Revisiting the 1950s while writing my new novel “Last of the Seals” reminds me how much things have changed. I remember the day when hotels and motels used to care who was checking in to their establishments. Hotel and motel proprietors were very concerned because they were “running a respectable” business.
At some of the larger hotels there were even house detectives or “house dicks” who made sure that all of the guests were behaving themselves.
This meant that there was no hanky panky going on such as extramarital affairs or trysts between unmarried people happening under their roof.
It is mind boggling that motels and hotels would try to be the morality police for those checking into their establishments.
A running joke of the era was “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith” checking in was assumed to be someone who was concealing their identity.
I even remember that in the “free love” era of the late Sixties and early Seventies in the Bay Area I got skeptical looks from the check in clerk on my honeymoon. My wife was a very petite woman and even though she was 20 years old on our honeymoon, she probably looked like she was 13 or 14. My father in law suggested that I take a copy of our marriage license on our honeymoon in case there was any question about me checking into a hotel with her.
There are two plots points which revolve around the need to conceal your identity from nosy motel clerks.
Sam and Amelia who are not married, checked into a motel room together in Santa Cruz while hiding out from gangsters. Sam gave a phony name on his check in and paid cash.
Paying cash was another way to stay anonymous in the 1950s and 1960s. Motel or hotel bills were either paid by check or cash since there were no such thing as credit cards. It is amazing to recall that motels and hotels would take a check from a stranger who was traveling through.
Additionally, as part of the story in “Last of the Seals” a couple who is having an affair regularly checks into a motel in Sausalito as “Mr. and Mrs. Ellsworth” even though they are not married. They of course pay cash.
Even as late as the 1960s, desk clerks scrutinized who was checking into their hotel. Watch the great scene from the movie “The Graduate” when Dustin Hoffman is getting a hotel room to begin his affair with Mrs. Robinson.
A nervous Dustin Hoffman is asked the key question–“Are you here for an affair, Sir?”