Every grand hotel has its share of scandals. But the Beverly Hilton is in a four-star class by itself. Presidential mistresses. Celebrity deaths. Awkward bathroom moments. Open pretty much any of its 570 rooms, and chances are you’ll find a famous skeleton in a closet. Even the Golden Globes, which have been held in the Hilton’s International Ballroom for the past 53 years, started out cloaked in shady repute. “My manager wouldn’t let me go,” recalls 79-year-old actress-singer Shirley Jones, who was nominated for a Globe in 1961 for Elmer Gantry. “She thought they were crooked, that people paid to win.” The Globes since have made great strides in gaining respectability. But no matter how many times the hotel gets renovated — the last major refresh was in 2008; another, less ambitious touch-up, including new carpeting and gold drapery in the Ballroom, is currently underway, while plans to add a Waldorf Astoria wing are still being ironed out — the Hilton remains the best place in L.A. to get into trouble.
1. JFK slept here… with Marilyn – 1960
The Hilton wasn’t merely John F. Kennedy‘s Western White House (his helicopter landed in the parking lot of the Robinsons next door), it was his presidential playground. Kennedy reportedly even once attempted a three-way with mistress Judith Campbell and another woman in Peter Lawford‘s suite. Campbell claimed she declined.
2. Richard Nixon’s “last” press conference – 1962
“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” the future president promised reporters in the International Ballroom, after losing the California gubernatorial race. He lied.
3. Merv Griffin empties the bar – 1987
When Griffin bought the Hilton, he was shocked — shocked — to learn that the Lobby Bar, then located between the two elevators near the entrance, was packed with call girls. “He kicked them all out,” recalls longtime Merv pal Frederic Prinz von Anhalt (better known as Zsa Zsa Gabor‘s eighth husband). “But within six months, the hotel’s profits went down 50 percent. So Merv told the hookers to come back.” Griffin sold the property in 2003.
4. Heidi-gate begins – 1993
Four undercover cops posing as Japanese businessmen conducted a sting operation in a suite that busted open Hollywood’s biggest prostitution scandal in decades. The Million Dollar Madam, Heidi Fleiss, wasn’t at the hotel at the time, but she and her notorious little black book were picked up later (the only name ever leaked from her client list was — another shocker — Charlie Sheen).
5. Christine Lahti goes missing – 1998
The phrase “powder room moment” was invented at the Globes when Chicago Hope actress Lahti got caught with her pants down in the women’s room while it was announced that she’d won best actress. Renee Zellweger made the same mistake when she won for Nurse Betty in 2001. Lahti, for one, learned her lesson. “I don’t drink liquids for a week before the show,” she told THR.
6. Angelina Jolie takes a dip – 1999
Jolie swore she would jump into the Hilton’s pool in her ball gown if she won a Globe for Gia. She kept her promise.
7. Trader Vic’s restaurant closes – 2007
It was a sad day for cheating spouses when the dark, nook-filled restaurant shuttered its doors. “The place was designed so that you could avoid being seen,” recalls von Anhalt. “That’s why stars liked it so much. You could do practically anything with anybody, and nobody would ever know.”
8. John Edwards gets caught – 2008
His presidential ambitions were shattered, along with his marriage, when National Enquirer photographers caught the senator visiting his mistress, Rielle Hunter, at the suite where Edwards was putting her up. Edwards hid in a hotel bathroom until security escorted him away.
9. Whitney Houston’s tragic end – 2012
The legendary pop diva was found dead in the bathtub of room 434 just a day before she was scheduled to appear at the Grammys. The room has been kept unoccupied ever since.