Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Confidence Man.

The above title is a phrase given to grifters or 'con' men.  After researching the life of today's spotlighted character, I'm very clear as to why.

Mike Romanoff

The life of Mr. Romanoff has been exhaustively chronicled many times and better than I could ever attempt.  For one of the better sketches, go here.

Here are the broad points:

*Was born Herschel Geguzin in Lithuania.

*Came to the US at age 10.

*Was alternately known as Harry Ferguson and Harry Gerguson.

*Ultimately settled on the name and persona of
Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitri Obolensky Romanoff.

*At one point after a lengthy stay in England, was expelled for "Impersonating   and Marauding"

*Found his place finally in Hollywood where veneer and artifice are understood.

*Proprietor of Romanoffs, the see-and-be-seen eatery of the 40s and 50s.

Now, you've heard of Romanoffs, but did you know (if you spend any time at all looking at photos of Old Hollywood) that you've seen Romanoffs too.  The iconic candid photos below were all taken there:

Everybody, everyday and everynight went there.  And all of Hollywood knew he wasn't really a prince but he was so charming and the act was so good ("I'm tired", he tells a friend, "I've been on my Imperial feet all day") that the A crowd was perfectly happy to go along, and so from a life of conning and grifting he settled into a legitimate business that made him a fortune and a legend.

Of course, to go straight, he had to use a little larceny at the beginning.  David Niven (one of Mike's closest friends) recounts in his autobiography how the restaurant started:

Mike struck gold. He obtained an option on the lease of a defunct restaurant… His friends became stockholders in the shoe-string enterprise and the place reopened in a blaze of black ties, mink, well-known faces and publicity.
The invitation was a classic:–
I am commanded by His Imperial Highness Prince Michael Alexandrovich Dmitry Obolensky Romanoff to request your presence at a soiree he is giving in his own honour.
Couvert fifty dollars
Bring your own wine and kindly fee the waiters.
Harry Gerguson, Comptroller to the Imperial household
Le tout Hollywood turned out in force, and so many people brought wine that few realised the place had no arrangements whatever for cooking. A sparse menu was serviced by a nearby hash joint on a strictly cash basis (the money collected for the first two ‘couverts’ started the ball rolling): a riotous evening was had by all, and enough money was raised to install a kitchen and launch Mike on a fabulously successful career as a restaurateur.
Now that's Confidence, man!


ilduce said...

My new life's goal is to work more "Impersonating and Marauding" into each day.

ilduce said...

and after reading this I certainly wouldn't leave my Oscar in his coat check....

FelixInHollywood said...

Duce- I posted THAT picture here:


ilduce said...

I know, I commented on it there!

normadesmond said...

jesus, didn't sophia have
anything else to look at?

laura linger said...

I've seen recipes here and there for "Strawberries Romanoff," which was some sort of concoction involving fresh strawberries, liqueur, and sugar...and of course one of Marilyn's favorite treats, the tiny cherry tomatoes stuffed with cream cheese and caviar, that she first had at Romanoff's when she was just a starlet. She apparently loved them so much, she learned to make them herself...but Romanoff himself would see to it that trays of these treats would be delivered to her at whenever she was working in Hollywood.