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Shining bright, without the stars, in Beverly Hills

For 24 years I frequented the Beverly Hills hotel and rubbed shoulders with superstars, but they have left for even more opulent surroundings

Published 27 March 2011
News Review
923rd article



Michael and Geraldine - but no modern-day Monroe or Bogart MICHAEL ORMSBY

I resided for 24 years at the Beverly Hills hotel intermittently between 1967 and 1991 when I wasn't renting apartments or houses in Los Angeles. I returned recently for the tribute to me by the American Cinematheque.

The hotel is old Hollywood at its best.

It's set in 12 acres of lush tropical gardens and walkways. Banana trees are rampant, even on the corridor wallpaper. Not the same banana leaves I was used to. There was a copyright problem, so slightly different ones went up.

Other hotels - such as the Peninsula, where they embroider your name on the pillowcases - have arrived. The Beverly Wilshire has had a major facelift. But the Beverly Hills hotel still reigns supreme. You feel any minute you could bump into Marilyn Monroe or Humphrey Bogart.

The staff are the best I've seen ever, anywhere. Polite, charming, friendly, highly efficient. I can't say the same of the general manager, Alberto del Hoyo, because I never saw him. Probably the first time in 15 years a general manager has been that hidden.

If Mr del Hoyo ever came down from his ivory tower he might notice strange things. Why was there no full-length mirror in my suite? Easy to put one on a door. Ladies like to see what they're wearing in case they want to take it off and start again. Why, in the men's swimming pool lavatories and changing room, are there no towels? Soap. Hot water. But to dry your hands only flimsy tissues that fall apart. And no bin in which to put them. The place was littered with old tissues.

These are not first-class hotel minutiae.

Get your finger out, Mr del Hoyo, or, if you can manage it, your whole body.

What a difference from the Winner's Dinners hotel manager of the year 2010, Hans Meier, from another resort hotel, the Setai in Miami. He was everywhere. Greeting, meeting, checking.

The Beverly Hills hotel pool is the stuff of legend. Who did what to whom in the tented cabanas boggles the imagination. I was told West Side Story was written there. Other less creative (or more creative?) acts also took place.

The pool attendant, Michael Ormsby, was the only staff member to irritate me. There are 14 cabanas, each with three sun loungers. Geraldine and I were the only people using any of them. Suddenly a noisy couple were placed next to us.

"Why," I asked Mr Ormsby, "is it necessary to destroy my tranquillity?" I got some guff about a regular guest who'd asked for that cabana. "Then why not warn me and see if I wanted to move one or two away?" I said.

The food at the hotel is good. Not fancy, not pretentious. Not great. But definitely good. The executive chef, Alex Chen, runs a number of restaurants - the main one being the famous Polo Lounge.

I used to see studio executives and agents devour four breakfasts, meeting different people for each one. Now the guests look like tourists. I saw no movie stars. Not even the hot and cold running call girls that used to trip merrily up and down the corridors.

The Polo Lounge is a lounge bar, leading to a fairly posh restaurant, leading to a paved garden full of greenery with even more tables. A terrific setting. I had a great piña colada, yellow squash purée soup, delightful pasta with historic meatballs, marvellous prawns.

Unfortunately, the cobb salad, for which the restaurant was famous, has been discontinued. The kitchen serves something similar, which is so big that if I'd had a vegetarian dog he could have lived for a month on the leftovers.

At the pool restaurant I kept repeating my order for a hot dog. Perfect sausage, marvellous bun. I'm a sophisticated diner.

If you go to Los Angeles, stay at the Beverly Hills hotel. It's unique in a changing world - that's rare.



  • In my house there are 11 air-conditioning units blowing hot and freezing air, various radiators and 12 Dimplex fan heaters. One in my study collapsed. The other one there doesn't blow out air, just heats up a bit.

    A Dimplex engineer replaced the defunct series E model in my study with a later series F model. This blew out air timidly. The other one, series E, couldn't blow, puff or gasp. I have five of those.

    I showed the engineer four old Dimplex series A models in my bedroom. All (like me) heartily blowing hot air. I asked why the old ones, dating from 1990, worked well while the new ones didn't.

    The engineer replied, "Thirty years ago these things were built to last", implying today they were not as effective and there was nothing he could do. So much for progress.

    If you''re thinking of buying a fan heater, avoid Dimplex. Better to eat fire and then breathe out.



  • From Bryan Franks of Middlesex: Hymie's in a restaurant, head bent, his ear close to his fish. The waiter notices this.

    "I'm talking with the fish," explains Hymie.

    "What does he say?" asks the waiter. "He tells me he's from the River Dee in Scotland," replies Hymie.

    "So how are things in the Dee now?" asks the waiter.

    "He doesn't know," replies Hymie. "It's been so long since he was there."



    Michael's missives

    Even when making an effort Michael managed to have one shirt collar in and the other one out last week. Has Geraldine given up dressing him in the morning? A children's hotel seems highly appropriate.
    Ken King, London

    Ignore your critics. I think you are handsome, smart, talented, witty and well informed. Any chance of £20 until next Friday?
    Fred Howard, West Yorkshire

    It's time for the memoirs of the distinguished society photographer Arnold Crust, perhaps with your assistance as ghost writer. The title? How I Just Kneaded the Dough.
    Stephen Espley, Kent

    Lucky you in the privileged south with Heathrow's grand Virgin lounge. We in the north have a scruffy shared lounge, with no hot food, and the toaster was withdrawn on health and safety grounds. The widely advertised upgraded premium economy seats have yet to reach us, as have any aircraft of recent vintage. I mentioned it on many questionnaires. Come the revolution, we'll get equality!
    Peter Chappelow, West Yorkshire

    At the Nook restaurant near the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland it said, at the bottom of the menu, "To assist you with your calculations we will add 10% to your bill." Did we look so dim we couldn't total the price of two fish and chips? I object to being charged for something over which I have no control.
    David Armstrong, Portadown, Northern Ireland

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk