Overall? I think you’ll really enjoy this book IF you’re a classic film fan and are interested in the history of California and Hollywood in particular. This was another winner for me and Shawn Levy did not let me down – he’s still one of my auto-buy authors and I’ll continue reading his work in the future. I just wish the book had been printed in a different format, that’s all, but we can’t have everything, can we?
This book review was posted as part of Raquel’s #ClassicFilmReading challenge.