Sheldon A. McHenry, founder of Hollywood's Tail O' the Cock restaurants, died of pneumonia early Tuesday in his West Los Angeles home, his attorney said. He was 77.
Restaurants had always been McHenry's livelihood until a broken hip and paralyzing stroke in recent years slowed him down.
During their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, McHenry's quiet, upscale eateries were frequently the places where stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan took their lunch breaks while working on movies at nearby studios. In more recent years, the Tail O' the Cock restaurants became popular hangouts for middle-aged diners who sought a reserved atmosphere, a dependable meal and a good piano bar.
The Tail O' the Cock in Studio City closed after 40 years in January to make way for a shopping mall, and its companion English country-style restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard's Restaurant Row closed in February, 1985. McHenry also owned the Bantam Cock on La Cienega and the Colonial House in Oxnard. Those restaurants closed in 1975 and 1986, respectively.
"Sheldon helped turn La Cienega Boulevard into Restaurant Row," said Stan Kyker, executive director of the California Restaurant Assn. "He fashioned an emphasis on hospitality before others--before this was all known as the hospitality business."
McHenry worked as a bank teller, gas station attendant, shipping clerk and assistant manager of the old Somerset House before opening the first Tail O' the Cock in 1939.
In a 1958 interview with The Times, McHenry said he always knew he would end up in the restaurant business. "I guess there's a lot of ham in me or something. Maybe I'm a frustrated actor. Anyway," he said, "I like being with people, meeting them and talking with them. It gives me a lift."
In his free time, McHenry traveled extensively, played golf and cooked, said Jack Lynch, his manager for the last 15 years. The restaurateur also served on the California Restaurant Assn.'s board of directors, Lynch said.
McHenry leaves no survivors. His wife, Bernice, died in 1983. Services are pending, Lynch said.