Top Shelf, Low Brow

I have a lot of pop culture moments that live in the forefront of my brain at all times, ones I see in my mind’s eye every time I try to meditate or get some rest. They’re tentpoles that have informed my life and my tastes, occurrences that I keep coming back to over and over. I can’t stop thinking about them because I simply have so many unanswered questions. One of those indelible moments is the night Lindsay Lohan, Lady Gaga, and Ellen von Unwerth all had a slumber party at the Chateau Marmont.

How it all came to be is a mystery. Details are sparse, and the only accounts of the night’s events are of “eyewitnesses” and the party’s attendees themselves. There’s so much mystery and secrecy surrounding the night that rumors had swirled that Lana Del Rey had been a part of the festivities, but no one could produce concrete proof. The second the women entered the Chateau Marmont, their collective spark lit the air, blurring fact and fiction until they were to part once more. It’s a haze of celebrity gossip, the equivalent of a game of telephone falling apart as each person tries to pass the words to someone else. The public was left to piece together the night’s events, which had a ripple effect on pop culture for years to come. Whatever it was, it was the start of a chaotic, short-lived friendship between the pop star and the former ingenue.

To fill in some of the details before we discuss further, I’ve composed a short speculative piece about how it all went down (for context, in my mind Lindsay talks in the same half-Russian accent/smoker’s voice she’s had since Lohan Beach Club):

It was a hot, fateful night on the tenth day of July 2012. The Santa Ana winds had calmed for a moment, letting the halls of the famed Hollywood hotel settle after the relentless blusters made it seem as if the 83 years of Tinseltown history steeped in its walls could crumble any second. The lobby was quiet. The desk attendant picked up his iPhone 5 and opened Grindr after a meager request to possibly use his device during non-peak hours was waved off with the flick of a wrist by the general manager. “What you do is your business, just don’t let any of the clients see,” she told him. He peered around the lobby, its baroque interiors bare. He could practically hear the bartender polishing a glass from across the lobby.

“Hmm, ‘WannaGetLoaded29.’ You look interesting,” he said to himself. Suddenly, the familiar air of cigarette smoke wafted through his nostrils. “Huh!” A husky voice rang out through the lobby. A single cackle. “How about, fully loaded?” The desk attendant turned around to be greeted by the freckled face that haunted his nightmares. “Ah,” he stammered, “Hello, Ms. Lohan.”

“Didn’t you hear my joke?” She tapped the end of her Marlboro Red, ash falling onto the desk bell. “Oh yes,” he replied. “You’re always quite the wit. Returning home? Shall I send anything up for you?”

“Just a bottle of water, if you know what I mean!” Lindsay let out a laugh and tried to wink, the strain from trying to do both at once causing her laughter to fizzle into a deep cough.

“Certainly, Ms. Lohan,” the attendant replied.

From the corner of her eye, Lindsay spotted a short blonde woman, about 5’2, briskly walking through the lobby and toward the elevator. “HEY! YOU THERE!” Lindsay’s voice crackled throughout the night air. As if on cue, the hotel came alive. Guests began to bustle through the lobby. The noise of pans clattered throughout the restaurant. The pour of a whiskey neat cascading onto the cold glass in the bar was like timpani drums ricocheting off the hotel’s castle windows.

The blonde woman took one look at Lohan and hurried her step. Lohan launched into a sprint, barreling through the hotel’s guests and knocking them over one by one, keeping an eye out for any loose diamonds that may fall into her wreckage. Jumping into the air, Lohan pounced on her prey, pinning her to the floor and removing her Gucci sunglasses, shattering them on a nearby pillar.

“You are Lady Gaga, no?”

“I am,” the blonde replied. “And you’re Lindsay Lohan. Why are you on top of me?”

“Hah!” Lohan’s piercing laugh measured a 7 on the Richter scale. “To ask you if you want to party with me, of course!”

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“Sure, but…what about all of these people you’ve just maimed in this lobby?”

Lindsay looked around at the moaning and groaning bodies of the rich and famous splayed out before her. “Oh,” she sighed. “Wait!” Lohan hoisted herself off the pop icon and stomped over to a bleached blonde woman writhing on the floor, cursing her luck in German.

“What a coincidence! It’s my good friend Ellen von Unwerth. Hello!” Ellen could not respond through the pain of her swollen ankle. “Come with me, I know where you can get some ice for that. We’re going to party like Elizabeth Taylor, one of my many iconic inspirations. You, me, and Gaga — a triple threat, just like my good friend Ann-Margaret!”

And scene. All a work of fiction!

My first question is always the same: how did this group possibly come together? Maneuvering a hangout through their management and reps? Did it go down in the DMs? Or was this just a classic case of Hollywood magic — the right place, right time, and right people? The Chateau Marmont has been an infamous breeding ground for celebrity debauchery practically since it opened its doors. After years of stints at the hotel in the aughts when her career was at its peak, Lohan returned in June of 2012 for an extended stay in one of its suites while filming the Lifetime television movie Liz & Dick, in which Lohan portrayed one of her personal icons, Elizabeth Taylor. After filming on Liz & Dick wrapped on July 3, 2012, Lohan threw herself a party in the hotel’s garden for her 26th birthday, which had been one day before. The night of her party, Lohan and her guests reportedly racked up a tab of nearly $4k in food, drinks, services, amenities, et al. For Lohan, this was no problem. It was alleged that she believed the network would be paying for the length of her stay at the hotel while the film was in production. They were not.

Lohan used to be quite famous for skipping out on tabs, relatively petty theft (if you call accusations that have a floor of $2.5k for a necklace petty), and glomming on to other celebrities one second and turning against them the next. Two years earlier, Lohan got into a screaming match with Avril Lavigne at the Chateau. But a celebrity like Gaga coming through the hotel’s hallowed halls would be another story. Lohan likely wouldn’t dare to engage in a turf war with one of the biggest global megastars. So my theory begins that fate brought the two together, like two magnetic poles so strong that if they collided, the world (or at least Lohan’s hotel bill) would fall into peril.

Gaga, by all guesses, came to the hotel ready to do two things: 1. Relax. 2. Party. She had just returned from Perth, Australia, where she had played the last show of the oceanic leg of her Born This Way Ball tour two nights earlier. Fresh from the other side of the world — where American summer was Australian winter and day was night — Gaga brought with her all the energy of a mega-jetlagged popstar looking to take a load off in the hills of Hollywood, which is to say that she was probably up for anything.

Then comes Ellen von Unwerth, our sort-of-outlier of the group. How did a famed German fashion photographer come to be in the same location as two of her former subjects? Both Gaga and Lohan hold a photographic connection to Ellen von Unwerth — Lohan has been photographed by Unwerth several times throughout different stages of her career, Gaga for an early-period Out magazine cover spread back in the transitional period between The Fame and The Fame Monster and a MAC Viva Glam campaign ad with Cyndi Lauper. Ellen is our wild card. Maybe she’s our instigator? The only thing we can be certain of is that she’s our faithful documentarian.

But more on that in a second.

With a supernova event so strong occurring in one room of a very old building where secrets never stay secret for long, news of the slumber party broke almost immediately. The Chateau, by the very nature of its existence, is filled with gossips. Reports swirled that Gaga and Lohan (and Del Rey) were laughing it up in the garden and the bar, bonding over being, “East coast girls living it up out west.”

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By all accounts, Von Unwerth didn’t come into the picture until the girls made it back upstairs, where they allegedly tried on each other’s clothes and jewelry running around the hotel having a fashion show into the wee hours of the morning, just as details of the night’s events were starting to trickle out to press. And fanning the flames were the participants themselves. Gaga tweeted Lohan the very next day, “@lindsaylohan when you ordered a cucumber and a knife to the bar last night i thought you were gonna perform a vasectomy #justaskinnybitch” She followed it up with a photo of a knife lodged in a cucumber, captioned, “@lindsaylohan how much could one do with this arrangement?”

Lohan, never one to know how to correctly use Twitter, replied to the cucumber photo with hashtag first, “#skinnysnack @ladygaga hahaha.”

Later, presumably when her hangover wore off, Gaga deleted the tweets. This is a critical part of exactly why I love this gathering so much. It’s truly a STARS, They’re Just Like Us moment! Who among us hasn’t had a wild night becoming best friends with a girl they’ve never met before, waking up the next morning to find you’ve followed them on Twitter and Instagram and have a camera roll full of memories that you don’t actually remember? Checking your social media feeds to see all of the embarrassing things you tweeted out the night before, praying it got lost in the fold for no one to see? It’s all a little too relatable, actually.

Luckily, it seemed that the shame didn’t linger for long. After the press caught wind of the situation and extremely dependable sources with rigid standards of journalistic integrity like Us Magazine and X17 published stories about the party, with “eyewitnesses” saying that Lana Del Rey had been in attendance, Gaga took to her now-defunct personal fansite littlemonsters dot com to clear a few things up, courtesy of Von Unwerth’s skillful hand.

Now, maybe Lana Del Rey was there. Maybe she wasn’t! We literally have no way of being certain, which is another thing that makes this story so fascinating to this day. It is, however, my personal belief that Gaga released the photos with Lohan and Von Unwerth’s permission to prove that Del Rey hadn’t been at the party. After all, Gaga and Lana were not the biggest fans of one another at the time. Sometime around when Del Rey signed to Interscope records in 2011, she wrote the diss track “So Legit” about Gaga, which included lyrics like, “Stefani you suck, I know you’re sellin’ 20 million/Wish they could’ve seen you when we booed you off in Williamsburg.” Happily, the two have since buried the hatchet, and Del Rey was invited to Gaga’s 30th birthday party — another fascinating Hollywood event we know absolutely nothing about, with a long guest list of Hollywood and music heavyweights and zero leaked photos — but that’s another story for another day.

The sleepover party would be one of Lohan’s last great nights at the Chateau Marmont. By the end of July, Lohan was asked by letter and 12-page itemized bill to leave the Chateau Marmont after racking up an unpaid tab with a total of $46,350.04 for the entirety of her stay. A month later, in August 2012, the notice was leaked to TMZ and word swirled that Lohan had been permanently banned from the hotel’s facilities.

The day the bill was published, an unbothered Lindsay Lohan tweeted out a photo of jewelry on a platter. “Cleaning MY jewels,” she said, “I love feeling like Elizabeth.” Gaga responded to her tweet, “@lindsaylohan ummmm are those my earrings??? this is awkward…:) kiss kiss chateau bunny.”

Another indecipherable layer. Did Lohan really swipe Gaga’s earrings? Or was it just an innocent joke between the two chateau bunnies, Gaga prodding at Lohan’s various past accusations of theft? I assume it was the latter, but again, we can’t really ever know. We can’t ever really know anything that went down that night.

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Like any relationship between two girls who partied together one night and later realized they’re better as passing acquaintances, Gaga and Lohan’s relationship quickly fizzled. But you can’t say they didn’t try! Gaga invited Lohan to the launch party for her FAME perfume (“Gaga. Lady Gaga. Fame.”) in New York that September, just two east coast girls back home. It’s unclear if the two ever got to meet up that night, what with Gaga spending most of the evening sleeping inside a giant vessel designed in the shape of the perfume bottle, but I like to think that they made time for a catchup and a few laughs about that prolific night at the Chateau. Or perhaps Gaga avoided Lindsay as long as possible so she wouldn’t have to answer a truly bonkers question Lohan had tweeted at her just days earlier.

In the years since, I’ve come back to these photos over and over. Through my wild first few years living in New York, I often found myself emulating them with my own chateau bunnies, the random friends I had just met at bars or parties or events, taking pictures and laughing together. Always instant besties, only to roll off the couch the next morning and not remember the name of the blurry girl with the bleached blonde eyebrows wearing creepers whose pictures are filling up your camera roll. Though my life is much different and far more together now, I still return to speculation about what happened that night at the Chateau Marmont. To me, it’s one of the most fascinating Hollywood stories of all time, and I’ve practically been dreaming about it over the last year. In a time when living in New York didn’t really feel at all like living in New York, I’ve grown nostalgic for those kinds of wild days of post-aughts. I’ve so staunchly followed all the recommended guidelines to the letter — no parties, no travel, no hanging out with friends. And while I’m happy to do anything I can to keep myself and others as safe as possible, I still long for the times when I could jump in a photo of someone I had just met and have them become my friend for the night.

Now that I’m halfway to becoming fully vaccinated and 26 years old myself, just like Gaga and Linds were at the time, I can feel my inner Chateau Bunny starting to creep out. I’m ready to see my friends again and play dress-up for nights where no one even goes out and we all take pictures that never get posted. I think that’s part of why I’ve always been so enamored with this story: it’s three girls in a room together, having fun, being young, and maybe even being a little dumb. But no one’s getting hurt! Just making memories to look back on in ten years to reminisce on. Maybe next year, on the 10-year anniversary of July 10, 2010, I’ll hold a Gaga, Lindsay, & Ellen von Unwerth party where my friends and I all get together to have our own indulgent night of mysterious debauchery. I may not be able to order Chateau Marmont-level room service to soak it all up the next day, but a $4 bodega bagel sandwich will do just fine.

[Top Shelf, Low Brow is a newsletter dedicated to dissecting the whole spectrum of pop culture, from Arthouse to Housewives. If you enjoyed this article, the best way to support my work is by sharing it. New editions of Top Shelf, Low Brow arrive every Monday and Friday. You can subscribe for free to receive it directly to your inbox.]

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