Beverly Hilton 60th Anniversary: Hollywood Insiders Share Their Favorite Hotel Memories
As the iconic hotel — famous for its A-list parties and retro design — turns the page on six decades, Peter Fonda, Jack Gilardi, Waldo Fernandez and others share their favorite memories.
As the Beverly Hilton celebrates 60 years in business, we asked Hollywood insiders to dish on their favorite moments from the past six decades.
Actor Peter Fonda:
I was living on an 82-foot wooden sailboat in Hawaii and whenever I would come back [to L.A.] and see my kids or do business, I would always work out of the Hilton. It was an easy place for me to make home because it was not as difficult as going further into town. I’ve always had a good time there. I like the older part of the hotel — very comfortable rooms. I’d stay for a week at a time. It’s not down in the mess or mayhem of Beverly Hills and there used to be that big department store next door. I went in there a couple of times to buy my wife jewelry. Coming from Hawaii, I didn’t need to be in the sun but I liked to go swimming at the hotel pool. And Trader Vic’s was so much fun. I also liked that I didn’t have to drive. With the Hilton, I could park myself. I liked being independent and at the Beverly Hilton, I was independent. Something I learned from my dad was to be self-sufficient.
It could be a mess getting in and out of the car after the [Golden Globes], but it was never a problem for me if I parked myself. My publicist would say, "They won’t see you if you park yourself," but I didn’t care. Doing the carpet is essential if you want to seem relevant to Hollywood, but to me being relevant to Hollywood is continuing to work. I love going to the Golden Globes, table-hopping and shaking hands. I liked that the food was good and the wine was great and you can see friends and be congratulated and congratulate others. It’s the real deal. I remember kneeling down and telling Steven Spielberg that Empire of the Sun is one of my favorite motion pictures. When I was there for Ulee’s Gold, I was next to Jack Nicholson. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and all these young pups were nominated that year and Nicholson turned around and said to me, "This ain’t looking good for us, Fonda." But we both won. It was tremendous. You don’t always have the chance to hang with people in the business, but at the Beverly Hilton you get to do that. It’s gotten groovier. There’s always something happening.
Waldo Fernandez, longtime friend of the late Merv Griffin, who helped the TV host turned real estate mogul redo the hotel interiors:
I have many memories of Merv, and he’s a good friend and I love him. We had a very tight communication, and it was fun doing the Hilton. I designed the ballroom, all the lobbies and the bar in the lobby — all the public spaces including the pool, which is still the same. They haven’t changed the entries to the hotel. It’s still more or less the same with different furniture. It needed to be open. When Merv bought it, it was not an open space. It needed to be bright and fun, but still elegant. It was my first really commercial space. The most fun thing was all of the people I met through Merv doing the space — people like Eva Gabor, who became a friend. It was a whole family there; his nephew Michael worked for him. I miss going to Trader Vic’s — that was great. I used to walk in with Elizabeth [Taylor], and it’s sad that it’s now gone. I have a picture of her and me in Trader Vic’s, and she’s wearing a beautiful black dress with a pin. She looks beautiful.
Jack Gilardi, ICM Partners talent agent:
In early 1964, my mom and dad were coming out and they wanted to meet Annette [Funicello]. We had dinner and then later, we went to the Beverly Hilton. They had a club downstairs at the time. We were dancing and I looked at her and told her I was going to marry her. We went home later that night and she made hot tea for me because I had a bad cold. In June of that year, we got engaged. The following Jan. 9 we got married and celebrated with 500 people at the Beverly Hilton. Otto Preminger, [Ricky] Avalon and [Don] Rickles and Telly Savalas and Carol O’Connor were there. It was a wonderful day. They had a violin group that played at the hotel, and they played for us at the wedding. They were absolutely wonderful to us there.
I remember the Hilton as a classy place to go. I’ve been there so many times over the years for different awards shows and functions. Every awards show — I don’t care what it is — becomes a pain in the ass after a while, but they made it gracious to be there. With Annette, we have so many great memories there. Today when I walk in, it brings back all those great memories of spending time there with Annette.
Paul Dreher, Beverly Hilton assistant director of catering, who has worked at the hotel for 39 years:
On July 21, 1976, with hair past my shoulders — it was disco days — I walked in the front door. I started at the front desk, and I was there two years and three months total. I had gotten eight merit raises during that time, and they told me that they couldn't give me any more as a desk clerk because I was the highest-paid desk clerk in Beverly Hills. At the time, every Hilton had a different color, and we wore orange uniforms — we looked like pumpkins! I told them, "If you think I’m going to stay here in this orange uniform for the rest of my life, you can forget it." I looked at the big parties in the ballroom and told them that I wanted to do that. So they put me in catering and I’ve been here ever since.
I met Conrad Hilton. I met John Wayne. I met everyone from my favorite sitcom, all the Golden Girls. My ultimate favorite I have met five times — Barbra [Streisand]. If I ever get her autograph, my life would be complete.
I have so many stories. One day, I’m sitting in my office and the phone rings and my assistant buzzes me and says that it’s Paul Newman on the phone. I pick it up. He said, "Pablo, it’s Paul. Let’s be clear: There’s only one Paul, and you’re Pablo." This is what he said verbatim: "Have you had lunch?" I about fell off my chair. "I’m coming over. Let’s have lunch." We went over to our coffee shop and sat in the back. He was the most gentle, sweetest man you’d ever want to meet. If you asked me what we talked about, I couldn’t tell you.
Can you imagine the people who have been in this hotel, in this ballroom? It’s everybody! I gotta tell you, our banquet food is exceptional. That’s why we do more business than anyone else in Beverly Hills. We are hellbent on our service. We have approximately 700 employees and 200 of them have been here 20 years or more. They treat our guests — whether it’s a well-known celebrity or a worker bee like us — all like gold. Everybody is proud to work here. Our owner is an angel sent from heaven. [Beny Alagem] may own us, but it’s my hotel. That’s exactly how I feel about it.