|By Laith Agha, The Monterey County
Herald, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 3, 2008 - Before Hollywood stars could jump on private jets to go to Aspen for a weekend of skiing or bask in the sun on a private Caribbean island, their playgrounds were closer to home.
Places such as Fred Stanley's playground -- and home -- the Hotel Del Monte.
Stanley, the son of the hotel's longtime manager, Carl Stanley, grew up on the hotel's grounds, where he frequently rubbed shoulders with Del Monte's celebrity guests.
Stanley, 83, shared some of his fondest childhood memories of the hotel at a Monterey History and Art Association luncheon this week at the historic Casa Serrano.
"We had our own post office, we had our own own store ... we had our own library. We were self-contained," Stanley said of the Del Monte grounds, which is now home to the Naval Postgraduate School. "It was a wonderful place to grow up. ... I have very, very fond memories of the old Del Monte days."
Among the fondest, belied by his grin as he told the story, was meeting actress Jean Harlow when he was about 9 years old. As he walked down a hotel staircase, there she was, standing in front of a fireplace, wearing a white dress and looking the part of America's original blond bombshell.
Stanley, who lives in Carmel Highlands, said he was so awestruck he doesn't remember what he said. But he has an autographed picture of Harlow, which she personalized, "To Frederick Stanley, with my heartbeat ..."
When asked about a rumor that Harlow had skinny-dipped in the hotel
pool, he said: "I was not there. Damn it."
"Fred Stanley has lived one of the most remarkable lives of anyone in this community," said John Sanders, special collections manager for the Naval Postgraduate School. "He's one of the few around with this great wealth of experience from the hotel."
The luncheon was an opportunity to recognize Stanley's donation to the association: an 1870s square baby grand piano from the Del Monte. With the piano set up in the same room as the luncheon, association members Nick Fettis and Mary Margaret Grayhound demonstrated the antique's musical tones. Fettis played and Grayhound sang the Neapolitan folk song "Sorrento" in honor of Stanley's late wife, Pauline.
Stanley's gave not so much a presentation as a question-and-answer session, as association members quizzed him about his Del Monte days.
His answers revealed that he got into plenty of mischief and had a ball hanging around the hotel's famous guests.
When asked who taught him to dance, he said famed dance instructor Arthur Murray, then he corrected himself by saying he learned from Murray's daughters.
Stanley, who served in the Marines during World War II -- he turned 20 the day after the landing at Iwo Jima -- spoke about the darker times as well. He recalled the "absolute paranoia" on the Peninsula after Pearl Harbor. Machine guns were mounted on the hotel's towers, he said.
The hotel staff, which he called his "25 or 30 auxiliary parents," served as watchful eyes when he roamed the Del Monte. Still he managed to stir up his share of trouble, such as the time he discovered some then-illegal substances.
Sanders passed around a cork from a whiskey barrel, which he said could be evidence supporting a myth that hotel owner Samuel Morse and Stanley's father stashed a bunch of whiskey on the Del Monte grounds during Prohibition.
Whether the cork, which was discovered on the grounds about three years ago, was from an illegal barrel, Stanley confirmed that booze was hidden on the premises. While snooping around the cottage where he lived -- now known as the Stanley House -- he discovered a secret door in the back of a closet.
"The average person never would have seen it," he said of the hiding spot's entrance, built into the tongue-and-groove wall. "I just happened to pull that damn hook and the doors opened."
And there was the secret stash -- an assortment of alcoholic beverages that his parents did not intend for him to see.
"Boy, did I get hell for that," he said.
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Copyright (c) 2008, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.
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