Alone and neglected, she sits on a busy street halfway to downtown Los Angeles. In her day, she was the queen — the center
of all attention. But that was long ago and today she is a shell of her former self.
"She" is the Ambassador Hotel. I have no idea when or how a building becomes female but everyone uses those pronouns and so will
Her days were in the thirties and forties, when that was "the" place to stay, "the" place to play. Everyone who was starring in
moving pictures — as some still called them — ritually made their way to the nightclub at the Ambassador. It was called the
Cocoanut Grove and, on a good night, Clark Gable was at one table, Jimmy Stewart at another and Howard Hughes was up and jitterbugging in tennis
One time, the press was full of spurious reports that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had ended their partnership. To show all of
Hollywood that they were still buddies, Stan and Ollie got into their tuxedos and strolled, arm-in-arm, into the Cocoanut Grove. That was all
they had to do to put the rumors to rest.
But that was then, this is now: In the years since, builders have erected some wonderful hotels downtown (like the Bonaventure) and
some wonderful hotels out by the airport (like the Marriott). When they did, the rich convention trade fled the mid-Wilshire Ambassador, never
to return. With Hollywood nightlife equally extinct, there was simply no reason for anyone to stay there.
They closed it down a few years ago and since then, there has been a fight over the body: Ted Turner wanted to buy it and build a mall
the size of Paraguay. The Board of Education thought it was a dandy locale for a school. It sits, devoid of guests, staff or future, as
these and other planners duke it out for the right to bring in the wrecking ball. Occasionally, it enjoys a momentary resurgence of life as a
location for movies or TV shows. (I think I recognized it as the hotel where Meryl Streep stays in Albert Brooks' Defending Your
In its last decade or two, it was the cheapest place around to hold a comic book or science-fiction convention so I travelled there a
good many times. Before they raze the place, let's pause and remember...
The first time I set foot in the Ambassador, it was 1961, I was nine and Mr. Disney was about to release a new movie called 101
A friend of our family had won a contest at Bullock's Department Store; the prize was that two parents and two kids would attend a
special movie party/preview at the Ambassador. My mother, a friend from down the street and her mother and I all reported to the hotel and they
herded the kids into one ballroom, parents into another.
In our room, we had cake and ice cream and they ran some Disney cartoons and showed clips of 101 Dalmatians and urged us to drag
our folks to see it. Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck, appeared with his Donald puppet and did an act, followed by a Disney cartoonist
— it may have been Roy Williams from The Mickey Mouse Club — who did charcoal sketches of Mickey and Friends for kids.
Not a bad little show. Across the hall, a ballroom of mothers and a few fathers were served tea and sandwiches, over which they
heard a sales pitch for taking their kids to more Disney movies and buying more Disney products.
We all left with armloads of freebees — toys, favors, discount tickets to Disneyland...and I got a Little Golden Record.
I don't know how many folks reading this remember Little Golden Records but they were a line of small 78 RPM records for kids.
They were made out of some special kind of plastic that had lousy qualities for audio but made the records practically indestructible. A herd
of bison could stampede across a Little Golden Record and it would still play as badly as it ever did.
As phonograph records went, they made excellent frisbees. In fact, I suspect more Little Golden Records were thrown than
I had a nice collection of Little Golden Records when I was a lad. I wish I still had them. I've since purchased a few of
them at comic conventions and antique shops...but I have never seen another copy of the one I got that day at the Ambassador. And, as far as I
can tell, neither has anyone else.
The record contained two songs from 101 Dalmatians. One side was the semi-hit from the film, the lilting "Cruella de
Ville." The other side was a song called "101 Dalmatians."
I loved them both but I loved the latter more; I must have played it three thousand times. I especially loved the end part where
a chorus sang...
Picture one hundred and one mischievous creations
One hundred and one Happy Birthday celebrations
One hundred and one — that's a lot of doggy rations
One hundred and one dalmatians!
Do you remember that song? No? Well, neither does anyone else I've ever met:
Neither did anyone over at the Disney Archives where I once inquired.
Neither did one of the line producers of the movie.
Neither did Leonard Maltin, famed movie authority and author of the soon-to-be-reissued-in-yet-another-updated-edition The Disney
The song is not in the movie and it's not on any 101 Dalmatians record I've ever found since then. The world is so devoid
of any trace of this song that I'd think I made it up —
— but I've been singing that song to myself since I was ten and there's no way I could have made up those lyrics when I was
ten. Even lately, I've written worse.
Why am I telling you this? Because I'm hoping someone who is reading this has a copy...or at least knows where the song is
from. [Note: Shortly after this column was originally published, half a dozen people sent me audio tapes of the record in question...one
of few perks of writing this silly column.]
During the late sixties/early seventies, there were a number of comic book and science-fiction conventions at the Ambassador.
Most of them blur together for me now...
Like, I remember sitting in a ballroom there, watching movies all day until about the third reel of an obscure Frank Sinatra film
called Suddenly. It was made in 1954 and dealt with a plan to murder the President of the United States. I'd heard a couple of
film buff friends say they were eager to see it for, after the assassination of President John Kennedy, the picture was withdrawn from TV
I was sitting there, watching Old Blue-Eyes talk about offing the Prez when a sudden, chilling thought came over me. I got up,
stumbled over some chairs getting out of the ballroom and located a friend who was on the convention planning committee.
"Don't you think it's kind of bad taste," I asked him, "to show that movie in that ballroom?"
As I guess I expected, the guy had no idea what I meant. "What's so special about that ballroom?"
I said, "Unless my history is off, that ballroom is where Robert Kennedy was murdered."
The convention-planner went pale and I accompanied him as he scurried off to find a hotel exec. Five minutes later, one was
showing us the kitchen that adjoined that ballroom...showing us where R.F.K. had finished his victory speech in the primary that evening, exited into
the kitchen and been shot in a pantry-like corridor. It was an altogether chilling moment and I remember thinking, "I'm glad I saw this but I
wish I hadn't seen this."
In the ballroom, we could hear the soundtrack of Suddenly droning on and the convention-staffer made a sudden decision. I
tried to talk him out of it. I thought it would call special attention to a slight bit of unintentional poor taste that only Yours Truly had
noticed. Still, he insisted on interrupting the movie, stopping the projector and wheeling it over to another ballroom. Everyone who was
watching the movie and wanted to see the end had to pick up their chairs — there were none in the other ballroom — and traipse over there
for the conclusion. To this day, some of those people are probably wondering why they couldn't watch the end where they were.
Then there was the convention at the Ambassador that the police "raided." (It might have been the same con where they ran
Suddenly but I don't think it was; like I said, they all blur together.)
In the early-seventies, in the community of Southern California science-fiction conventions, there was a brief fad of women showing up
at the Costume Parade without costumes...in other words, naked. And I don't mean "naked" as in, "scantily or revealingly clad." I mean
"naked" as in, "absolutely no clothing on at all." To be completely accurate, they sometimes were wearing sandals.
One of the ladies who did this a few times was reportedly a professional stripper but most of them were amateurs. (One of those
bits of strange sign terminology that never fails to amuse me is the one outside some strip joints that says, "Amateur Nudes" or "Amateur Nude
Contest Tuesday." What is an "amateur nude?" Is this a woman who can't quite get all her clothes off? Aren't most of us born
As it was explained to me, it all started with a small but loud controversy at some conventions; awards went to a few women who were
scantily-clad, prompting complaints from clothed competitors — particularly those who had slaved for weeks to painstakingly make their
costumes, They said this was unfair competition — which, of course, it was...especially when the judging panel skewed distinctly
male. On the other hand, the crowds would have been irate (and probably smaller) if those conventions had started insisting that women wear
costumes to the costume competition.
So someone on some con committee fabricated a compromise. They added a special category; at the first Westercon I attended, it
was called "Most Naked Lady."
Three women showed up, sans wardrobe. It had apparently not dawned on whoever devised that name that it would encourage some
women to show up totally starkers. Or maybe it had.
Also, of course, if two or more people are completely naked, none of them can — by definition — be more naked than any
other. At that Westercon, it proved necessary to declare a three-way tie in that category and award trophies to all. This also apparently
had not dawned on whoever devised the title. Or maybe it had.
The night of the "raid" at the Ambassador, there was a costume competition in one of the ballrooms (the same one in which I'd seen some
of Suddenly). In the adjoining ballroom — the one where they'd moved the film for its final reels — there was a completely
unrelated formal wedding reception.
I was amused by the two groups intermingling in a small lobby shared by the two ballrooms. For the convention, several folks had
fashioned intricate monster make-up jobs and horror movie garb. I remember one guy who looked like he'd been rejected from a Famous Monsters
of Filmland cover as being too grotesque. Thanks to what must have been several hours of Max Factor application and a gallon or two of
gelatinous stage blood, he looked like a zombie with a stake driven into his heart...and out his back. His eyes were blanked with white contact
lenses, his hair was matted and filled with maggots...and large chunks of "flesh" were peeling loose from his body. This person had voluntarily
made himself look like this.
He staggered in — in character — right alongside the other party's bride, still immaculate in her formal white wedding
gown. The bride got a glimpse of him and dashed madly into the Ladies Room — suddenly nauseated, obviously thinking, "This marriage is
not getting off to a good start."
Neither did her party. The convention had set up a photographers area in the lobby so that folks with cameras could snap pictures
of the Masqueraded as they came off stage. Whatever kind of entertainment they had at the wedding reception, it couldn't match the spectacle in
the lobby: Tuxedo-clad wedding guests were intermingling with the s-f/film fans, craning necks to get a glimpse of this strange ritual...all these
kids in their monster costumes. And we hadn't even seen a nude woman yet. But we would.
There was one wedding party-goer who was more audibly shocked by it all than the others. She was about five-foot-nothing and
chubby, wearing a fur made from an animal of no known species. She had a voice that could have shattered a paper cup and she raised it at every
occasion, mainly at her tux-clad, highly-inebriated hubby who had dragged her out to watch the freak show. "It's disgusting," she kept yelling
as each new costumed creature arrived in the photographers area. "Those kids are sick, dressing up like monsters like that." She kept
trying to tug her husband back into the ballroom and the bar therein, but he was fascinated by what was going on and refused to budge.
Meanwhile, in the other ballroom, a packed house was watching costumed folks file, one at a time, across a makeshift stage. The
emcee was a fine actor named John Considine; he was there promoting a rather awful horror film he'd just completed — Doctor Death, Seeker of
Souls, now remembered only for Moe Howard's final screen appearance.
In attendance — and I think he was one of the judges — was science-fiction author David Gerrold, then known primarily for
authoring the "Trouble With Tribbles" episode of the original Star Trek. About halfway through the proceedings, the master of ceremonies
read a card that introduced a costume entitled, "Special Hanukkah Present for David Gerrold."
Out came a naked woman. Well, actually, she wasn't completely naked...maybe she was one of those "amateurs" you hear about.
She had a gift-wrap bow around her middle, concealing nothing more than her belly button. But for all intents and purposes, she was naked.
There was no "Most Naked Lady" award on this con's roster so they voted her some sort of special, made-up-on-the-spot trophy. I
never heard what it was called; I was out in the photographers area, Nikon in hand, covering the proceedings for a paper called The Monster
Times. This was back in my days of serious investigative journalism.
As each "monster" had reached the area, about a half-dozen flashbulbs and strobes had gone off. Then the naked lady was escorted
into the center and it suddenly looked like a nuclear explosion. Kodak stock went up six points while she was standing there.
The wedding reception emptied faster than a lawyer's convention at the sound of an ambulance. "Hey, there's a naked lady out
there," someone was yelling, over and over...and all these tuxedoed, older men — many of them dragging their wives along, some trying to ditch
them — poured into the lobby and crowded up to the photographers area.
I had enough photos of costumes (and of the naked lady) and, seeing an ugly mob scene massing, I squeezed out of it all and retreated
down the hall to head home. As I did, I passed a phone booth and heard the chubby, fur-clad lady screaming to the police on the phone...
"It's some sort of sick, pagan cult thing," she was yelling. "There are naked women running around and people smeared with blood
and all these sick kids dressed up like dead people!" She urged them to alert the Chief of Police and pull in every officer for fifty miles
around to quell this insurrection of mass perversion.
Well, now I couldn't go home. I had to stick around and see what, if anything, happened.
The ballroom lobby was crammed solid with people and even the bride and groom had come out to join the throng and see the naked
lady. The focus of all attention, apparently enjoying it, she stayed in the photographers area as grown men yelled, "Just one more" for the
eight-thousandth time and used up every bit of film they'd brought. Ten minutes later, when the cops arrived, she was still posing, probably
for unloaded cameras.
Two uniformed officers, looking like they'd just stepped out of an episode of Adam-12, marched in and were met by the woman
who'd phoned in the complaint. She was screaming something about orgies of the dead and the Manson Family and she was obviously upset that only
two policeman had shown when the situation called for the full National Guard plus Jack Webb at the least.
The policemen walked in, looked around at the crowd and said, "Okay, where's this pagan ritual?"
The hysterical woman pointed to the naked lady, barely visible for all the wedding guests massing around her, elbowing aside the actual
con-goers. "There! Over there," she screamed.
The cops moved to get a better look. Then one of them said, "That's not a pagan ritual. That's a naked lady."
(Another bit of brilliant police work from L.A.'s finest...)
"Yes," the woman bellowed. "What do you think of this?"
The two officers studied the situation, conferred briefly and then turned to the woman and one said, "We think she's got a cute rear