Checking out Marilyn Monroe’s last check-in

Posted By on August 18, 2012

Fifty years ago today, a nude, disheveled Marilyn Monroe was discovered in bed at her Los Angeles home, dead at age 36 of an apparent suicide from “acute barbituate poisoning.”

But a few days before, she’d been partying with Frank Sinatra and other celebrity pals at Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva Lodge, a state-straddling casino getaway once owned by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.

And as guide Rozlynn Weig tells her 20-odd charges on a recent “tunnels tour” of the down-on-its-luck resort, “I think there’s more to that weekend than we know.”

A few conspiracy theorists think the troubled actress may actually have died in Cal Neva’s Cabin 3, a modest, one-room structure that rents for as little as $89 a night on weekdays. (Though the star’s original heart-shaped bed is long gone, a door under the closet carpet connects to a closed-off tunnel system that kept celebrities, mobsters and bootleg liquor from prying eyes.)

But it’s certain Monroe was here the last weekend of July, 1962 – when Cal Neva was, in Weig’s words, a ” Disneyland” for Hollywood stars looking for sunshine, brisk mountain air and a temporary respite from the limelight.

Monroe had flown to the resort at Crystal Bay on Tahoe’s north shore in Sinatra’s private plane, and by the night of her arrival “she was in tatters, ready to blow the lid off” her alleged romances with Pres. John Kennedy and his brother Bobby, says Weig.

Monroe flew home early the next day, and was never seen in public again.

Cal Neva opened in 1926, and was rebuilt after a fire in 1937. (Singer Judy Garland was discovered here, at age 13, in 1935.) It was one of the first legal casinos in the United States, served as a popular retreat with couples waiting for a “quickie Nevada divorce,” and was “ring a ding dinging” when Sinatra and his Rat Pack reigned here during the early 1960s.

But in more recent years, Lady Luck has deserted the place.

Gambling returned on a limited basis last year after a shutdown prompted by a sour economy and boom in Indian casinos, but it’s limited to slot machines. A kidney-shaped pool that once let paddlers swim from one state to another is drained and fenced off. The gift shop is shuttered, and recent TripAdvisor reviews have been brutal (“Frank Sinatra would be appalled!”)

Still, a one-hour, $10 tour (2-for-1 drink coupon included) gives an entertaining glimpse of the glory days. Customers can squeeze into some of the dimly lit passageways that once facilitated quick escapes from the feds, and straddle the yellow state line that runs down a fireplace and across the hardwood floor of the former Indian Room. And, in the Celebrity Room, they can canoodle in Sinatra’s old red booth and listen to tales of drunk stars (Dean Martin was once so inebriated he had to be whisked off stage through a hidden trap door). Lining the stage, meanwhile, are period photos and scenes showing what may or may not be ghosts.

“If walls could talk,” says Weig, “these would have a lot to tell us.”


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