Do Real Haunted Mansions Hold Sway in Hollywood?

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
December 4, 2003

Whether they're floating through dark castles or hiding under kids' beds, ghosts have haunted Hollywood movies for decades, including the latest ghoul flick, The Haunted Mansion, based on the popular Disney theme park ride.

But are ghosts merely the creation of fantasy filmmakers?

Not if you believe Laurie Jacobson, a Hollywood historian and author of Hollywood Haunted. She says Tinseltown itself is filled with celebrity ghost stories and hauntings.

At Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel, some people claim to have glimpsed a reflection of a blonde woman in a full-length mirror by the hotel elevators. The mirror once hung in Suite 1200, where Marilyn Monroe used to stay.

"Much of Hollywood's social history has to do with mysteries, tragedies and people dying before their time," said Jacobson. "Many of these restless spirits still linger today."

Unfinished Business

Ghosts, believers contend, are the spirits of the dead who are unable or unwilling to find their way to the next plane of existence. Some spirits may not want to leave family members, others may have unfinished business.

"In Hollywood, there are a lot of unsolved murders," said Jacobson. "That's a perfect reason for people to stick around. They want justice, they want revenge."

Take, for example, Thomas Ince. The founder of Culver Studios, Ince is believed by some to have died in 1924 while celebrating his birthday on board a yacht owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

According to this legendary account, Hearst mistakenly shot Ince dead with a bullet meant for Charlie Chaplin, who Hearst suspected of having an affair with Marion Davies, an actress who was romantically involved with Hearst.

But, say some people, Ince's spirit may have remained. In 1988, while remodeling the studio, workmen said a man in a bowler hat confronted them and snarled, "I don't like what you're doing to my studio," before vanishing into a wall. The workmen later identified Ince from a photo in the studio lobby as the man in the bowler hat.

Then there's Ozzie Nelson. The star of the TV sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, he was a workaholic who lived a clean life before he was suddenly diagnosed with liver cancer and died. His gloomy ghost is said to haunt both his family residence and the studio where he used to film the show.

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