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Jack Smith

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be? It depends on what you have to remember

August 08, 1985|JACK SMITH

My notes from the pages of "How to Sin in Hollywood," a guidebook published in 1940, have brought a flood of nostalgia from readers who remember the joys of those fleshpots in the Great Depression.

C. Church More of Vista recalls an experience that almost every young man has had--being caught short when the check comes.

"Earlier in the '30s," he writes, "while still in college, I somehow got a few bucks together, put on my tux, climbed into my Franklin Phaeton, picked up my current object of devotion and went to the Cocoanut Grove. So far so good. . . ."

After an evening of dining and dancing in that expensive nightspot, More called for the check. It amounted to about $7.50, which was about $1 more than he had.

"In tones I was sure could be heard everywhere, the waiter discussed my insufficiency and escorted me to the office, where they took what I had, impounded my watch for security on the balance, and cast me out into the night. There was no happy ending. I bought my watch back the next day. My relationship with the young lady deteriorated. I did not return to the Grove for many years. . . ."

Even though he was caught short that night, More must have been a rich boy. In that era only movie stars drove Franklin Phaetons, wore tuxes and took their inamoratas to the Grove.

Dr. Marvin Leaf of Malibu recalls the fabulous Slapsie Maxie's on Beverly Boulevard just west of La Brea, "featuring a svelte amd youthful Jackie Gleason, where drinks averaged 40 cents and there was never a cover charge."

Of course the main attraction was Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom himself, ex-light heavyweight champion of the world. Slapsie's impersonation of Little Lord Fauntleroy was said to be a riot.

Leaf also remembers the Swanee Inn, on La Brea, where Nat (King) Cole played solo piano, and the Pirate's Den, also on La Brea, where Helen Golden sang "The Sheik of Araby," interjecting a risque "with no pants on" after each line. I remember that version. It was the underground rage of Belmont High School. You could have Helen Golden, the dinner, and dancing to a Dixieland band led by trumpeter Nick Cochrane, all for $1.25.

Bob Guthrie, UCLA '46, was stationed at Metropolitan Airport, Van Nuys, in the early '40s, flying P-38s before going overseas, and he liked to hit such night spots as the Hollywood Swing Club, on the boulevard, and across the street and downstairs The Streets of Paris, with Sid Catlett on drums.

"On Vine Street the Plaza Hotel Bar, and Harriet Duncan's The Hangover, presenting Dixieland jazz with Bill Early or the great Bob Zurke on piano playing 'Little Rock Getaway.' Also Billy Berg's featuring Slim Gaillard with Frankie Laine singing freebies during intermission. . . .

"Hollywood was our Disneyland in those days," Guthrie says, "and we were the children and didn't really know we were playing for keeps."

As for my note that Greta Garbo herself frequented Perino's, going there "to dine in suave seclusion," Lionel C. Meeker of Temecula writes that he doubts if Garbo ever picked up her own tab.

"She was so tight she wore men's jockey shorts because they were cheaper and outlasted women's panties." That is an intimiate footnote on the great Garbo that I had never heard, and I wonder how Meeker found out.

"Too bad your guidebook didn't mention Don the Beachcomber's, the precursor of all Somerset Maugham-type tropical bars."

It did mention Don's, which lasted until very recently on McCadden Place, in Hollywood. Drinks were 35 cents and up, dinner $1.75.

"All other tropical bars are pale imitations of Don's," Meeker insists, "regardless of the rain-on-the-tin-roof."

He alludes to the Seven Seas, which I used to like because of the rain that fell on the tin canopy over the bar every 15 minutes or so.

My friend Sara Boynoff, formerly of the downtown Daily News, discloses that she too used to hang out at the Seven Seas. (I had no idea.)

"I remember it well," she says, meaning the rain. "Also the paintings on velvet by an artist named Edgar William Leeteg, an American who operated in Papeete. He was drunk most of the time. . . ."

I remember those paintings on velvet. If Don the Beachcomber's was a better place to hang out than the Seven Seas, those paintings were the main reason.

Winnie Brock remembers a night at Earl Carroll's (through whose portals passed the most beautiful girls in the world) that turned out something like More's night at the Grove.

She and her boyfriend and three other couples went to Carroll's for dinner the night of their graduation from Garden Grove High School in June, 1944.

They were too young to drink, and they figured the $20 they had among them would cover the bill. They forgot the tip. "There were several men involved. They virtually kept us prisoners for about 20 minutes. I guess they finally decided that it was useless, so they let us go. . . ."

Mary R. McCormick writes that she did see Garbo at Perino's. She and a sorority sister from Kansas were splurging for lunch at that soigne restaurant, and the maitre d' discreetly informed them that Garbo was lunching with a gentleman friend a few tables away.

Observing the great star surreptitiously, the two young women noticed that she tasted every dish on her companion's plates. "She was indeed gorgeous and wore no makeup whatsoever. . . ."

I wonder what she was wearing under her skirt.

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