8. The Hotel Has Seen A Century’s Worth of Scandals
A month into the Plaza Hotel’s opening, it saw its first major scandal. Mrs. Patrick Campbell, a British stage actress and personal friend of George Bernard Shaw (who later wrote Pygmalion for her), was staying at the hotel while she performed in a production in Hedda Gabler. On her first night, she went down to the Palm Court for dinner, lit a cigarette, and smoked it. It was an age where such a thing was only ever done by men. The story goes that seconds later, the headwaiter approached her and demanded she put it out, to which she was probably the first person in history to shrug and say “I understand this is a free country. I shall do nothing to change it.” The restaurant set up privacy screens around her as she finished smoking. Her lit cigarette caused a media firestorm that debated the “evils of smoking” and eventually led in part to the banning of smoking on all New York City subway stations.
Some other, less fabulous scandals included a claim from socialite Susan Rosenstiel, the wife of distiller Lewis Rosenstiel, that she had once seen then-director of the Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover attending parties at the hotel in a dress, heels, makeup, and a wig. This was later proved highly unlikely to be true (no surprise there), but was regarded as valid for a while because it was published in a tell-all book about Hoover, “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” published in 1993. In more modern times, the Plaza Hotel was the place of the infamous press conference held by Woody Allen in which he confessed his love for his adopted stepdaughter, Soon Yi Previn, and the scene of actor Charlie Sheen‘s arrest following his public meltdown and firing from the show Two and a Half Men.