Years ago, a young man approached the table occupied by CBS commentator Eric Sevareid in the Cock'n Bull restaurant on the Sunset Strip and asked if Sevareid would help him impress his girlfriend by stopping at the bar on his way out to say hello.
A few minutes later Sevareid graciously complied--and the young man growled: "Bug off, whoever you are! Can't you see we're busy?"
Irreverence was always in great supply at the Cock'n Bull, a mock British tavern favored by notables ranging from author Somerset Maugham and actor Richard Burton (who changed his favorite table each time he changed wives) to rock singer Rod Stewart and his soccer team.
The restaurant spanned succeeding eras of nightclubs, coffee houses, discotheques, topless bars and rock clubs in the neighborhood, but now the Cock'n Bull is shutting down at the age of 50, ancient by Southern California standards.
"We got a wonderful offer that we couldn't refuse," said John Morgan Jr., son of the founder and a co-owner with his sister, Joan Candy. "Our children aren't interested in taking it over and we didn't want to have strangers running it. Plus, the traffic and parking problems around here are just getting worse and worse."
And so falls one of the last survivors on the Strip of the old Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s.
Schwab's, the drugstore famous as the spot where actress Lana Turner wasn't discovered, is now the Junk for Joy clothing shop. The Mocambo and the Trocadero nightclubs have been replaced by parking lots. And another club, Ciro's, where a practical joker dressed like an Arab sheik once created a near riot by dropping a bag of phony diamonds on the floor, is now the Comedy Store.
Ironically, considering its name, the Cock'n Bull will become part of an automobile dealership.
Saturday is the restaurant's last day and some of its former regulars are flying in from as far away as Hawaii and Idaho and New Mexico to mark the occasion.
"It's like a wake," says interior designer Jean Mathison, who recalled that the Cock'n Bull was the first restaurant she heard about upon arriving in Los Angeles in 1946. "You know, Myrna Loy used to bring herbs from her garden to the (restaurant's) kitchen."
John Morgan Jr. said "the place has been jammed all week, everyone swapping memories."
KCBS commentator Bill Stout said: "I have this image of Alan Mowbray, the British actor, striding in before noon, wearing a London bowler. He'd down two martinis, and two of the runniest soft-boiled eggs you've ever seen, and stride out. What a terrible way to start the day!"
Professional ladies who patrolled the Strip called the mostly male habitues of the Cock'n Bull "the waxworks," so interested were they in conversation above all other pastimes.
The joint's parties were memorable too.
"I remember coming in one time and seeing a suit of armor lying in a chair," said producer-director Robert Lehman. "I mentioned to the bartender that it was a funny idea. He said, 'Lift up the visor.' I did and there was someone in there, asleep."
The Cock'n Bull's founder was Jack Morgan, an Anglophile (Anglomaniac, some said), who was generally credited with making vodka a popular drink in America by concocting the Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger beer), which was served in copper mugs.
Morgan, who died in 1974, covered his walls with 19th-Century English newspapers, prints of English scenes and autographs of English royalty such as Queen Victoria--rather than those of Hollywood-type royalty. For a while, a dart board was in operation next to the bar, but after a few customers were wounded the missiles were removed.
"Celebrities liked to come here because we wouldn't allow autograph seekers to bother them at dinner or wait outside the door," his son said.
"I think it was Jimmy Breslin who wrote that any good bar has to have a touch of fascism, of extreme order, partly self-imposed by the customers," Stout said. "Bad behavior was rare. You didn't have to worry about some guy throwing up on your shoe or punching you in the mouth. The place had class."
At 6 p.m. Saturday, longtime patrons of the Cock'n Bull plan to march down to the nearby Scandia restaurant and hand over a plaque containing the names of deceased regulars, such as actor Jack Webb. The plaque is to hang in Scandia's bar.
"When we told John (Morgan Jr.) about the march, he seemed grateful," said Lehman. "Then he asked, 'But you're not going to stay down there the rest of the night are you?' "