Historic Tales from The Plaza Hotel
With its grand French Renaissance architecture, stunning Beaux-Arts decor, and prime perch on Fifth Avenue across the street from Central Park, The Plaza Hotel has been the setting for dozens of blockbuster movies and hit TV shows over the years.
These range from such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Funny Girl, Midnight Cowboy and Annie to Home Alone 2, Sleepless in Seattle, Sex and the City, Ugly Betty, and Angels in America. The Plaza has also been the setting for epic novels, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the movie of the same name.
Fascinating real-life stories have also played out at The Plaza since it first opened its doors more than a century ago. And the stars of these true tales range from big cats to bigwigs.
All That Jazz
On May 26, 1958, jazz great Miles Davis and his sextet held a recording session during a live performance in The Plaza’s Persian Room. That session produced 1958 Miles, widely regarded as one of Davis’ best albums.
In 1964, the Beatles stayed at The Plaza for six days after other New York City hotels refused to accommodate them. They even used their real names to check in, unaware of the pandemonium awaiting them. Thousands of fans thronged behind the barricades placed outside of the hotel to get a glimpse of the band.
It was during this stay two devoted female fans hid in a large gift box, which they had delivered to the Fab Four’s floor in an imaginative bid to meet the lads. Three more young women were discovered hiding in the band’s bathtub, and others scrambled up the hotel’s fire escape to try to meet them.
Forty years after their stay at The Plaza, the Beatles returned the hangers they had taken home back to the hotel’s doorman, Ed Trinka.
When it comes to four-legged guests, The Plaza has been light years ahead of its time. The Plaza has been pet-friendly since November 15, 1907, when the English actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell brought her dog, a Brussels griffon named Pinkie Panky Poo, along with her during her stay at the hotel.
Not to be outdone, in 1908, Princess Lwoff-Parlaghy of Hungary checked into The Plaza with her considerable menagerie, which included her pet lion cub Goldfleck. Goldfleck had his own room in the hotel, and Lwoff-Parlaghy even took him for walks on a leash in Central Park. Once, when Goldfleck somehow liberated himself from his room, he was enticed back with a hunk of raw meat.
The Sounds of Silence
One night in 1907, Italian opera star Enrico Caruso demolished the electric alarm clock in his room at The Plaza because the sound it made disturbed him. Unfortunately for the other guests, because all of the clocks in the hotel were wired together at the time, Caruso’s actions knocked them all out of service. Eager to calm Caruso, hotel management sent an apology letter and champagne to the testy tenor.
Some of the world’s best-known movie stars have spent time at The Plaza over the years. In 1948, actress Marlene Dietrich lived in The Plaza’s Lady Mendl suite for just over a year because she needed a break from her film career. Because she needed a new passport photo, Swedish star Greta Garbo spent time visiting her friend photographer Cecil Beaton at The Plaza, where he snapped some of the most iconic photos taken of her.
Top architects and designers have also called The Plaza home. In 1949, fashion designer Christian Dior moved into the hotel after French and American interior designers whipped up a suite for him. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright lived in The Plaza’s Suite 223-225 for six years in the 1950s.
Eloise at The Plaza
Kay Thompson, who was also Liza Minnelli’s godmother, wrote the famous Eloise at the Plaza series of children’s books in the 1950s, about a fictitious, rambunctious six-year-old girl named Eloise, who, along with her pet dog and turtle, lived on the top floor of The Plaza. In 1956, taking its cues from Eloise, The Plaza opened a tricycle garage where guests could rent trikes and bikes for free.
A portrait of Eloise has been on display in The Palm Court at The Plaza since 1957. But in the 1960s, following a dance held in the ballroom, the original portrait painted by Hilary Knight mysteriously disappeared, forcing the hotel to install another version of it. Legend has it the thieves were naughty debutantes or frat boys. In 1962, the original portrait was discovered in a dumpster without its frame and returned to Knight, who kept it at home for 50 years. After restoring the painting, Knight sold it at auction for $100,000 in 2018.
Eva Leonard is a New York City-based journalist and editor who writes about travel, architecture and design for digital and print media.