A gossipy and rambling history of the legendary hotel, by Morehouse, former cultural critic for The Christian Science Monitor. Home to stars, retired generals, Presidents, and exiled royalty--a fact Morehouse repeats with irritating regularity--the present hotel on Park Avenue is a successor to the one built by William Waldorf Astor on the site of his home on Fifth Avenue. That first Waldorf, opening in 1893, soon became known as the ``mother of hotels''--the place for the rich to stay and New York society to socialize. As the fashionable crowd moved north, so did the hotel, opening in 1931, in the midst of the Depression, on its present site. (The old hotel was torn down and replaced by the Empire State Building.) Morehouse dutifully records all the tons of steel, cubic feet of imported marble, square feet of accommodation space, and costs--in fact, seemingly every bit of information, pertinent or not, that he can find. And in a sequence of confusing chapters, he introduces managers, owners, and employees, as well as gossip about the rich and famous who have stayed in the hotel and its Waldorf Towers suites, which have been home to the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Imelda Marcos, former President Hoover, and Cole Porter. Every illustrious entertainer who used to perform there, like Maurice Chevalier or Jack Benny, is also noted- -often--as are the great banquets and balls, especially the ``April in Paris'' extravaganzas of the 1950's, while no anecdote, however pedestrian, is left unrepeated. Somewhere lost in the muddle is a hotel with a great story still to tell. Less-than-titillating gossip, facts and figures of only passing interest, and a mass of disorganized material make this a book to be mined rather than read.