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James Dean at Chateau Marmont

The cast and crew of “Rebel Without a Cause” in Nicholas Ray’s bungalow. James Dean is hunched in front of the TV; Natalie Wood is center rear; Ray is lighting a cigarette, left.

Among the myriad celebrities who called Chateau Marmont home over the years, the great actor James Dean, born on this day in 1931…wasn’t one of them.

But Dean’s connection to the hotel is deep and important.

One night in 1954, Dean showed up at a bungalow in the back of the hotel where director Nicholas Ray was living. Ray was working on a new movie about the traumas of modern youth that was to be called Rebel Without a Cause. It needed a star. And in Dean, who was just about to debut in East of Eden, Ray thought he found one.

Dean got the part, and he began to visit Chateau Marmont regularly for Ray’s famous Sunday salons, full days of swimming, bongo playing, boozing, chatting, a little sex, a little reefer — whatever the mood suggested.

Other of Ray’s Rebel stars began to frequent the Chateau, most notably Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, both of whom were underage and both of whom were bedded by their director. Less sensationally, Ray often invited the whole cast to his bungalow for read-throughs of the script, one of which is pictured above.

The last time Ray saw Dean was at the Chateau, when Dean came by to borrow a book about how to take care of a cat. (His Giant co-star Elizabeth Taylor had given him a kitten as a gift when that film wrapped.) Ray and Dean were planning to travel to Nicaragua to research a new movie idea. Dean was killed in a car wreck mere weeks later, and the prospective film was forgotten.

But the movie that resulted from their very first encounters at Chateau Marmont, Rebel Without a Cause, remains one of Hollywood’s classic melodramas, and much of the story of its making is indelibly connected to the grand old hotel.

Read the whole story and more in my upcoming The Castle on Sunset:  Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, coming May 7 from Doubleday and Orion.

A tip of the hat from “Vanity Fair”

In this great story about Chateau Marmont at 90, “Vanity Fair”‘s Mark Rozzo calls my upcoming book “fantastically fizzy” and quotes me several times on the hotel’s history and place in Hollywood lore. My book’s due May 7, but this’ll hold you till then.

Happy 90th, Chateau Marmont!

Chateau Marmont, 1930s

On February 2, 1929, Fred Horowitz, a downtown Los Angeles attorney, officially cut the ribbon on a luxury apartment house alongside an unpaved stretch of Sunset Blvd.

Horowitz had the nutty idea that the area, a bridle path lined with onion and poinsettia fields that connected Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, would soon blossom. As he liked to point out, it sat 20 minutes from anywhere you’d want to be, it was convenient to movie studios in Hollywood and Burbank, and it was both governed not by the city but by the county, which meant taxes, licenses and building fees were relatively cheap.

Chateau D’Amboise — Loire Valley, France

The building, which Horowitz modeled on a chateau he’d admired in the Loire Valley of France, was anything but cheap. Horowitz insisted on steel reinforcement to make the building earthquake-resistant, on double-thick walls to keep noise down, and on maximizing the number of penthouses — large apartments with terraces that commanded stunning views from the mountains to the ocean to downtown. As a result, although it may have been situated in the middle of not much, it was durable, it was quiet, and it was, most of all, private.

Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1929

He called the place Chateau Marmont.

And over the next nine decades, everyone would stay there, and everything would happen there.

You can read all about it in my new book The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, coming May 7 from Doubleday and Orion.

Till then, raise a glass to the Grande Dame of the Sunset Strip!

Advance Praise for “The Castle on Sunset”


“Fantastically fizzy”  Vanity Fair

“Fascinating, dishy, and glimmering with insight…a must-read for anyone interested in the rich and racy history of Tinseltown….This is the definitive book about Hollywood’s most storied hotel.”
—Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild

“I felt like I was sneaking around the hallways of the Chateau after midnight and peering through keyholes in history….Lovingly researched and wonderfully dishy.” —Joe Hagan, author of the national bestseller Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

“Levy has managed to make the hotel itself a living, breathing, and wonderfully endearing character. The Castle on Sunset is thoughtfully researched and gorgeously executed.” —Jacob TomskyNew York Times bestselling author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

“As elegant and naughty as the hotel’s guests, The Castle on Sunset tells a secret history of American film, fame, and decadence. It’s a spellbinding read.” —Peter Ames CarlinNew York Times bestselling author of Bruce and Homeward Bound

“An irresistible, deliciously dishy deep-dive…told in prose so witty and alive, you feel you’re sitting at the bar with Dominick Dunne. This is a book worthy of its glamorous, alluring subject.” —Wednesday Martin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Primates of Park Avenue and Untrue

“Filled with show business stories and lore, etched against the backdrop of an ever-changing L.A., The Castle on Sunset gives the Marmont the splendid biography it deserves.”  —Steven GainesNew York Times bestselling author of Philistines at the HedgerowPassion and Property in the Hamptons and The Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan

“For years, Shawn Levy has been shaming the rest of us who write about movies with his contagious high spirits, elegant phrasemaking, Stakhanovite appetite for research, and maddeningly natural reader rapport….Check in, call room service, draw yourself a hot bath and luxuriate!” David Kipen, author of Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters
“[An] engrossing account of the L.A. hotel’s 90-year history of decadence.…This eye-popping and entertainingly lurid tale of Hollywood scandal and intrigue will delight readers.” Publishers Weekly

“Levy delivers all the goods on Hollywood’s iconic, storied, and scandalous hotel.” The Portland Tribune

20 Years En Route

koc-hbPardon the self-promotion, but, really, who else would do it? 😉

Twenty years ago last month I published my first book, “King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis.” It appeared in a single hardback edition and, the following year, a single paperback edition. There were no ebooks at the time (my second book, published in 1998, was the first of my work to be published digitally, and that was after an amendment to the contract). The book has had a pretty good reputation over the years, but it’s been unavailable outside of the resale market for two decades, more or less.

TODAY, for the first time ever, “King of Comedy” will be available as an ebook for your digital reader, tablet, phone, what have you. You can buy it here.

For some reason, I am more than a little tickled by this.

And, again, thanks for your indulgence. This writing thing can get kind of lonely. Grateful to have a place to crow a little and a murder of fellow crows around who won’t…murder me for it.

“De Niro: A Life”: A big pile of reviews, interviews and whatnots

DeNiro Cover

It’s been a remarkably busy few weeks for “De Niro: A Life,” and I’ve been negligent in sharing the results of the activity.  That ends now.


— Lisa Schwarzbaum weighed in for the New York Times Book Review

— Peter Tonguette did the same for the Christian Science Monitor

— In the Washington Post, Sibbie O’Sullivan  had a go

— At Flavorwire, Jason Bailey compared my De Niro book with my chum Glenn Kenny’s

— Maybe your Portuguese trumps mine; if so, check out this nice notice from Cassio Starling Carlos in O Vale

— Finally, Michael Chasin took a turn at 



A few news outlets included the book in their holiday book roundups:

The Austin Chronicle

The Toronto Star

The Vancouver Sun



— I spoke with April Baer on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “State of Wonder”

— And I chatted with Dr. Alvin Jones on his Dr. Alvin radio show and web site.


As before, the book is available in print and/or in digital formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and other purveyors of words-on-paper and/or -screens.


“De Niro: A Life”: the questions and answers keep coming!

DeNiro CoverAnother Q-&-A hit the web this week, this one with the Portland Tribune.

And then there’s this humblingly positive review from Peter Martin at Twitch.

Publishers Weekly chimed in as well, somewhat neutrally.

There was a nice note about this week’s Powell’s event in the Portland Mercury.

I was on the radio in Ireland on the Moncrieff show, which went something like this (starts at the 7:00 mark).

Finally, my visit to KATU-TV’s “AM Northwest” resulted in this segment (Note to self: stripey shirt = not so much):

“De Niro: A Life”: They’ve got the Qs, I’ve got the As

DeNiro CoverIt is, apparently, an era of Q-&-A interviews — which, as a journalist I understand (it’s quicker) but as an author I rather bridle against (it’s more work to write my answers out than simply to say ’em).

Anyhow, “De Niro: A Life” has occasioned two such interviews in recent days:

One from Reuters which has been translated and published (often in print) all around the world.

One with my old friend Byron Beck, who currently writers for GoLocalPDX.

And, what the heck, one non-Q-&-A, a brief but enthusiastic item in Portland Monthly.

And if you’re weary of reading my words in Q-&A format, how about watching it?

Here’s my visit to KGW-TV’s “Live at 7”:



“De Niro: A Life”: New links, chatter, dates

DeNiro CoverWeek two of the release of “De Niro:  A Life,” and I’ve got some nuggets to share.

Firstly:  My appearance on Weds morning (Sydney time; Tuesday afternoon here) on Australia’s “Mornings” talk show.

Then a couple of print Q-and-A interviews:  one in Word and Film, one in Biographile.

There was also a brief chat about the book — and about my pal Glenn Kenny’s “Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor” — on Hollywood Elsewhere (check the comments where Glenn and I muse on the strange coincidence of two De Niro books in one year).


If you’re in the Portland area, I’ve got three personal appearances coming up:

  • On November 11, I’ll be downtown at Powell’s City of Books for a traditional reading-&-signing event.
  •  On November 16, I’ll be at the Northwest Film Center for a screening of “A Bronx Tale,” De Niro’s directorial debut.
  •  On December 8 12, I’ll be at the Hollywood Theatre for a screening of “Bang the Drums Slowly.” (NOTE NEW DATE)

(NOTE:  Both of those film events will have reading-&-signing components.)

Lastly, as before, the book is available in print and/or in digital formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and other purveyors of words-on-paper and/or -screens.



“De Niro: A Life”: Publication Day Hullabaloo

DeNiro CoverThe book hit shelves — brick-and-mortar and digital — yesterday, and it was greeted by a fair bit of noise.

First, a pair of reviews:  one in my hometown paper (and former employer) The Oregonian; one in the film- focused web site FlickSided.

Then there was this:  a round-up of the most personally embarrassing and scandalous material in the book ginned up by the Daily Mail of London.

I have a few thoughts to share on that last one.  Yes, it all really happened and can be verified and was vetted by a lawyer prior to publication.  And yes, I learned about it and wrote it.  But it represents perhaps 1% of my work, as opposed to 100% of the Mail’s.  My 600 pages are  far more concerned, as the reviewers above have noted, with the working life of a great artist than with the private life of a man who was on top of the world through much of the ’70s and ’80s and lived the high life of that era as many others in his milieu did.  These things happened; but they are not the whole man and they are most definitely not the whole story that I have written about the man.

There is no way to write a full biography without addressing the entire life of the subject.  The biographer simply must report what is out there to be found (and, crucially, what can be verified).  But I chose repeatedly in my years of research and writing to emphasize the thing that has made De Niro famous — his astonishing art — rather than the dirt I might have found under his fingernails; and I most assuredly did not follow every whiff of smoke that I cam across with the hope of finding the fire of scandal.  I wrote about an artist, his choices, his technique, and his impact.  Without De Niro’s art, after all, we wouldn’t know of him at all.  And then what would the Mail’s headline be:  “Unknown Man Indulges in Sex and Drugs”?  I think not.

Anyhoo, as before, the book is available in print and/or in digital formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and other purveyors of words-on-paper and/or -screens.

“De Niro: A Life”: News, dates, links

DeNiro CoverToday marks one week exactly until the official publication date of my new book, “De Niro: A Life,” and there’s some stuff to share.


If you’re in the Portland area, I’ve got three personal appearances coming up:

  • On November 11, I’ll be downtown at Powell’s City of Books for a traditional reading-&-signing event.
  •  On November 16, I’ll be at the Northwest Film Center for a screening of “A Bronx Tale,” De Niro’s directorial debut.
  •  On December 8, I’ll be at the Hollywood Theatre for a screening of “Bang the Drums Slowly.”

(NOTE:  Both of those film events will have reading-&-signing components.)


Then I’ve got some links to share:

  • There was a very complimentary write-up on the book in Kirkus Reviews.
  • There was a ludicrous but delicious account of the book in The National Enquirer.
  • There are some very kind reviews of the book on Amazon and GoodReads.
  • Finally, you can read a healthy sample of the book on Scribd.

In the coming days I’ll have some news about national media appearances and print features and reviews.

As before, the book is available in print and/or in digital formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and other purveyors of words-on-paper.

“….neverwas….”: The Lost Beatles ’70s Album

black album


Inspired by a moment of profound genius in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” I recently compiled a playlist of 39 tracks that represents my idea of the album that The Beatles might have made in the ’70s if they had been together. Comprised of solo tracks by each Beatle, it shows how close the four principals were musically, spiritually, and aesthetically, even as events in their lives and the world conspired to keep them apart.  I made it as two CDs for a long car ride, and I’ve entitled it “….neverwas….”


two masonsThe idea for this album, which reintroduces me to songs I’ve known since I was a boy with utterly fresh ears, could have been claimed by anyone in the past four decades and recognized and acclaimed immediately as a masterstroke.  As it turns out, like many things in “Boyhood,” it comes from real life: “The Black List,” as the album is known in the film, was created by actor Ethan Hawke for his own daughter.  In “Boyhood,” Hawke plays Mason Sr., father to the protagonist, Mason Jr., and  the scene in which this remarkable gift is presented is but one of many transcendentally truthful moments Linklater and company have created — not to mention a startling instance of Beatlemania at its most sublime.


Hawke has shared the story of his inspiration for “The Black Album” on Buzzfeed in a post that includes the liner notes he wrote as part of his gift to his daughter and, of course, the complete tracklist.


Here’s my version:


My Sweet Lord (gh)
Oh, Yoko! (jl)
Helen Wheels (pm)
Whatever Gets You Through the Night (jl)
Jet (pm)
What Is Life? (gh)
Junior’s Farm (pm)
You’re Sixteen (rs)
Stand by Me (jl)
Wah-wah (gh)
Snookeroo (rs)
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (pm)
Apple Scruffs (gh)
Watching the Wheels (jl)
Live and Let Die (pm)
Bangla Desh (gh)
Band on the Run (pm)
Crippled Inside (jl)
Isn’t It a Pity? (gh)


Imagine (jl)
Give Me Love (gh)
My Love (pm)
Mother (jl)
Mull of Kintyre (pm)
Hold On (jl)
Back Off Boogaloo (rs)
Let ‘Em In (pm)
(Just Like) Starting Over (jl)
No-No Song (rs)
If Not For You (gh)
Maybe I’m Amazed (pm)
It Don’t Come Easy (rs)
God (jl)
Beware of Darkness (gh)
Give Peace a Chance (jl)
Photograph (rs)
Free as a Bird
Real Love

De Niro: A Life — on sale from October 28

DeNiro Cover

My latest.

Available in print and/or in digital formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and other purveyors of words-on-paper.

Preview: The 37th Portland International Film Festival

Review: “Nebraska”

Review: “12 Years a Slave”

Review: “All Is Lost”

Review: “Escape from Tomorrow”

Review: “Captain Phillips”

Review: “Gravity”

Review: “Rush”

Review: “Salinger”

Review: “The Act of Killing”

Review: “Blue Jasmine”

Review: “Elysium”

Review: “Blackfish”

Review: “Pacific Rim”

Review: “The Lone Ranger”

Review: “Before Midnight”

Review: “Man of Steel”

Review: “Frances Ha”

Review: “The Great Gatsby”

Review: “Iron Man 3”

Review: “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”

Review: “On the Road”

Review: “Trance”

Review: “Room 237”

Review: “Jack the Giant Slayer”

Review: “Alien Boy”

Review: “Django Unchained”

Preview: “Portland International Film Festival”

Review: “Stand Up Guys”

Review: “Amour”

Review: “Zero Dark Thirty”

My 10 Best Films of 2012

Review: “Les Miserables”

Review: “The Hobbit”

Review: “Hitchcock”

Review: “Lincoln”

Review: “Wreck-It Ralph”

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