If you stroll down Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood today, you’ll find bars and restaurants and a comedy store with prosaic names and prosaic food. If you had strolled down it in the 1940′s, you would have found one classy nightclub/restaurant after another. The Players was a one-of-a-kind establishment featuring a full stage that appeared and disappeared at the flick of switch and a bar and restaurant that catered to celebrities. Walk in and find top actors, producers, and directors mingling socially or making deals. I had my first drink there. My parents and I were having dinner with Mark Hellinger( producer of “The Killers”) and his wife, former Ziegfeld showgirl, Gladys Glad. I had known them all of my eighteen years. Mark looked at me. “Have you ever had a cocktail?” he asked. “No.” He laughed. “Well, this is the night.” Calling over a waiter, he ordered drinks for the table, including a pink cocktail called “Angel’s Tit” for me. As I remember, it was sweet and not too potent. It was also at the Players where Thomas Mitchell use to go to drink and charge his tab to my father’s account.
Down the road, there were equally interesting night spots….Trocadero, Mocambo, and Ciro’s. One night my parents and friends were having dinner at Ciro’s. The main table was crowded, so my friends and I (two returned servicemen, and the girlfriend of one of them) had our own table nearby. We were having a great time, laughing and talking, when, suddenly, we were joined by two from the main table….Peter Lawford and Keenan Wynn sat themselves down with us, saying, “You’re having more fun over here. Can we sit with you?”
Nearby, around the Sweetzer Street environs, was Schwab’s Pharmacy, where it was rumored Lana Turner was discovered at the soda fountain. Movie industry people stopped by for newspapers and sodas and gossip. Close to that was The Garden of Allah, a hotel often housing the visiting New York writers and performers. Up the street on Sunset Boulevard, sat the Beverly Hills Hotel and its Sand and Pool Club and tennis courts. When I was 18 and 19, I was a member of that club and often went to swim and bask in the sand all year around. I used to take my girlfriends to spend the day with me. Marge was a nightclub singer. Pat was the daughter of a famous screenwriter. Virginia Weidler was an actress, who had played Katherine Hepburn’s sister in “The Philadelphia Story” and the daughter in “The Women,” when she was younger, and a couple of Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films as a teenager. We had wonderful times. It was there by the pool that I introduced Virginia to her “to be” husband, just returned from the war. A few years later, we would meet and take our babies shopping with us.
Over the hill, in Beverly Hills, there were Romanoff’s, Chasen’s, and The House of Murphy. When I was a very little girl, my father had introduced me to “Prince Mike Romanoff.” I was dazzled by the dapper little man, believing he was a real prince. Of course, he wasn’t, but he was charming and made a huge success of his restaurant. At The House of Murphy one evening, my parents and I were having dinner with Jimmy Durante and his entourage of Eddie Jackson, Jack Roth, etc. There happened to be a piano in the room, and that’s all the invitation Jimmy needed. He was up and over there, pounding on the keys and singing “Inka Dinka Doo.” He paused after that, and from the back of the room strolled Bill Frawley (long before the “I Love Lucy” days) singing “Nothin’ Could Be Finer Than To Be in Carolina in the Morning.” That was all it took. Everyone joined in. Then, Jimmy played “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” while Eddie Jackson sang it and did the cakewalk. The guys were on for the rest of the night.
In Hollywood, there was The Brown Derby,where movie stars had themselves paged so everyone would know they were there. My father had a New York detective friend, Johnny Broderick, one of the toughest on the force. Hauling in gangsters by the score, his reputation preceded him, and some of the guys he was after simply surrendered rather than face Johnny’s less than gentle tactics. When he came to California to visit, we always had dinner at The Brown Derby where we sang until closing time. Johnny loved all the old Irish songs and the ones from his younger days.No one ever objected. Who in his right mind was going to tell Johnny Broderick to shut up?
During World War2, the servicemen all wanted to go to the Paladiuim on Sunset Blvd. where the big bands played…..Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, Harry James, Artie Shaw. All the top bands appeared, and it was there I took my visiting servicemen to dance the night away. At The Hollywood Canteen, where my aunt organized entertainment for servicemen, Betty Grable greeted them and they danced with movie stars who volunteered for the evening. On Sundays,my aunt held open house ( in the house in which I now live) for the boys. Because rationing of butter and sugar was fierce, the servicemen donated stamps for the ingredients, and my aunt baked pies and cakes and cookies for them. She had a baby grand piano in the living room and played while they sang. My uncle, a radio,movie, television actor and comedian, told them stories about show business and generally entertained them. For many, it was a home away from home.
It was a different age and time, the forties, when people were kind, when they were happy to find entertainment with one another, to share the simpler pleasures, and take time to enjoy them.