Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday For A Hamburger Today......

Why, you may ask, am I quoting the great J. Wellington Wimpy?  Well kiddies, it's because I'm hear to talk about hamburgers.....sort of.

But first, a confession.  It is possible to live in a land like Hollywood and, even though a fiend for the history of the place, let certain historical landmarks slip through the fingers.  So my confession:  I've never been to the legendary Barney's Beanery.....until yesterday.

Early 70s looking much the same as today.

What a fool I've been and why, oh why, have I waited so long!  Maybe it was a hangover of feelings regarding 'the infamous sign' (though that was taken down before I even moved to town), but I'd like to think I'm not that shallow.

"Barney", 1964.

And besides, the story goes, Barney put up the sign in the late 40s to appease the LA Sheriff's Dept. and the Alcohol Beverage Control Board who where cracking down on certain 'behaviors' that were happening in certain restrooms of certain establishments all around town.  As there was a gay clientele that frequented the place between then and the mid 80s when the sign was removed, it's clear that nobody paid much attention to the thing.

What folks did pay attention to was great comfort food and drinks served up in an atmosphere of democracy that allowed no more special treatment to Lana Turner than was given to a local milk man.  Here (now as then) all customers are customers; and customers are king.

Okay, now that we've gotten the stupid sign thing out of the way, let's get into the wonders of this burger stand/road house/gin joint/billiard parlor/rock and roll paradise.  This calamitous cacophony of color!

Courtesy of Barney's website.

I was invited over by Barney's very own Historian (and part owner), Sheri Hellard.  Sheri and longtime server Dominique Kadison were my guides through this magical history tour.

Dominique and Sheri.

The first thing I was shown was the endless collection of license plates over the bar.

Back when this place opened in 1927, it was on the last leg of Route 66 and folks who were seeking a new and better life in the golden west began to rip the plate off their flivver and give 'em to Barney, symbolically claiming their arrival.  The gesture has continued over the years.

Along about this point of my visit, lunch was ordered.  Here's a little tip:  arrive hungry.  There are over 1000 items on the menu and you anti-gluten and anti-meat types will be just as satisfyingly stuffed as the rest of us.

For me, double cheeseburger with fries and a small side of chili please.

In this world of 're-imagined classics' it's really nice to scarf a plate of chow that tastes the same as it would have when it was made in the 30s!

I'm not going to go into a long accounting of the history of Barney's because I couldn't write anything better than Domenic Priore.  His article is on Barney's own website here, but I will share a couple of my favorite things from the place.  And I will also tell you that I'll be going back because, even though I was there for 90 minutes, I think I saw about 6% of what there is to see.

Favorite thing No. 1:  Morrison Plaque

The 'here sat Morrison' plaque on the bar tells only half of the story.  Jim left more DNA than just sweaty palm prints.  One night, in what I'm sure was performance art, Morrison relieved himself of the last half-dozen drinks on this spot.  Yes, The Lizard King peed on the top of the bar.

Favorite thing No. 2:  The not-quite-all-seeing-eye

Yup, it's an eyeball.  And, yes, it's nailed to the ceiling over one of the pool tables where, as legend has it, it was surrendered to the victor of a pool game when it was discovered that the One-Eyed Jack, didn't have enough jack to payoff the bet he'd just lost.

Favorite thing No. 3:  Table top Goddess

Once again, direct your eyes to the heavens.  Nailed to the ceiling to protect it from any further molestation is a former tabletop where is carved, "Janis Lyn 70"!  Anyone who knows me knows that Joplin has always been my forever number one.  And on the evening of Oct 3rd, 1970, Barney's was her last stop before boarding the train bound to Fabulon at the Landmark Hotel.

One last thing.  All things being in cosmic synchronicity in a place like Hollywood, at the same moment I was snapping the above picture, Janis Lyn Joplin was posthumously receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Barney's rules.....peace out.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

This Fascination For Chronicling Hollywood......

.....started even before I was born!

I have written before about my parents, Phil and Dee.  Well that story took us up to their marriage in 1956. So let's pick things up from there, shall we?

Shortly after their wedding in Columbus OH, the decision was made that my Dad would re-enlist in the Army.  When he received his orders for his first relocation, surprise, surprise, it was Fairbanks Alaska! Now, Alaska wasn't even a state yet but, those crazy pioneering kids traveled north with glee to inhabit the Last Frontier and, once there, settled into base housing.

He was working full time, she was working full time, they had a two year old and if all that wasn't enough, they also formed "The Michael Company" (named after my half brother) which supplied and engraved trophies to the greater Fairbanks area.  A smart move considering there wasn't much to do in Fairbanks in '56 outside of bowling and other sporting contests.  Needless to say, business was brisk.

After about a year, all of this activity just didn't seem like enough so, they got a plot of land and some materials

and with the help of some trusty friends

they built themselves a log cabin!

You'd think that this would be enough to satisfy these busy Alaskan beavers but you'd be wrong.

Scoping the local scene looking for another business opportunity, they saw a need in the market, partnered up with their friend Dalton and started "The Fairbanks TV Guide" and Hollywood came to Fairbanks.

Dalton was the Editor and Publisher, Dee was the Advertising Director, Secretary, Marketing Rep, and all around gofer, and Phil was, well, he was really proud.

In addition to being chocked full of pictures and blurbs teasing the week of programming adhead, it had loads of local advertising.  Fairbanks was a pretty rough and ready town at the time and one of the ads was for the "Top Hat Club, featuring exotic dancing sensation, Renee Starr.  Come as you are - no formality necessary.  Couples are always welcome.  Lovely Hostesses available for you single gentlemen."

But most important of all, it gave complete listings of the two television stations that made up the Fairbanks television market.  Channel 2 carried split ABC/NBC shows and Channel 11 handled CBS.  What's more, they each broadcast for about six hours Every. Single. Evening.

No fools Dalton and Dee, they gave away the first three weeks of copies to get everyone dependent on it and then began charging the princely sum of 15¢ per week, or $3.75 for 6 months, $6.50 for 1 year.

Dee even appeared (doing her best Carol Merrill, before Carol!) in one issue for a television give away:

By far the most popular of all the covers didn't show a Hollywood starlet though:

It celebrated the announcement of statehood for Alaska (though the actual admission didn't occur till Jan 3, 1959).

Later that month another contest was held to rename the Fairbanks TV Guide.  The winning name:

Why change a perfectly good name you ask?  It seems that Dalton and Dee got the sweetest registered letter from "TV Guide Magazine" down in the lower 48.  I believe they call it a 'cease and desist' letter.

By the end of '58 Phil and Dee cashed in their chips on the glamorous world of Television listings.  It seems there was a new star that was going to debut in the Mershon household in about 6 months.....but that's a whole other story........

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Well You Can Imagine My Relief!

About 3 years ago I posted this picture:

And for three long years I've been disturbed.  No, crestfallen is really more the word.  I mean how could Myrna (or, as I prefer to refer to her:  "She who could do no wrong") have made such a millinery mis-step with that head gear!

So, delighted was I when I just saw this:

It was one of those wacky 30s Hollywood costume parties!!!  This one at the home of Basil and Ouida Rathbone.  Pictured above, from said party, is Rathbone, Myrna, Arthur Hornblow and Frederic March.  At last, I can rest.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An 'American' Original.....

A story of American Independents.

Six years ago, during the renovation of the Hollywood Palladium a long buried secret emerged.  Under layers of renovated facade was found:

American Recording opened here in '59 or '60.  It was owned by Richie Podolor (who was also the in-house producer)  and Richie's best friend, Bill Cooper, was the engineer.  The biggest thing to come out of the place was "Alley Oop" on Lute records.  The label said it was by The Hollywood Argyles.  The Hollywood Argyles was really Gary Paxton and Kim Fowley and some $25 a day session players.  The story is that since the studio was on the corner of Sunset and Argyle in Hollywood, bingo, The Hollywood Argyles.

By 1961 Lawrence Welk (now the big cheese in residence playing 'champagne music' to hoards of unhipsters every weekend and taping the occasional segment of his television program out of the Palladium) told them they were too noisy and they had to leave.  So move they did.....to Studio City, in the Valley.

Podolor bought a little old building that had been a small Chinese Restaurant (which, incidentally, had been opened in 1940 by genius cinematographer, James Wong Howe!)  and American Recording Co. was reborn on the south side of Ventura Blvd. at Tujunga.

Before I go any further, American has a website with some amazing photos that they do not wish to be re-used and I intend to honor that, but make sure to visit their site.  I mean, check this out, Richie Podolor was the first one to ever place a mic inside a kick drum!

So, who recorded in that li'l ol' shack between the years of 1961 - 1981?  Well, do the names Donovan, Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, 3 Dog Night, Black Oak Arkansas and Alice Cooper ring a bell?  In fact, a lot of Steppenwolf and damn near all of 3 Dog Night.

So now, why am I doing this post?  Well, one day a few months back, I found myself wandering the location of Ventura and Tujunga, where there now exists.....wait for it......a strip mall, and I found on the sidewalk some love letters in the sand. (that is the closest I'll ever come to referencing Pat Boone, I promise)


The top photo has the hand written signature of Bill Cooper and the drawing of a guitar that was the symbol Podolor used as his signature.

Mike Curb was there in '63 working with Richie and Bill on The Hondells record along with a virtual Who's Who of the Wrecking Crew like:  Leon Russell, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Carol Kaye, Larry Knechtel and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

The irony of Curb's name here is that in the same year, 19 year old Mike Curb started his first company.  It was called Sidewalk Records!

In that same year there was another act working at American.  They too did a little sidewalk scrawin':

It was Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers that inspired 4 Canton, Ohio high school students to form a singing act they called The Triumphs in 1958. In '61, and now called (the less inspired) The Mascots, they recorded for the first time and got some regional radio play.

Things really started to break for them though when they moved to the coast with the new name, The O'Jays.  They were signed to Imperial Records and Producer H.B. Barnum took them into American Recording where "Lonely Drifter" (their first charting single) was immortalized in wax.  While there, their name was immortalized in concrete out front.  This was one of the first times the name The O'Jays was written anywhere and, if you take a walk down Ventura, these 50 years later, it's still there.

All of these names, these legends, in the music industry were once just kids with a dream, a 10 minute break and a block of wet cement.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Are The Stars Out Tonight?

The above is the title to a book that I'm very proud to own about the late, great Ambassador Hotel.

I'm going to keep the text here brief.  Not only because many of us already know much about the Ambassador (and if you don't there are many places to find out) but also because losing this place to the wrecking ball was one of the darkest episodes in the already bleak history of "Developer Madness" that is such a hallmark of Los Angeles. 

So here's what I'm going to do:  I'm gonna show you some mouthwatering pictures of what we lost, and then I'm going to close the post by directing you to a Kickstarter Campaign page that will enable the amazing  Camilo Silva to finish his documentary, "After 68".  Please, if you are able, kick some coin his way.  This is terribly important and may just help a turnaround in the consciousness of this city and others to realize that preservation is ultimately a good business move.

Okay, here's your pics:


Wulitzer Organ Showroom, late 20s

I'm having a French Room put in at my place

The Field And Turf Club, 1930s

Poolside Merry Making

The fabulous Coconut Grove
The KickStarter page.

The After 68 facebook page.

And if you didn't look on the link above, maybe this short teaser will help to
change your mind.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Every Picture Tells A Story.

Pregnant with Desi Jr. and celebrating her 12th wedding anniversary at a restaurant in Palm Springs.....

....Lucy watches Desi watching the waitress.