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Zan Thompson

Laying Claim to a Bit of the Cock 'n Bull

September 13, 1987|ZAN THOMPSON

Glorea's son, 6-foot-5 Rob, carried the bar stool to my car for me. The seat was in good shape, red welted Naugahyde, and the three-inch-deep oak rungs were scuffed and worn at least an inch lower in the middle. The chances that my four-inch heeled, lipstick-red pumps had contributed to the scuffs is a probable 6-to-5.

I bought the bar stool last week at the first night of the invitational sale of everything in the Cock 'n Bull, a shrine to good conversation, generous drinks, rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and the designated meeting place of actors, writers, directors, neighborhood residents and a blessed band of brothers and sisters of bonhomie on the Sunset Strip.

I had my first drink in the Cock 'n Bull. The last one was last Friday evening, the same drink, a Moscow Mule. That's vodka and ginger beer served in a handled, copper mug and it goes down like spring water on an August afternoon.

I was sitting on one of those bar stools on May 7, 1945, when World War II was declared over in a railroad car in Rheims, France. I was in a long-running melodrama called "The Drunkard." I was Mary Middleton, the leading lady, by that time. I was with a drama critic named Owen Callan, who was interviewing me. Wes, the white-haired bartender told us it had just come over the radio that it was V-E Day, the end of the war in Europe.

The city officials had sent out a pronouncement that the serving of all alcoholic beverages would stop on the instant of the announcement of V-E, which stood for Victory Europe.

Wes didn't say anything. He simply made three Moscow Mules and placed them in front of me. On earlier occasions I had been there with my father; with Doug Thompson, a staff sergeant in the 44th Infantry in Germany at that time; with Galt Bell, the producer and director of "The Drunkard" and my boss, and with lots of actors, SC kids and friends.

The reason I'm sure I was wearing my tall-heeled red pumps was because they were the only decent pair of shoes I had all through the war. Pretty shoes were one of those things that went with gasoline, meat, butter, eggs and metal. And I would have worn them for an interview. They were made to swing from a bar stool.

When Wes gave us the news, I knew Doug would be coming home. What would we say to each other after four years? We weren't the same two kids. Doug wasn't the tall, good dancer in the saddle shoes and I wasn't the short Beverly High brat who lived a few blocks from the Cock 'n Bull. I had gone through college and worked in the theater, and Doug had been wounded twice and had two Bronze Stars for gallantry in action. What would I say? Show me your wounds and your medals? I didn't think that would be quite right. I knew dimly that my world was coming back together and that it would be a long, bumpy road.

I was invited to the first evening of the Cock 'n Bull sale because the estate sales specialist who was in charge was my friend Glorea Morgan, no relation to the owners. (Her husband had been Grey Morgan, a Beverly High School boy who used to drive me to school.)

At the sale they were serving Moscow Mules--The Drink With a Velvet Kick, as the sign over the bar read, right next to the print of old London. The first person I saw was John Russell, who played the lead in the "Lawman" television series. I had seen him before, tall and handsome and impressive, when he was the speaker at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the El Toro Marine Air Base. He said, "I always appreciate it when you write about my service, the Marine Corps."

Russell had bought place settings of the Cock 'n Bull china, banded in rich green and centered with a burnt sienna coat of arms.

Bill and Peg Stout were there and bought a massive oak settle, which they promptly sat on. Bill was a regular in the hallowed rooms.

I thought I knew half the crowd. It was like being caught in a deja vu web where all the fellas were boys I had dated or danced with, just grown older. They all looked familiar.

Grey and Glorea had five tall boys and it was one of them who carried my stool to the car. It is impossible that with Doug, actors, airplane pilots, college kids, my father, and Galt Bell taking me there so often I haven't had my Irish fundament perched on that stool I brought home. Doug and Daddy and Grey and Galt are gone, lost and by the wind grieved.

Am I going to have the rungs on the stool refinished? Of course not. But I'm going to get a pair of scarlet, baby-doll-toed, four-inch-heeled slippers and swing my legs from that stool and drink a Moscow Mule to the gentlemen and to the days of wine and roses.

"They are not long, the days of wine and roses. They are not long, the weeping and the laughter," said Ernest Dowson in 1896.

Oh, Ernest, really? Come sit right here beside me and I'll show you my red shoes and tell you a story.

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