I conjured up a ghost—and nearly lost an eye—at LA’s most-haunted hotel

The search for a dead composer and other odd tales from a night at Chateau Marmont

By Dan Shapiro

Hollywood, California, circa late 1930s. | Photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

I’m not exactly sure where this dark streak started. Somehow, though, it’s led me here, submerged up to my chin in a bath of milk, salt, and sugar, chasing ghosts at the Chateau Marmont.

The sweet and sticky finish from the white ceramic tub creates an afterglow on the skin that only the dead can see. It’s my calling card to the spirits; the moonlight shimmers through the lone pane window, reflecting off the pink and beige tile as the encrusted speckles glisten on my body, notifying nearby ghosts that I’m open to engage.

This must be how a turkey feels, being brined for Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s a rather unremarkable facility, for such an upscale locale. Although, there’s something charming about the touch of rust on the built-in soap dish and the cloudy, teal remnants of oxidation left on the faucet.

Somewhere along the border of insanity, I’ve chased this paranormal lead around Los Angeles, all the way to 8221 Sunset Boulevard—Suite 2H to be exact. And now, in an effort to summon the spirit of three-time Oscar-winning composer Harry Warren, I find myself covered in a residue from the opaque and granular bathwater, breathing magic spells into a two-and-a-half inch brown and yellow rubber dragon figurine. It has sharp spikes running down its spine, horns, a slithering tail, and a pair of bendable wings—a menacing guide into the underworld.

The totem was gifted to me by expert psychic medium Patti Negri after she took me beyond the veil during a seance at her Hollywood Hills home. I was there so I could determine if I was, in fact, Harry Warren reincarnate.

“The sweet and sticky finish from the white ceramic tub creates an afterglow on the skin that only the dead can see.” | Illustration: Marty Davis

Patti’s place

Patti, a middle-aged, unassuming blonde woman, lives in single-story home with a rather nondescript facade in the hills north of Franklin, just a few blocks east of the Hollywood Bowl. As I stepped through the foyer, Patti’s place instantly transformed into a lair of mysticism.

Roses and assorted flowers were strewn across a pair of small, ancient-looking tables in the open living room. There were a pair of cats, one black and one ghost (Patti assured me it was there), sitting underneath the dark rosewood piano, which was adorned with photos of the home’s previous owner—who, although deceased, still reportedly co-inhabits the place with Patti.

Do I have ghost pets and roommates at my place? They should be paying rent.

Surrounding the tables were several glass cases full of antique knickknacks—the kind that not only look semi-precious and priceless, but also allude to some deeper, inner power and energy. They appeared to have been collecting dust for centuries.

As she handed the dragon figurine to me, Patti was explicit that I would need to provide it constant offerings of water or whiskey. That is, if I was intent on the dragon’s magic taking hold.

Oh, great, my dragon spirit guide is a lush. Of course he is.

Patti also advised against any solo supernatural journeys, explaining that I was just too green to attempt such a feat on my own. Never for a moment did I even consider heeding her advice.

Bringing Harry back

Call me cavalier, call me foolish. But I’m prepared to bring Harry Warren back to the living realm. And so here, at the Chateau Marmont, I call upon the guardians of the north, south, east, and west—the very same guardians Patti invoked—summoning “powers of air that is our intellect … fire, passion, creativity, love, sex, god, the passion that is life itself … the sweet waters of emotion … mother earth herself … all the way up to the heavens as we open the veil between the worlds.” Her words, not mine.

I brought the dragon along just in case anything gets weird or out of hand. I mean—weirder than the milk bath. The whiskey-drinking dragon is riding shotgun on this makeshift voyage in case any of those guardians decide to throw a curveball my way.

Just the other night, when Patti and I contacted Harry’s spirit from Patti’s Hollywood home, he indicated that Chateau Marmont was one of his favorite places in Hollywood—in both life and in death. Seated around her imposing dark hardwood dining room table, we asked Harry’s spirit directly about the Chateau.

“Do you still reside at Chateau Marmont?” Patti cautiously asked of Harry.

Scented candles dripped and flickered on the table in front of us. Patti’s otherworldly chants pierced through the veil between the world of the living and dead. There, she found Harry. Patti produced a crystal ball with a heavy three-pronged iron base, along with select potions and an iron bell—tools to better navigate the spirit world.

It was while using a pair of long, ice-cold, L-shaped iron wands that we finally made contact with Harry. He used a magnetic force to push the wands together, indicating a “yes.”

“The scene changes drastically, and the Ghost Radar app running on my iPhone, which is resting on the cream carpet to my left, begins to trigger.” | Illustration: Marty Davis

Palpable cosmic energy

It makes perfect sense, of course. All the big-time spirits: Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Rita Hayworth—dozens of A-list ghosts—hang out at the Chateau Marmont. It’s one of the most verifiably haunted locations in LA.

The cosmic energy is palpable at the Chateau. A seven-story, nearly 90-year-old gothic high rise on the western border of Hollywood, the Marmont remains preserved in time with creaky dark wood that runs up the walls and tattered floor runners lining the uneven tile that extends through the lobby and into the maroon-carpeted bar and lounge.

The whole place, all the way up to the frescoed vaulted ceilings, is dimly lit, with an almost museum-like quality. It’s a blast out of the 1930s and ‘40s, as any effort at restoration has retained the minimal touches that once made this Los Angeles’ number-one low-key hideaway for the stars.

Throughout its life, the whole place has been renovated once or twice over. Still, no number of renovations can remove the eternal stain of the paranormal, which is trapped in layers upon layers of paint. This is how I know Harry will be here.

Naked, alone, and still sitting in the lukewarm bath that’s becoming murkier by the second, I’m ready to begin this seance.

Naked, alone, and still sitting in the lukewarm bath that’s becoming murkier by the second, I’m ready to begin this seance. I light up one of the Chateau’s signature gardenia-scented candles and quote Patti’s chants, word for word:

Light and dark are turning / Luck be in the burning
Light and dark are turning / Luck be in the burning
Black spirits and white, red spirits and gray mingle, mingle, mingle you may
That a tat out / Around and about
A world within and a world without
A world within and a world without
The good stay in and the ill stay out

Who is Harry Warren?

Harry Warren, “King of the Hollywood Musical,” isn’t necessarily a household name to most. For me he’s long since been an obsession, though.

The composer of some 800 songs, Harry was a living legend by the time he died on September 22, 1981—just hours before I was born. When I learned that fact, it sparked my personal intrigue. It was most likely out of sheer vanity; I’ve long fancied myself a songwriter and composer.

I never met Harry, or any of his living relatives. However, I performed some of his songs on stage as a child, as part of one of the world’s most famous boy choirs. Night after night, for weeks at a time, I’d sing Harry’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as part of a medley, “Songs of the 1940s.”

From the grand stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, to scores of churches and school assembly halls around the country, I belted the lines You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four / Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore / Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer / Than to have your ham ‘n’ eggs in Carolina.

This went on for the better part of five years, crisscrossing America by bus. We stayed in a different town every night, crashing with random host families. It was a hustle that likely broke several child labor laws.

I hope Harry’s ghost doesn’t come asking for performance royalties. I never saw a dime either.

Clearly, our connection—Harry’s and mine—is no mere coincidence. After doing some preliminary research back in 2012, I started to contemplate whether or not I may in fact be Harry Warren reincarnate. There have been too many telepathic and subliminal musical messages over the years—long before I ever knew who he was—for it to just be coincidence. I guess this is where my interest in the supernatural began, with Harry.

“In search of more answers, and something concrete, I wait until the middle of the night and saunter down to the pool and conjoining cottages.” | Illustration: Marty Davis

Clothing … sweet … doll

Now wrapped in a terry cloth robe, I move from the bath to the living room, the smell of gardenias following me as I take a seat on the cream-colored carpet with my legs crossed. Propped up against a fading green sofa and facing a window that reveals the corner of Marmont Lane and Monteel Road, I place the dragon figurine on the circular glass table.

The cream, sheer curtains are slightly drawn on the window to the right, letting in just enough moonlight to reach the wall-mounted mirror to my left. Traces of white stucco line the molding at the base of the ceiling, spilling down onto the light pink walls, which are minimally decorated with old sketches and framed paintings. A lone fake potted plant rests in a corner, nearly reaching the ceiling.

I repeat the Satanic verse, cueing up a playlist of Harry’s classic compositions to woo the dead back to our earthly realm.

I just want this ghost to show himself already. What’s the point of having sugar and salt, milk, and soot seeping into my every crack and crevice?

Patti assured me that meeting a ghost on their turf, while providing an inviting atmosphere, should do the trick. However, my effort to call Harry’s ghost with songs like “That’s Amore,” “At Last,” and “​On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,​” falls on deaf ears.

My first solo venture beyond the veil is proving to be fruitless. That is, until the soundtrack hits “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Once the speaker starts amplifying The FIamingos’ 1959 hit—originally written by Harry in 1934.

Shit. I better play along.

I pick up my Epiphone Dot electric guitar and serenade the spirits.

Almost instantly, the scene changes drastically, and the Ghost Radar app running on my iPhone, which is resting on the cream carpet to my left, begins to trigger: “clothing … sweet … doll … sweet … doll … clothing … clothing … clothing.”

The app, recommended and used by Patti, tracks paranormal energy and frequencies. In turn, it plays beeps, dings, and the occasional word or phrase—whatever it picks up from the underworld.

Harry Warren’s ghost is here, and he isn’t taking too kindly to my choice of attire … or lack thereof.

Was I supposed to dress for the occasion? What does one even wear when in the company of a spirit? What pairs best with translucence?

Was I supposed to dress for the occasion? What does one even wear when in the company of a spirit? What pairs best with translucence?

I retreat into the bedroom for a change of clothes, ultimately deciding to keep it casual with a pair of jeans and an Iron Maiden t-shirt.

This is some far-out paranormal stuff, and I’m keeping “The Number of the Beast” close to my chest.

The non sequiturs continue, “clothing … sweet … doll.” “I Only Have Eyes for You” begins to violently skip.

Odd. I didn’t know digital music could skip.

Electronics are a conduit for the paranormal. Or, at least, that’s what Patti said the other night. It’s how spirits communicate with the living. And Harry’s ghost is possessing my iPhone here at the Chateau.

Harry races to the bathroom next. He bangs on the pipes. He flashes across the room. He knocks on the closet door.

This ghost is too quick.

Following Harry, I race to the closet. It’s locked from the inside.

What the…

For a guy who composed such lovely, jazzy melodies in his day, Harry’s spirit has absolutely no chill. The lights begin to flicker.

All of this stands in stark contrast to my experience at Patti’s the other night, where Harry behaved in an understated and cordial manner—a real gentleman.

This is why Patti told me not to go it alone. Maybe ghosts like to mess with the new guy. I’ll bet Harry’s having a blast giving me a scare.

There’s no doubt Harry’s ghost has followed me here to the Chateau Marmont. And, like Patti explained the other night, spirits generally tend to interact best with living souls who share some sort of legitimate connection.

Chill out, man! We’re inter-transitional cosmic soul brothers … Remember?

Truth be told, I should have known it was Harry all along. Before I ever knew he was buried in Los Angeles, before I ever moved here, before I ever went on this paranormal expedition around Hollywood, Harry was guiding me here. He’s been pulling the strings from the beginning, I believe, leading me to this exact location: the Chateau Marmont. I never anticipated such a hyper and surly ghost.

Stop flickering the lights!

Luckily, I have these guardians, along with the dragon, on call for protection.

Who am I kidding? I’m a grown man in skinny jeans and a cropped t-shirt, pacing around a hotel suite, dodging ghosts.

Running from corner to corner, with no apparent rhyme or reason, I rave mad, hands in the air. I drop to my knees. I lock my fingers in a prayer position. I plead with Harry to take it easy.

Running from corner to corner, with no apparent rhyme or reason, I rave mad, hands in the air. I drop to my knees. I lock my fingers in a prayer position. I plead with Harry to take it easy.

All I wanted was to connect with the man who has guided my life from beyond the grave—the man who I am reincarnate … or at least with whom I share a psychic bond. Instead I’m waving a plastic toy dragon above my head, expecting it to protect me from an agitated ghost.

This is definitely the end of me. What will I tell the folks back at HQ?

In an attempt to play the part of hospitable host, I break out a bottle of Laurent Perrier. Alcohol is an appropriate offering for many ghosts according to Patti—spirits for spirits.

Half lucid, I focus intently on carefully opening the champagne.

Maybe this will make him happy.

I push the cork with my thumbs. Bang! The cork goes off in my face and slams into my left eye.

Patti said Harry would continue to show me signs and present himself, but there was never any mention of violence.

I could have chased any number of ghosts here. Of course, I choose the dude with a violent streak.

I could have had my pick of the vertible litter: John Wayne, Howard Hughes, Humphrey Bogart, and James Dean. They all had their fair share of trysts at the Chateau Marmont back in the hotel’s heyday.

Why didn’t I try to summon any of them? Instead, Harry Warren is assaulting me with a champagne cork.

Pool lamp at the Chateau Marmont. | Photo: Dan Shapiro

The garden hideaway

In search of more answers, and something concrete, I wait until the middle of the night and saunter down to the pool and conjoining cottages. These are considered the most-haunted location on the Chateau grounds, on account of John Belushi’s ghost. He’s remained in Bungalow Three ever since his fatal overdose in 1982. That speedball may have gotten the best of the unsuspecting funny man, but his spirit remains.

Unfortunately, Belushi’s ghost stays inside the bungalow—I can’t coax him out.

It’s an eternal party, I guess.

I pace the grounds looking for clues. Crossing over from the main house and out to the garden, I walk along the narrow stone path. The assortment of trees and plant life are overgrown, creating a canopy and cover along the walkway, which is lighted by a series of knee-high electric torches.

Hanging a right near the small, man-made pond, I pass Bungalow Two, before approaching the pool area. The grounds are expertly manicured and landscaped with exotic trees to block any view or access from the street, creating a private and quaint environment. It’s something akin to a personal rainforest, albeit without animal predators or infectious insects. A lone blue, green, and red antique lantern emits enough dim, golden light for me to find my way to the pool, which glows light blue.

This is eerie—not a soul in sight.

Honestly, I was expecting something more bacchanalian—young, scantily clad starlets drunkenly jumping in and out of the pool, while ingesting copious amounts of champagne. But there’s no activity near the grotto tonight; it’s all sorts of quiet on the western front.

I’m determined to wait out Harry’s tantrum upstairs. I patiently sit poolside, out in the garden hideaway, with the plants—thousands of them—keeping me company. The leaves rustle in the midnight breeze.

Fading in and out of consciousness, I recline in a long deck chair, watching the final lights from the main house shut off as my champagne buzz transitions to a slow mellow. Rather than continuing to nod off, I return to my room.

Back in 2H

Back in 2H, I blast back a few chugs of the leftover champagne directly from the bottle, keeping an eye out for Harry’s ghost. Glancing around the living room, I suspect foul play. My effects—a guitar, assorted paraphernalia, clothing, wine glasses, and a plate of truffle fries—are strewn about. The place looks ransacked.

Did Harry throw my stuff around? Maybe it was me. I don’t remember.

My mind’s a bit warped from this supernatural road trip.

Then, looking into the kitchen, I see all the cabinets and drawers opened up. No doubt this was Harry’s doing.

What was he looking for? He better not have touched the minibar. The last thing I need right now is some greedy ghost racking up charges on my expense account.

I peek into the bathroom, where I see the remnants from earlier in the evening, cloudy water with salt, milk, and sugar still lingering in the tub.

Virtually grappling with Harry’s ghost wasn’t exactly what I expected.

He did tell Patti that he sent me off into the living realm with a dash of his musical talent.

Why me? Was it blind selection? Did I just get his blessing because I was ripe and ready to enter the world?

There will always be questions that linger, and regardless of the fact that the outcome wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, at least there were answers to this years-long fascination. And I was able to confirm that Harry and I are in fact two separate beings with a rather bizarre and absurd connection.

I release the stopper from the bath, allowing the water to drain.

I turn on the shower faucet, full blast on hot, and hop in to wash away the remaining dried-up soot from my skin. I can feel the spirit oils being cleansed from my every pore, a wave of energy rushing through my being.

I release the guardians of the north, south, east, and west. I reel the dragon magic back into the rubber figurine with the very same chants that kicked off this supernatural journey, then asking them to “Shut it down, and close the veil.”

So long, Harry … until next time.

Legendary Hollywood producer Harry Cohn once famously said, “If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.” I was always in it for the ghosts and spirits, though. Because, if you’ve come for the living, you’re in the wrong place; it’s the dead who are on full display at the Chateau Marmont.

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