With three original Brown Derbys closed (done in by diminishing leases, profits and eras) and Schwab's waiting to be born again (but as a vintage clothing store) and the Cocoanut Grove in declension ( declasse even as a hotel banquet hall), we must rethink the best places for star gawking.
Forget the Polo Lounge. The only people you'll see there are other people wondering who they'll see there.
Ignore the Music Center. It's only good once a year during the Academy Awards if you are willing to settle for glimpses quicker than flashcards.
The new, improved Brown Derby of Pasadena, just reopened and poised for its first weekend of business on Colorado Boulevard, might sound promising. But owner Walter Scharfe says he's not expecting much repeat business from his old movie customers. "They're all dead."
But do consider Pioneer Chicken on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.
Or Alcala's Body & Paint shop in Van Nuys.
Or Steven's Nursery on Riverside Avenue in North Hollywood.
That's because the vast majority of stars are ordinary folk who go out for pizza and who need to change light bulbs and get their Volkswagens (the car Mayor Clint drives around Carmel) repaired just like us.
So until Thrifty decides to deliver, you will find celebrities wherever we are. Even out shopping for doorbells.
I was among the do-it-ourselves wandering Builder's Emporium in Van Nuys some time ago. I wanted door chimes. So did the gentleman smoking a cigarillo.
We faced the wall of sample chimes. I donged. He dinged. I found one with a separate tone for the back door. He found a carillon. I hit something that clanged like one half of a very sick Westminster. He found a music box that played the opening bars of Dixie.
The other half of these dueling door chimes was Jack Lemmon.
At the same store a weekend or three later stood William Devane in T-shirt and shorts. Here's the neat part. The checkout clerk asked him for two pieces of ID.
Garden shops. They seem to cultivate celebrities by the crop. Maybe it's the Miracle-Gro. I've found Roddy McDowall and Richard Crenna at Stevens Nursery.
McDowall had nice things to say about Simon, my awkward German shepherd. I'll keep that in mind if McDowall--known for his work with apes and Lassie--signs for a remake of Rin Tin Tin.
Crenna was completely out of his Rambo's keeper character. He was picking through flats of pansies.
The classic, buttercup yellow Corvette under restoration at Alcala's Body & Paint belongs to former Dead End Kid Gabe Dell. Rory Calhoun is a Pioneer Chicken regular and his favored spot for machaca is El Torrito in Toluca Lake. Where Betty White eats. Nick Nolte prefers Lucy's El Adobe.
Loni Anderson, with daughter Deidra, and Marlon Brando, with an entourage of what looked like wife, children and a couple of nannies, shop Bullock's at Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks. . . .
The only problem with star spotting is trying to appear native and indifferent to it all. I can't. I'm addicted to peripheral gawking. My teen-aged son, on the other hand, remains impervious.
Ne'er a sideways glance had he for Dick Clark at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport. Not a twitch of interest for Ted Shackelford in the lobby of the LA Stage Company.
But he did ignite when I told him that Barbara Eden was sitting across the room at a party we were attending.
"Jeannie?" he hissed.
"Hair is definitely the wrong color for Larry Hagman," I said.
With perfect paternalism, I eased his nerves and beat down several reasons why he couldn't--until he was ready to ask for an autograph.
It turned out to be a terrible embarrassment for him.
It was equally humiliating to the blond real estate lady who, even up close, really did look a lot like Barbara Eden.