clark gable

Letter to the editor, February 1935:

We are two young mothers who feel it our duty to not let the evil influence of our cinema contaminate the innocent young minds of our children. You can imagine our distress when we found out that our little Freddie, aged ten, and Johnnie, aged eleven, had wandered into the neighborhood theater during the showing of “Dancing Lady.”  We feel that such pictures are a menace to civilizaton and that they should be abolished.

Our little ones now prefer to attend an evening show instead of hearing bedtime stories. “Peter Rabbit” and “Bunny Brown” are being sadly neglected these days.

We wonder if such actresses as Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer realize their evil influence upon the youth of America, and such actors as Clark Gable and James Cagney–we shudder at their very names. Let us have more of Janet Gaynor’s pure, wholesome films so that we may take the kiddies to an occaisonal clean show.

The one player who has our vote for the kiddies is that young actor Max Baer, whose ethereal charm makes him the ideal of the mothers of America. Let us have more of Max Baer. We think he’s cute!

–Two Worried Mothers

Beach Haven, New Jersey

_____

Wow, makes you wonder what these two worried mothers would think of what is out in theaters in 2014…

And I’m sure little Freddie and little Johnnie turned out just fine and not forever tainted by the memory of Dancing Lady

 

 

clark gable carole lombard brown derby

This post is Part One of a series of posts I will be doing regarding Clark Gable’s favorite restaurant in Hollywood, The Brown Derby.

The Brown Derby Restaurant was a Hollywood standard. In its heyday, it was as famous and as symbolic of Hollywood as as the Hollywood sign or Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I don’t think I have read a single book on a Hollywood star yet in which the Brown Derby wasn’t mentioned, even in passing. A 1932 article described it as such:

The Brown Derby is more than a Hollywood institution. It is not only a place to meet and talk over contracts and plan divorces and further romance under the bronze derby-hatted lights, it is also a place to eat. It is famous both as the spot where Jim Tully battled Jack Gilbert and the spot where you can get Special Hamburger brought sizzling to the table, in copper frying pans. It is a place where the stars gather at lunch time and after premieres  to be seen–and to relish some caviar.

There were actually four Brown Derby restaurants in Los Angeles–sadly, all are now demolished. The original  was located on Wilshire Boulevard.  Opened in 1926, it was known for its dome shape and for its proximity to the extremely popular Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel. There was also one in Los Feliz and one in Beverly Hills.

Jean Harlow and William Powell at the Brown Derby

Jean Harlow and William Powell at the Brown Derby

The location on Vine Street near Hollywood Boulevard, the second one built, was the one that figured most prominently in the golden age of Hollywood. Opened on Valentine’s Day 1929, it was the place to see and be seen in Hollywood. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant by any stretch, serving basic fare at decent prices. But the stars flocked there in droves. It can be said that the Vine Street Brown Derby was at least partially responsible for making the intersection of Hollywood and Vine the heartbeat of filmdom. Located among radio studios, theaters and just a short drive from studios, it was the prime location for stars to have lunch and a quick meeting.

The Vine Street Brown Derby

The Vine Street Brown Derby

From an article titled “Star Grazing,” June 1939:

Stop by [the Vine Street Brown Derby]  at noon or at dinner time and you’ll see Tyrone Power, for example, eating his favorite boiled brisket of beef with horseradish sauce and a glass of milk. Janet Gaynor will be ordering Turkey Derby, a creamed speciality. You’ll see Eddie Cantor demolishing hamburger steak, dry, no onions, Al Jolson bolting chicken chow mein and American tea, Claudette Colbert going in a big way for chicken hash Somborn. Claudette never has to diet.

Or perhaps you’ll find Jack Benny and Mary Livingston enjoying a snack between radio rehearsals. Both will probably be ordering ham, but his must be Westphalia and hers must be Virginia. Numbered among the Derbys’s best customers, they collect a lot of “gags” around the place. They even write radio scripts there!

It sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Like you would just walk in and see all these beloved classic stars any time of day! The restaurant was certainly more than just a place to eat…it was a place to see and be seen.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at the Brown Derby

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at the Brown Derby

Jon Hall was signed for The Hurricane by Sam Goldwyn right there in a Derby booth. Marie Wilson and George Raft were both discovered there. Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller had a regular Friday night date at the Derby. John Payne wooed Ann Shirley there. A famous episode of I Love Lucy was filmed there, with Lucy stalking William Holden.  And oh yes, Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard in a Derby booth.

Bob Cobb, part owner of the restaurant and husband of actress Gail Patrick (Carole’s sister in My Man Godfrey, among other roles), invented the Cobb Salad at the Brown Derby after hastily throwing leftovers onto a plate late at night in the kitchen. It became a menu staple and now is common everywhere.

Also famous on the menu: their grapefruit cake, pot roast, Spaghetti Derby, chicken a la king, chili, onion soup, paprika chicken, and chiffon cake.  Norma Shearer’s favorite was the lamb chops, George Raft liked steak with lots of ketchup, Bob Montgomery ate his weight in cheesecake, Adolph Menjou favored pate de foie gras, Gloria Swanson munched on creamed chicken hash, arlene Dietrich was partial to the beef stew, Boris Karloff would often order only milk and several pastries, Eleanor Powell loved the Turkey Derby, John Barrymore favored pancakes with sausages, and Charlie Chaplin would usually order a steak but only eat four bites. Steamed clams were immensely popular, counting Wallace Beery, John Boles, Victor McLaglen, Bill Boyd and George Bancroft among the fans.

clark gable

Clark Gable’s caricature

While these stars were chowing down, they had quite the ambiance. The walls of the Brown Derby were famously covered in caricatures of famous people. In 1929, a young man named “Vitch” started sketching whomever walked in the door in exchange for some hot soup and coffee. Soon, he was famous for his work and the walls were covered with every big name in Hollywood. As the years went on, so did the tradition and Vitch had many successors. You weren’t somebody until you were immoritalized on the wall at the Derby!

brownderby9

“Here you see a typical noontime gathering of autograph seekers at the Brown Derby–which gives you an idea of how hard it is for stars to lunch in peace.”

brown derby restaurant

In 1939, Bob Cobb commented,”Clark Gable has to have his coffee just right and Alice Faye’s boiled eggs can’t be left on too long. Gary Cooper’s fried chicken must be dry rather than greasy. And that’s the way they get ’em. They get ’em that way even though we have to tear the kitchen apart.

“Stars are particular about their food because they know what good food is. Stars are used to having things the way they want them and that;s how we plan to have them. But if we didn’t the stars wouldn’t fuss. Most of them are the nicest folks on earth from a restaurant man’s point of view. No, they’d simply leave the food, exit smiling and not come back. Who’d blame them? Not me!”

bob cobb gail patrick marian marsh howard hughes

Bob Cobb, Gail Patrick, Marian Marsh and Howard Hughes at the Brown Derby

For Clark’s fortieth birthday in 1941, Carole threw him a big surprise party at the ranch catered by the Brown Derby and featuring Clark’s favorite items on the menu: corned beef hash, pot roast, baked beans and orange chiffon cake.

Their second anniversary party that year was also catered by the Brown Derby, who delivered the food to the set of They Met in Bombay.

And on January 11, 1942, Carole’s final full day in Los Angeles, she and her mother ate lunch at the Brown Derby while out shopping for their trip.

"What no waitress? No waitress when Clark Gable and the Missus, beautiful Carole Lombard, are at the Brown Derby and practically dying for a rich, thick steak? They say there's a caste system in Hollywood, and the biggest stars get waited on first. But this time the Brown Derby was so crowded, even Clark had to wait for service. He looks puzzled, but Carole was amused."

“What no waitress? No waitress when Clark Gable and the Missus, beautiful Carole Lombard, are at the Brown Derby and practically dying for a rich, thick steak? They say there’s a caste system in Hollywood, and the biggest stars get waited on first. But this time the Brown Derby was so crowded, even Clark had to wait for service. He looks puzzled, but Carole was amused.”

What became of this beloved Vine Street staple? It was destroyed by a fire in 1989 and a W Hotel was built on the spot a few years ago. I took a picture of the location when I was in Hollywood:

w hotel hollywood blvd brown derby

In part two of my Brown Derby restaurant series, I’ll be cooking Clark’s favorites from the menu, thanks to The Brown Derby Cookbook!

See below for more pictures of stars grazing at the Derby:

 

Since there is no real “starting point” so to speak for my trip, and we visited five cemeteries, I figured best to start with one of them….

Hollywood Forever

I like graveyards. My husband says that’s weird. I don’t think it is–and thankfully I brought a friend along to Los Angeles who feels the same way.There is something peaceful about visiting them, something about seeing that even though they are gone, people still have a small space on this planet. And, besides, this is the closest I will ever get to all the classic film stars!

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever, originally titled Hollywood Memorial, was founded in 1899. It is typically the cemetery that people think of when they think of Hollywood cemeteries. Many movies and TV shows have been shot on its grounds, and the cemetery itself shows movies often, and fans bring picnic baskets and sit among the graves.

Hollywood Forever

The cemetery seemed to have two different sides. One side, known as “Section 8” is around a beautiful pond filled with geese and surrounded by palm trees. While beautiful, I can’t say this section was altogether peaceful, as they were building a new mausoleum and the construction noise was loud enough to wake the dead!

Hollywood Forever

There are so many celebrities surrounding the pond that I literally would turn around and find another one…and another one. Unfortuantely, even though I found several celebrities just by happening upon them, there were a few we couldn’t find no matter how many times we circled the pond: Fay Wray, Adolphe Menjou and Nelson Eddy. We tried.  But onto who we could find, including Clark’s friends, co-stars, one of his wives and his father.

Marion Davies, buried in her own private little (locked–yes, we tried) building, under her family name of Douras. Marion, a friend (and maybe at one time fling) of Clark’s, co-starred with him in Polly of the Circus and Cain and Mabel.

Marion and Clark in Polly of the Circus

 

Marion Davies

Of Clark’s five wives, four are buried in Los Angeles. And yes, I visited all four. Here’s his fourth wife, Sylvia Ashley, although she is buried under her fifth husband’s name, Djordjadze:

Sylvia and Clark

Sylvia Ashley

Sylvia’s plot, second from right:

Sylvia Ashley

The impressive memorial for the legendary Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (who was married to Sylvia Ashley before Clark was) and his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (who was married to Joan Crawford while Clark was, ahem, seeing her):

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr.

Harry Cohn, who was the president of Columbia Pictures (as you can see, he is definitely not “resting in peace” at the moment).

Tyrone Power, a friend of Clark’s and a hearthrob in his own right:

Fashion designer Adrian and his actress wife, Janet Gaynor:

Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille:

Cecil B. DeMille

A cenotaph placed near the water for Hattie McDaniel (“Mammy” from Gone with the Wind). Hattie had wanted to be buried at Hollywood Forever but at the time she died it was a “whites only” cemetery so she was interred at Rosedale Cemetery instead. In 1999, her family and the owner of Hollywood Forever righted this wrong by erecting this cenotaph.

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel

After strolling the grounds, we headed to the other side of the cemetery, which seemed more unkempt and cluttered. Into the mausoleum we went, which was both inside and outside, to track some people down. It was quite a challenge but we were eventually successful…

Clark’s very close friend and director of Red Dust, Test Pilot and Gone with the Wind, among other masterpieces, Victor Fleming:

Victor Fleming

Victor’s hallway:

Down some winding hallways that made us glad that at least it wasn’t night…

hallway to the room where William Henry Gable rests

…we found a small room that contained urns in gold cases all around the room. It is there we found William Henry Gable, Clark’s father. I have always thought it was strange that he was buried at Hollywood Forever. By the time he died in 1948, Carole was dead and buried at Forest Lawn Glendale, and Clark had bought the space next to her. So why did he bury his father at Hollywood Forever? But here he is:

Clark and his father

William Henry Gable

William Henry Gable

That was our visit to Hollywood Forever. We remembered it fondly, especially since it was the first–and one of the only–times we saw the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood sign from the grounds of Hollywood Forever