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For Hollywood's Elite, a Spot That's Still Tops

June 11, 1989|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

"See you Monday night at Morton's."

It's as much a part of the Hollywood vernacular as "Let's do lunch," "My people will call your people" and "I'll get back to you on that tomorrow."

The reason is sheer longevity: in a landscape littered with restaurants that come and go as fast as B-rated movies, Morton's is marking its 10th anniversary next month as the preferred West Coast watering hole for the heavy hitters of the entertainment industry.

Some people can't even remember when it wasn't there. "I've been going to Morton's most of my adult natural life," allows Barry Diller, the chairman of Twentieth Century Fox.

"At any given point in time, there's always one restaurant which is the high-priced commissary," says producer Steve Tisch ("Big Business," "Soul Man"). "In the past, it was the Brown Derby, Chasen's and Scandia. And for my generation, it clearly is Morton's."

And, on this particular Monday night at Morton's, everyone's where they should be.

Near the window, producer Mark Johnson ("Rainman," "Good Morning, Vietnam") is talking animatedly with comedian Robin Williams and his bride, Marsha. Up front at separate tables, super-agents Ed Limato (ICM) and John Burnham (William Morris) are doing deals with darting eyes. Off to one side, manager Molly Madden is taking a meeting with actress/model Julianne Phillips, the Boss' ex.

Making an Entrance

On their car phones, MCA chairman Lew Wasserman and Disney chairman Michael Eisner are announcing their imminent arrivals. And waiting to be seated are music producer John Kalodner, TV actress Judith Light, movie muscleman Dolph Lundgren and singer Pia Zadora, who waves to a friend already holding court across the waiter-filled aisles.

Most restaurateurs would be in heaven to see these folks packed in potted palm to potted palm. But as the man behind Morton's looks around the pink-lit power palace he has erected at the corner of Melrose and Robertson in West Hollywood, he can't help but stifle a yawn.

Because the secret's out. Frankly, my dah -ling, Peter Morton doesn't give a damn.

"What drives me nuts is just the total preoccupation in this town with the entertainment business--where you go to dinner parties and which movies are going to make money and who's going to a certain party--and I think that's boring," says the 41-year-old Chicago native, whose great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all in the food business.

Another World

"And while I do have to make a living here and I'm not the sort of person that is ungrateful to anybody, I think I've spent enough time outside this city to understand that there are more important things at the end of the day other than the film industry. And I thank God or whoever gave me enough smarts to realize that there is another world out there."

A world that has made him very rich--so rich, in fact, that he could buy and sell many of Morton's regulars, thanks to his $80-million-a-year international Hard Rock Cafe empire. Started in London in 1971, a cross between a burger joint and a rock 'n' roll museum, the Hard Rock Cafe has become one of the world's most successful privately held restaurant chains.

And with his wealth has come certain perks. Not just the sumptuous homes in Coldwater Canyon, London and Honolulu he jets between, or the MOCA-quality contemporary art he collects, or the Ferrari Mondial convertible he tools around in. But, more importantly, the freedom not to have to cater to a Hollywood elite that is so used to be catering to.

"Of course, certain people expect me to patronize them," Morton says sardonically. "But fortunately I can operate Morton's in my unique way because I have this other company on the side. You could almost say the Hard Rocks have been my ticket out of Hollywood."

"One of the qualities I admire most about Peter is that the motion picture business holds no glamour for him," says good friend Eric Eisner, president of the David Geffen Co. "And although he is very respectful of movie executives and appreciates their patronage, he respects their accomplishments no more or less than he would respect the accomplishments of someone on Wall Street."

Staying on Top

But don't be fooled by his "what me worry?" demeanor. Because Morton already is ensuring that his restaurant stays on top of the heap for another 10 years. That's why next month he'll close Morton's briefly to give both the restaurant and the menu a facelift.

"It's just time," Morton explains. "To be perfectly honest, I haven't been tending the store as diligently as I could. I have let Morton's slip a little bit. But I'm going to put some energy back into it and try to make up for a little lost ground."

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