Seeing Stars: The Hotels of the Stars..  

9400 Culver Boulevard,
Culver City, CA. / (310) 838-3547

When the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz" was being filmed at M-G-M Studios, one hundred and twenty little people (who played the "Munchkins" in the film) converged on Culver City, and most of them stayed at the old Culver City Hotel, just a few blocks away from the famous studio. At the time, the six-story hotel was the city's only "skyscraper." 

The reputed stories of the Munchkins' supposedly drunken shenanigans are legendary, and helped inspire the 1981 movie comedy "Under the Rainbow" (starring Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher). The producers used the actual hotel as a shooting site for that fictionalized version of the making-of-Oz story.

According to some of the not-so-tall tales, many of the 124 adult little people got drunk, sang choruses of "Ding Dong, The Bitch Is Dead," and almost wrecked the hotel. Despite a promise of high wages once filming of "The Wizard of Oz" was completed, rumors spread that the tiny cast members might not be paid at all.  So, when M-G-M suddenly announced that the Singer Midgets would also play the roles of the Wicked Witch's "flying monkeys," many of the little people concluded that they were being duped, and went on strike against the studio. Among other alleged Munchkin antics in Culver City: a female Munchkin propositioned a stagehand, a male little person bit an M-G-M policeman on the leg, and another one supposedly fell into a toilet at M-G-M and had to be rescued.

But those tales of drunken debauchery (spread in large part by an adult Judy Garland - who had a drinking problem of her own) are strongly refuted by some modern-day "Oz" experts and the surviving Munchkins themselves, who insist that although the little people had a few parties, the stories are greatly exaggerated. They say they worked 14-hour days and had little time for mischief.

(Incidentally, the actor who played the Munchkin leader of the "Lollipop Guild," later appeared as "Buster Brown," for the shoe company of the same name, and as "Little Oscar "- for the hot dog company, Oscar Meyer.)

A tall, oddly-shaped, triangular building, the Culver Hotel sits right in the middle of Culver Boulevard, an old-fashioned brick tower standing alone like some urban island.

Built back in 1924, just nine years after Culver Studios opened, it was a luxury hotel in those days, attracting stars like
Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Buster Keaton and Joan Crawford as part-time residents. At one time, it was even owned by John Wayne for a few years, before the Duke donated the building to the YMCA.

The former MGM Studios
(now Sony Entertainment Studios)

Over the years, the hotel fell into disrepair, and when I first saw it, I honestly thought it was deserted. But this Hollywood story has a happy ending. in 1997, a new owner bought the property and invested in a major renovation of the historic hotel, adding antique furniture to the rooms and a patio restaurant out front. Once again, the Culver Hotel is back in business and ready for its close-up.

Also, in 1997, almost 60 years after the making of "Oz," the Culver Hotel was the scene of a three-day reunion of the 14 surviving "Munchkins." It was a public event (the city issued a proclamation declaring it "Munchkin Week") including autograph signing, costume party, and the sale of memorabilia.

Other movies have been shot at this unusual-looking landmark as well, including several Laurel & Hardy silents, and some of the "Our Gang" comedies. More recently, the hotel was seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "The Last Action Hero" and in the TV series "Party of Five."

And in 2013, they shot a scene from "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." just outside the hotel doors.

Also see: Culver Studios, MGM Studios, Culver City Walk of Fame.

 Getting there: (See directions to M-G-M Studios.) The Culver Hotel is located on an island in the middle of the intersection of Washington and Culver Boulevards (just east of Ince Blvd.). / From M-G-M (Sony) Studios, just drive east two blocks up Washington Boulevard, turn left (northeast) at the stop sign, and the hotel will be on your left side.

[For more information about the Culver Hotel, you can check out their official website at:]

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