The Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip ranks high on my children’s list of cool L.A. literary sites. It’s not because of the glamorous actors, rock stars and celebrities who’ve stayed there since the 1920s. To my eight and 10-year-old boys, the Chateau is famous because girl hypnotist Molly Moon spent time there in one of their favorite books, “Molly Moon Stops the World.”
Let me backtrack a moment. “Molly Moon” is a children’s series written by Georgia Byng, a British novelist with a wickedly funny imagination. In the books, impoverished orphan Molly discovers a talent for hypnosis that propels her into stardom and eventually to Hollywood, where she must save the world from evil hypnotist Primo Cell. After landing at LAX, Molly and her entourage, which includes Petulia the pug, assorted pet mice and parakeets, several other orphans, kindly orphanage employee Mrs. Trinklebury and another evil hypnotist who is now under Molly’s control, are whisked off to the Chateau Marmont for a long stay.
There are lovely descriptions of the French-inspired Chateau, its lobby, the restaurant, the bungalows, the jungle foliage, the pool and the meandering walkways. Molly Moon has lots of adventures and Petulia the pug has her own adventure at a doggie beauty parlor across from the Chateau.
You can imagine my kids’ delight when I told them that the Chateau Marmont was a real place. They immediately asked if we could spend a night there just like Molly. As much as I want to indulge my kids’ appetite for books, I wasn’t willing to shell out hundreds of dollars. But after calling to make sure the restaurant was open to non-guests and well-behaved children, I suggested a Saturday morning breakfast visit.
I figured if we arrived at 8 a.m., the stars and paparazzi would still be asleep and we’d have the place to ourselves. And we did. If the hotel staff was a bit surprised to see two children marching in, gawking at everything while their mother read aloud from something that wasn’t a script, well they did their best to roll with it.
“Molly looked up at a fairy-tale building with turrets and towers…the entrance was in a cavelike garage under the hotel…the foyer…was very smart and dark with tall ceilings and a stone floor…” Georgia Byng wrote.
As I read, the kids retraced Molly’s footsteps. Just like Molly, we walked into a garden with steel heaters “like tall stubby umbrellas.” There, we sat and feasted on chocolate croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon, breakfast pastries and milk for them, coffee for us.
Afterward, we asked if it might be possible to see the pool area and bungalows. The young man at hotel reception told us it was off limits to non-guests, but then took pity on the boys and said he’d see what he could do. Brandishing a key, he led us into the rarified area, where we meandered along a path overhung with rustling palm trees and lined with staghorn ferns and past a “sunbathing garden where a waterfall cascaded down from rocks into a swimming pool.” The only thing we didn’t see was the caged parrot Byng describes. The hotel employee said he didn’t think the Chateau had a parrot. Well I guess that’s why they call it fiction.
After thanking the young man profusely, we left, feeling like we had just strolled through a storybook. (And we kindof had). It was only once we were standing on the Strip that we had another pleasant surprise. In the novel, Petulia the pug crosses Sunset Boulevard to “Bella’s Poodle Salon and Dog Hotel.” Now we noticed “Hollywood Hounds” (The Ultimate in Canine Care) across from the Chateau, with a gate painted blue, just like in the book.
The kids wanted to visit Hollywood Hounds too, but it was closed. Taking the news in stride, they decided it was time to head home. That was fine with me. I’d gotten a very up-close and personal look at how a fellow author got her ideas. Had Byng’s publisher booked her into the Chateau for the first Molly Moon book tour? (The book featuring the Chateau is No. 2 in the series) While there, had she scribbled notes about the Hollywood landmark’s flora and fauna?
I would bet so! But even if she came on holiday from cold rainy England on her own shilling, it was a hell of a tax write-off.