By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Marilyn: "You either don't let them drink or make them take a taxi to the restaurant."
Royce: "People here are too cheap to hire chauffeurs . . ."
Marilyn: "Or, if he insists, you put your life in his hands. I've had a few wild rides. Men don't want to be separated from their cars -- not at all!"
Royce: "Years ago, the police in Beverly Hills would let you go if they knew you. They'd protect you and drive you home."
But life could be scary even on the Sunset Strip, as Marilyn was to learn one night. She and Royce had gone to catch Harold Robbins' wife, Grace, singing at Verita's, a restaurant owned by Humphrey Bogart's former mistress Verita Thompson. (Thompson decorated the bar with the actor's photographs and would one day cause a stir by auctioning off his toupee.) But they got there too early and realized it would be some time before Mrs. Robbins sang. They weren't eating, and Marilyn, feeling dozy, headed for her car, leaving Royce at the bar. Verita's parking lot had been packed, and so Marilyn's Cadillac was on the street. She locked the doors, cracked a window and stretched out on the back seat for a snooze. Soon, however, she awoke to find a stranger looking at her from behind the Caddy's wheel.
"He was black and seemed very nice," Marilyn recalls. "He said, 'Here, why don't you give me the keys and we'll go for a little ride.' I said, 'I don't think so,' but gave him the keys because I was afraid he'd get mad. So he drove me over to the parking garage down under City National Bank, just before Beverly Hills. We sat there for a while. He was smoking something -- probably hashish. He really didn't want me for sex, but to talk and pleasure himself. After that was over, he drove me back and got out. Then I went to Verita's, but Royce was gone, so I went to a common meeting place that we usually arranged before we went out at night, and eventually she came along in a taxi. We were very fortunate. We had some very wild things happen, things that should not have happened, that were not our fault."
IN 1987, MARILYN SOLD HER FURNITURE ("I HAD A BEAUTIFUL U-shaped couch in red velveteen"), and the women put their belongings in storage and decamped from the Mark Wilshire. They had decided to hit the road in Marilyn's 1977 Sedan de Ville -- "We were just doing what we wanted to do," she says of the trip. The idea was to tour the â state, although they never got north of Santa Barbara. The affluent mission town would be the scene of one unintentionally comical visit with friends of Marilyn who lived in ultra-upscale Montecito. The two remember their stay chiefly for their hosts' laser-beam security system, which kept them prisoners in their room at night, and for the absence of a home bar.
Marilyn: "They had a security system that was turned on at night, with those rays . . ."
Royce: "They turned them on at 10 or 11, and then you stayed in your room until 8 in the morning. They were not gracious, they were not charming. You can imagine! I was like a chained tiger. And they wouldn't serve a drink . . ."
Marilyn: "They didn't drink . . ."
Royce: "I've never liked Santa Barbara. I'm used to late-night elegance, sophistication, New York. Elegance."
After that, their road trip was essentially a ricochet drive of the 216 miles between Santa Barbara and San Diego, with stays at the Century Plaza or Bonaventure whenever they were in town. The unceremonious end came when the Caddy's transmission went out in Brentwood. Marilyn spent a lot of money getting it fixed at Lou Ehler's on Wilshire, only to have her cherished sedan broadsided -- twice. When it happened the second time, the guilty party, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, offered Marilyn cash reparations on the spot. She took the money but ditched the car. It was time to settle down.
"AUGUST 2, 1988." MARILYN CAN TELL YOU THE EXACT day she and Royce moved into their present hotel. The two have been there ever since, first sharing a single room, now each with her own, though they are not neighbors. What vexes them most is the fact that downtown holds no social center for them. "There's no place," Marilyn says, "for us -- sophisticated, middle-aged women who need a regular place -- to go." Their prolonged stay has been hardest on Royce, whose tiny room abuts a noisy elevator.
"Los Angeles is the garbage hole of the wo-r-rld," she says, her hands grandly sweeping the air. "I'm used to huge space, I'm used to elegance. I'm used to the Plaza, I don't understand anything else! There's nothing downtown that I'm used to -- it's not my territory -- I'm like the leopard in The Snows of Kilimanjaro."
The hotel had been recommended to them by friends, and at the time the carless women were forced to halt their road trip, downtown had seemed like a reasonable compromise between the unaffordable Wilshire corridor and the colorless suburbs. It has 230 rooms, some of which are advertised at $39 per night, and the adjoining bar boasts a generous happy hour that lasts from 5 to 10 p.m. The lobby's faint cologne of disinfectant never lets one forget that this is downtown, with all its civic homeliness -- and dangers. When the 1992 riots exploded, "I'd go out in front of the building and could see them shooting out the windows of the Lady Footlocker," Marilyn remembers. "I didn't leave the hotel for weeks. My cousin called from Seattle and asked, 'What's going on down there?'"
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city