excerpt copyright (c) 1996-1999 by Angel City Press. All rights reserved.
My first encounter with a ghost was at Hollywood's Chinese Theater on a private tour with four other historians in 1992. I was the only one to walk through the area behind the movie screen, where once up to two hundred people waited to make their entrance for the live prologue before the feature film. Afterward, I climbed down from the stage and joined the others in the auditorium. Inexplicably, we all looked to the edge of the stage where I'd been standing. The velvet curtain hanging to the side was shaking violently. It seemed to be gripped by a pair of unseen hands that were jerking it back and forth. I turned to my companions.
"Do you see that?" I asked. They all did. I felt that someone was telling me I had invaded their territory, that it was meant to frighten me--and it did. I ran out into the lobby. I regret it now. I've been looking for ghosts ever since.
As Hollywood historians, Marc Wanamaker and I have learned a lot more than dates and places. The history of this town and the movie industry includes a fabulous nightlife, sensational scandals, dramatic suicides and gripping murder mysteries. We have collected these stories for years. Some we found to be only lore: Thelma Todd's ghost has never been seen near her cafe or in the garage where she died by anyone we could find. And Houdini most likely never even set foot in the Laurel Canyon mansion he is said to haunt.
Happily, we confirmed the presence of many Hollywood spirits, and discovered some new ones, but not without help. First, we enlisted the aid of Eddie Crispell, who has been psychic all her life. "If there's a ghost," Eddie told us, "I know it."
We also sought out Dr. Barry Taff, a parapsychologist who has examined more than 3,200 reported hauntings in twenty-six years. Many of those occurred between 1968 and 1978, when Taff served as research associate in the parapsychology lab of the University of California at Los Angeles--a division of the neuropsychiatry department which disbanded for lack of funding. Since then, Taff has served as technical advisor on such films as Poltergeist and Altered States, as well as consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Interpol and more. His most famous case was chronicled in the book and 1983 film The Entity.
"The one area of the paranormal that seems to be constant throughout the world is the appearance of ghosts and hauntings," Taff explains. "It's cross-cultural and stems from the very beginnings of civilization."
But what are ghosts? Why are they here? Why do some people see them while others do not? Scientifically, there are no set answers. Taff has witnessed ectoplasmic manifestations, balls of light, apportments--objects disappearing from one place and reappearing in another by their own volition--spontaneous fires, shaking rooms, bouncing furniture, unusual smells. "I know what we tend to call it, how we categorize it," he says, "but I don't know exactly what we're dealing with."
Spiritually, there are answers. Many believe ghosts are earthbound spirits of people who have died. Often, at the sites of great emotion or sudden death, there are reports of ghosts. The reasons spirits stay earthbound are varied. Some people, when living, don't believe there is anything after this life. When they find themselves, as spirits, still aware and able to move, they are confused and don't know where to go. And if one does believe in heaven and hell, it's only logical that a small percentage of spirits might get lost on the way.
Some spirits--like Clifton Webb's--are too attached to a place or loved one to leave. In the case of murder, the victim's spirit may remain seeking retribution, like the ghosts who haunt Bessie Love's home. In the case of a life cut short, like that of Sam Warner, the spirit may linger because of unfinished business.
The 1990 film Ghost comes closest to what many parapsychologists believe is the truth--that some spirits can materialize or move things, while some have not yet learned. Spirits draw on energy from the living to accomplish these feats. People who don't believe in ghosts give them no energy and therefore rarely witness phenomena. But fear is a very powerful energy, so people who are terrified often have more dramatic manifestations.
Eddie Crispell reasons that some people can easily tune into the frequency; others cannot. We don't know why. Many eyewitnesses in the book can describe the spirits they saw in detail: hair, clothes, features. Others saw only shadows. And two saw shimmering, jellyfish-type masses. The headless ghost of Beverly Glen is loving and comforting, while one of the spirits at the Comedy Store seems deeply malevolent. I believe in ghosts, am afraid of them and have been in the presence of some, yet I have never felt anything more than a cold spot.
The only common ground our ghosts share is their Hollywood haunts, but their shapes, sizes and personalities are as diverse as humankind. Now, isn't that a coincidence ...
Laurie Jacobson, Hollywood, July 1994
Table of Contents
More than twenty years ago, co-author Marc Wanamaker interviewed security guards and employees at nearly a dozen studios -- mostly old-timers who had been on their respective lots for decades. Almost all of them are dead now, but their stories -- plus a few of our own -- live on in Hollywood Haunts.
Pioneer filmmaker Thomas Ince's impact on Hollywood history was so enormous that the French called him film's first prophet. He set production ideals to which the industry aspired for years to come. Sadly, though, he is remembered more for his death than for his tremendous contribution to the art and craft of movie-making.
Ince died in November 1924, while celebrating his forty-third birthday aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht. The abruptness of his death and his stature in the industry generated a series of sensational rumors. The most enduring is that Hearst caught his mistress, Marion Davies, kissing Charlie Chaplin and shot at him, accidentally hitting and killing Ince. The small party on board--including Louella Parsons, who later made a deal with Hearst for a syndicated gossip column--was sworn to secrecy.
The visionary producer-director-writer built what is now Culver Studios in 1918. The lot changed hands several times after his death, with each owner bringing a new and distinct era. Cecil B. De Mille, Howard Hughes, David O. Selznick, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball all made significant contributions to film and television history on this lot. Gone With the Wind, King Kong, Citizen Kane, E.T. and television's The Untouchables, Lassie, Hogan's Heroes and Batman are just a few of the classics that were shot here.
Rumors about hauntings have persisted for years. Employees report ghostly security guards patrolling the lot at night. Others recount seeing the ghost of a man climb the stairs in the main administration building to the executive screening room, originally Ince's private projection room, on the second floor. And guards on the third floor have been frightened by the apparition of a woman from time to time. She disappears quickly, leaving a cold spot or chilling wind in her wake.
Remodeling can be extremely irritating or upsetting to a spirit. Just prior to some major reconstruction in 1988, Ince's ghost began to reveal his displeasure. The first to encounter him were two workers who reported seeing a man in an odd, bowler-type hat watching them from the catwalks above Stage 1-2-3. When they spoke to him, he turned and walked through the second-floor wall.
Later that summer, special-effects man Eugene Hilchey was swapping stories with a worker who had seen a man wearing an odd hat, this time on Stage 2-3-4. Hilchey thought the ghost might fit the description of Ince. What the worker said next convinced him that it was indeed him. The spirit had turned to the worker and, in no uncertain terms told him, "I don't like what you're doing to my studio." Then he disappeared through a wall.
Much of Ince's original lot was saved, and the sense of history is very strong. Today, Culver Studios is one of the busiest lots in town. Let's hope the indomitable spirit of Mr. Ince finds some peace in that.
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