By Terry Trucco
The ratings may be tanking, but someone on the production end of Smash, NBC’s Broadway soap, has a wicked sense of humor.
To boil things down if you don’t follow the show, in Episode 12, Bombshell, a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, opens at last to thunderous applause and, alas, mixed reviews.
But the evening’s real action unfolds at the cast party, a star-drenched affair set in a palace of a room that looks like a set from The Great Gatsby. Guests with mega-voices (and mega-looks) step through a pair of glass doors labeled C Hotel in swirly letters and find themselves in a forest of soaring balconies, glittering chandeliers, white tablecloths and gilded everything.
But no, it’s the Hotel Carter, the Times Square flophouse, er, budget property ranked near the top of TripAdvisor’s Dirtiest Hotels in America list for years. “I had no idea the interior of that rape villa was so gorgeous,” writes blogger Annoying Actor Friend. Me, neither.
We know the party is at the Carter because a pivotal scene is shot under the hotel’s big neon
marquee, its orange and blue lights glowing with a perfection I’ve never seen. Following an argument between two pivotal characters, one saunters down West 43rd Street. The other returns to the festivities behind the big glass doors.
On the off-chance I was missing something I stopped by the Carter. The marquee was unchanged since the last time I’d seen it, ie big fields of lights were still burned out. (Smash photoshops.)
And inside? No soaring balconies and definitely, no gilt. The lobby looks cluttered, tired and badly lighted, with an acoustic tile ceiling and Soviet-style marble wall tiles. A man in a white shirt at a podium asks to see room keys before admitting you, but I slipped in behind a pair of Romanian backpackers and found a spot on an inky green, faux utra-suede sofa that was missing a back cushion.
On an identical sofa to my right a barefoot woman in a lavender bomber jacket snored softly. A couple in T-shirts and jeans indulged in public shows of affection on the sofa opposite mine, not far from a large garbage can. Looking up I caught our reflection in one of the ceiling mirrors framed in colorful Christmas lights. They’ve been there for years.
But big improvements could be seen in the entry. The blood-red carpeting is gone, exposing
a clean metal staircase, visible behind Katherine McPhee and Jeremy Jordan in their scene outside the hotel. Better still, the ceiling’s acoustic tiles are history, replaced by a plaster ceiling with a thick moldings and a roundel.
The Carter won’t appear in House Beautiful any time soon. But it wasn’t as overtly dirty and scary as I’ve seen it on previous visits. It’s been six years, after all, since a cleaning lady found the body of a young woman, strangled, under a bed.
The Carter was never plush, like the Waldorf, which also opened in 1930. Originally called the Hotel Dixie, the hotel housed a bus depot in its basement. Rooms cost $2.50 a night.
Rooms today go for around $90 a night, some $300 less than at the Westin down the block. The location is as good as it gets if you want Times Square.
That’s good enough for some. “Superb value and location,” writes a visitor from Birmingham, England who awarded the place four stars on TripAdvisor. (Not everyone agrees. “Grossest hotel I’ve ever stayed at,” counters a visitor from Las Vegas, who grudgingly gave the place one star. “Ya get what ya pay for,” chimes in another English visitor.)
So what were Smash’s production scouts thinking? Maybe they wanted location cred. But maybe they were just after a rib-poke to knowledgeable viewers.
Still, if anyone out there books a room at the Carter based on what they saw on Smash, they’re in for a shock.