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Hollywood lacks for ghost stories and legends the way it lacks for superhero movies and sequels: There’s the strange case of the John Belushi-haunted Chateau Marmont. There’s the strange case of the Rudolph Valentino-haunted Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There’s the strange (and sad) case of the suicidal-starlet-haunted Hollywood sign.
And then there’s Hollywood Boulevard.
If you had only one day, or one hour, to go ghost hunting in the capital of filmdom, then you could do worse — and might not do better — than to stake out this main drag in the 90028. On an annotated map of supposed paranormal activity at the website Creepy Los Angeles, a roughly 1.5-mile stretch of the boulevard, from the famed intersection of Hollywood and Vine to the less heralded crossing of Hollywood and Sierra Bonita, is dotted with five reported ghostings, the highest concentration in all of Los Angeles County per the site’s accounting, not including the various reported ghostings from the nearby side streets.
And so on a mid-October day, a week or so before Halloween, you walk the walk, up and down Hollywood Boulevard. By the end of it, you’ll be convinced: It’s haunted, all right.
The phantom of the corner
You start at Hollywood and Vine. The northwest corner, to be exact. You could start at the Pantages Theatre, which is just up the road, but you don’t have a ticket. (The venue is still a working theater, currently hosting the eternally sold out Hamilton.) And not only do you not have a ticket, you lack access to the second floor, and that’s where the good stuff supposedly happens.
Legend has it that Howard Hughes, the mogul who bought the Pantages in 1949, and oversaw the then movie house’s years as a home to the Academy Awards, can still be heard puttering around in the space that served as his office.
Those in the know say Hughes isn’t the only spirit who putters around the theater. “It’s got its share of ghosts,” says Laurie Jacobson, co-author of Hollywood Haunted: A Ghostly Tour of Filmland.
You called Jacobson to get her take on Hollywood’s prime haunted spots. You specifically asked her about the prime public haunted spots, the ones where you don’t need a ticket, the ones where, as in the case of the Chateau Marmont, you don’t need access to Bungalow No. 3, where Belushi died (and where he supposedly still holds court), the ones where, not unlike a ghost, you can flit in and flit out.
The ones like the northwest corner of Hollywood and Vine.
It was at this corner, once upon a time, Jacobson recounts, that Lon Chaney, the horror-movie icon of the silent-film era and father of Wolf Man star Lon Chaney Jr., would sit on a bus bench, day after day, and wait for rides to the studios in search of the work he eventually landed. (The Phantom of the Opera, from 1925, is among the elder Chaney’s many credits.) After Chaney’s death in 1930, Jacobson says, his ghost was seen at the bus bench, day after day.
“He wasn’t finished,” Jacobson says. “Lon is still working [just like] Howard Hughes is still going to work.”
And so you go to work too: You take a seat on a bench on the northwest corner. It’s Los Angeles chilly, and while Jacobson has warned you that cold spots are a sign of ghost activity, you chalk up the temperature to the shade. (Even at midday, Hollywood and Vine is in shadows.)
You look around: There are four benches at this corner. You don’t wonder if you’re sitting at the proper Chaney bench because Jacobson has told you the proper Chaney bench isn’t there anymore; it got swapped out some years ago. Jacobson also advised you that after the Chaney bench was supplanted by progress, the Chaney ghost stopped coming by. (“Ghosts do not like renovation,” Jacobson says.)
So, you know all this, but you sit there anyway, because, well, you never know.
After 10 minutes, you know: Chaney’s not looking for work today. But just to be sure, you check in with Cory Johnson, who mans a station for a local tour company, Street Rod Tours, at the corner. He’s there most every day, and has been for the last few years. Has he ever seen the ghost of Lon Chaney? He tells you he’s seen weird things — that’s what he’s seen.
Asks Johnson, “Is that the ghost of Chaney, or is it Hollywood?”
The mysterious mall rat
You make your way up the boulevard to the Hollywood and Highland Center, where you’ve read Valentino puts in cameos when he’s not working the cemetery. (The 1920s heartthrob apparently gets around. A lot.)
On the way to the mall, you pass the Hollywood Pacific Theatre. Like the Pantages, it’s got a ghost story. (Unlike the Pantages, it’s no longer a working theater; judging by the marquee, it’s now a church.) The legend of the Hollywood Pacific (formerly the Warner Pacific) concerns Sam Warner, a Warner Bros. brother, who died in 1927, before the premiere of The Jazz Singer, a historic release from his studio, and who apparently couldn’t stay away from the family business afterward.
Theaters, Jacobson has told you, are prime ghost locations.
“There’s always a lot of passion in the theater — whether you worked there, whether you had an unfortunate evening there,” she says. “It’s emotion that holds the spirits. There’s always a ghost in the theater.”
The mall, however, you’re not so sure about.
The Hollywood and Highland Center seems too shiny and new to be haunted, and, indeed, Valentino isn’t supposed to be trolling the current digs as much as he’s supposed to be visiting the old Hollywood Hotel, which formerly stood at the location.
In any case, you’ve been to Hollywood and Highland on several occasions, when it’s crowded with shoppers (as it is on this day) and when it’s not (as on Oscar night), and you’ve never bumped into Valentino. And you don’t bump into him on this visit either.
The slain actor
Your next stop is the TCL Chinese Theatre, better known to movie buffs by its original name, Grauman’s Chinese, the palace where stars’ shoe prints, palm prints, and autographs have been preserved in cement since 1927.
The courtyard is packed with the usual mix of tourists snapping pictures and costumed actors posing for pictures. You look for a quiet spot (“The less noise the better chance you have of experiencing something,” Jacobson has told you), and you wait.
You wait for Victor Kilian.
Kilian was a character actor who worked virtually uninterrupted for nearly 50 years. In 1979, at the age of 88, he was killed in an apparent robbery in his apartment, which was located a 10-minute walk away from the Chinese. Since then, Kilian has reportedly roamed the grounds of the theater looking for the culprit in his as-yet unsolved murder.
You don’t sense or see anything yourself, so once again you seek out a second opinion, from someone who’s there day in, day out.
You go up to the guy dressed in the dusty black Spider-Man outfit.
“No,” Venom tells you in his island accent, he has not encountered a ghost in the courtyard. Venom also tells you, unsolicited and unprompted, that he came to the theater by himself, so you guess that either (a) he didn’t understand your question, or (b) he thinks you’re an undercover cop.
Just to make sure, and to set Venom’s mind at ease, you move on to the sketch artist, Scott Dryer, who’s set himself up across the street from the Chinese. Has he ever met up with the ghost of Victor Kilian? No, he says.
So, it’s official: There is no character-actor ghost at the Chinese — not that you, the artist, and Venom have seen anyway.
Good thing your next stop is the Hollywood Roosevelt.
The haunted hotel
According to Jacobson, the Roosevelt is just about the most haunted publicly accessible locale in all of Hollywood.
“There’s always drama in a hotel — breakups, one-nightstands, suicides,” Jacobson says. “And also it’s a place where a lot of famous people stay.”
The Roosevelt, suffice it to say, is a hotel. More than that, it’s the ultimate Hollywood hotel — the site of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.
Before you even arrive at the Roosevelt, you cross over Harry Houdini’s Walk of Fame star, and you can just tell something spooky is about to happen.
Visions of Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift (A Place in the Sun), both of whom supposedly haunt the Roosevelt, dance in your head, even if you don’t anticipate seeing either star. (Monroe and Clift, who co-starred in 1961’s The Misfits, are said to haunt private rooms.) You have been prepped by Jacobson, however, to expect the apparition of a little lost girl in the lobby, a vision of a man in a white suit playing the piano on the mezzanine level, and the experience of a cold spot in the Blossom Room ballroom where that first Oscars dinner was held. (“A slightly upset gentleman is the source of that cold spot,” Jacobson says. “Perhaps he was nominated for an Academy Award and was sweating it out.”)
And so you enter the Roosevelt, and so the lights are dim as always, and so the architecture is impressive as always … and so you notice the lobby has been cordoned off.
A private event, a trade show from the looks of it, will keep you out of the lobby, as well as the mezzanine and the Blossom Room.
You may not have experienced a ghosting (and you do hang out for a bit, hoping for something to waft over the partitions), but you do feel cursed.
They’re really here
The thing of it is, you’re not a believer in ghosts. And that can be a problem.
“You do kind of have to be a believer,” Jacobson explains. “If you don’t believe, you’re not giving them [the spirits] any more energy to feed off, so you’re lessening your chances.”
The other thing of it is, however, you don’t necessarily not believe in Hollywood Boulevard ghosts.
Maybe it’s the Walk of Fame stars that line the street like tombstones. Maybe it’s the walk up to the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood and Highland, the current home of the Oscars, that evokes a stairway to heaven. Maybe it’s the faces of the long-dead stars that peer out from everywhere — the security gates, the bookstore windows, the local neighborhood wax museum. Maybe it’s the faces of the long-lost souls that you see everywhere.
If feeling profound history and witnessing profound desperation is a haunting, then Hollywood Boulevard is haunted, all right.
You return to the Lon Chaney corner. It’s your favorite because it’s quieter at this end of the boulevard. You feel like you’re in the right frame of mind for a good ghost encounter. You really want to see Chaney, but instead you see a man along Vine cleaning the sidewalk star of the silent-film actor John Bowers. The man looks homeless — you doubt Walk of Fame maintenance is his job — so you go up to ask him why he’s taken on the task, and why John Bowers. Before you can ask your question, the man puts his spray bottle to his head and shoots the cleaner (or water) into his ear.
As your old friend the tour guide might have asked, is that the ghost of John Bowers, or is it Hollywood?
View Haunted Hollywood in a larger map.
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in October 2013.
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