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ENTERTAINING : California Parties--Past and Future : THE FIFTIES

November 04, 1990|COLMAN ANDREWS | Andrews writes The Times' Restaurant Notebook.

MY PARENTS WERE THE PERFECT RESTAURANT-GOERS: MY FATHER MADE GOOD MONEY AT THE MOVIE STUDIOS AND MY MOTHER COULDN'T COOK.

Thus, beginning in the early 1940s, Irene and Bob Andrews became habitues of most of what were then the best eating places in Los Angeles--among them Romanoff's, Chasen's, Scandia (the original one, across the street from its later location), La Rue, the Beverly Hills Brown Derby, the Tail O' the Cock, and the dining rooms at the Bel-Air and Beverly Hills hotels.

They ate out so often that I'd be tempted to describe them as proto-Foodies, were it not for the fact that, even at the finest restaurants, they ordered their meat well-done, eschewed onions and garlic in every form, and, after cocktails, drank milk with their meals.

If they were the perfect restaurant-goers, though, my parents were also the perfect party-givers--generous, gregarious, naturally hospitable. Perhaps even more than they loved going out to eat, they loved assembling great lots of people at home, 100 or more guests at a time. During and just after World War II--and on into the mid-'50s--they sometimes entertained on this scale as often as once a month. Luckily, they had the room for it.

In 1944, about a year before I was born, my parents moved into a huge, new two-story house, Cape Cod Colonial in style, on Beverly Glen Boulevard, a few blocks north of Sunset. This was celestial territory. Vincent Price lived next door. Claudette Colbert's property backed onto ours. And behind that was the exclusive Westlake School for Girls (which my younger sister, Merry, later attended for a couple of years, in the same class with the ventriloquist's daughter, then known as Candy Bergen).

Bandleader Bob Crosby, Bing's brother, lived across the street from us, on the corner of Saint Pierre Road, in the house my parents had previously occupied. Just up Saint Pierre lived Tyrone Power and his wife, Annabella.

Like most of the residences in the neighborhood, our place was a genuine mansion: It stood on two acres of land, along with a narrow but Olympic-length swimming pool, a tennis court, a shuffleboard court, two 40-foot-high deodar cedar trees, and a terraced hillside, opulent with flora, along which ran a shaded path complete with flagstone love seats.

Inside the house--which my parents had acquired, I cannot resist revealing, for the then-fair market price of about $20,000--were six bedrooms and nine bathrooms (including a maid's room and bath off the kitchen), formal living and dining rooms, a library, an upstairs rumpus room, a sewing room, and an immense screened-in porch.

But the showpiece--the centerpiece--of the house was what we came to call "the playroom." The playroom was 90 feet long, and, for at least half its length, as much as 50 feet wide. It was tiled in brown linoleum lightly patterned with what looked like wisps of smoke, and furnished with eight or 10 sofas and settees, six or seven coffee tables and as many area rugs, a couple of dozen chairs of various kinds, three or four card tables, several sideboards, and a big, blond Capehart radio and (78 rpm) record player. On a side wall towards one end was a huge brick fireplace; facing it across the room were three sets of French doors--elegantly simple, California-style doors hung with Venetian blinds, not the froufrou East Coast variety with fluffy valences and eyelet curtains. At the other end of the room were wraparound window seats with candy-stripe upholstery, his-and-hers powder rooms and a large, sunken wet bar complete with bar stools and a foot rail, over which towered a mirrored shelving arrangement full of cocktail glasses in every imaginable shape and color.

It was in this remarkable room that my parents staged their fetes. And I staged mine: My mother was a diligent keeper of scrapbooks, and thus, based on clippings from the society pages of several local newspapers of the time, I am able to report that, by the age of 2, I had myself begun entertaining (as one account put it) "Hollywood's lollypop ( sic ) and milk-cocktail social set." The guest list at one of these affairs included the offspring-- mostly with parents attached--of Alfred Hitchcock, Herbert Marshall, Pat O'Brien, producer Ray Stark, and composer Johnny (later John) Green.

It is not my own first parties that I remember most vividly, though--either my powers of observation were not yet sufficiently developed, or I was prematurely blase--but the ones my parents gave. Those I was allowed to attend, at least for an hour or two, almost from the time I could walk upright. Always properly dressed, I was encouraged to make the rounds in the early moments of these events, introducing myself to guests I didn't know and greeting by name the ones I did. I was allowed to nibble the hors d'oeuvre. Then it would be suggested that it was time to make the rounds again, saying good night, and retire upstairs to bed.

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