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SUNDAY BRUNCH | OUT & ABOUT

The Cocoanut Grove Revisited

January 04, 1998|IRENE LACHER

It's hard work being a hotel and entertainment magnate. Take Merv Griffin. Please. Every morning, he gears up for magnation by doing his exercises--three crossword puzzles, including the one produced by the Los Angeles Times in your hot little hands.

"Or I don't get out of bed," he says.

Good. Keep us employed.

The crossword puzzles must be working. Griffin, busy bee that he is, is about to launch yet another venture, his dream supper club at his hotel, the Beverly Hilton. The erstwhile TV talk show meister says the Coconut Club will evoke Hollywood past.

"I remember the Christmas it snowed in Beverly Hills," he muses from behind his desk at the Hilton. "Everybody goes to me, 'Are you kidding?' It had to be '48, '49, '50. We woke up in the morning and the whole city was covered in snow. You talk about El Nin~o, this was El Snow-o."

No, Merv won't be revving up the air-conditioning.

"I lived in Beverly Hills and I worked at the Cocoanut Grove. And I sang with the most famous Hollywood orchestra, Freddie Martin's orchestra. We'd play the coal fields of Pennsylvania, Mahanoy City, and the next night open at the Waldorf in New York. So you're switching gears because what they like at Mahanoy City wouldn't go at the Waldorf."

And exactly how do you spell that?

"Mahanoy City?" Griffin yells toward the door. "Liz, call 'Jeopardy!' research, will you, and ask them how you spell Mahanoy, Pennsylvania."

Merv is The Man.

Anyway, 30, 40 years ago, Merv et al were playing the great supper clubs of New York and Chicago and New Orleans, not to mention the supper clubbiest of them all, L.A.'s Cocoanut Grove, where the technical term "star-studded" was coined. As if playing the old Grove wasn't coconutty enough, Merv also had as his first No. 1 hit in 1950, "I've Got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts," which was seriously bad news for some people. Namely the singing and dancing coconuts who had to tap out his tune on TV's "Your Hit Parade." For 12 weeks straight.

"Those poor people had bowling balls, they did everything."

Ever since then, Merv has had coconuts on the brain. Now 72, he's been buying up resorts in Atlantic City and christening short-lived Coconut ballrooms on more New Year's Eves than you can shake a stick at. And now he's modeling his new Coke Club after the old Coke Club.

"It was just glamour at its most exciting. I mean, I sat there every night and every star in Hollywood danced there, from Bing Crosby to Lana Turner to all the MGM stars."

So has L.A. become glamour-impaired?

"In those days, there was no television, so it was a motion-picture crowd. Now it's motion pictures and television, and nobody has the time for glamorous clothes and shopping."

Speak for yourself, young man. At any rate, the situation has gone on long enough, and Merv has no intention of letting Los Angeles plug away any longer with insufficient glamour and / or coconuts. On Jan. 16, he's opening his brand-new collapsible Coconut Club in the Hilton's Grand Ballroom.

Yes, we did say collapsible. The three-level joint and its six bars will be jumping on Friday and Saturday nights. Then at 2 a.m., a dozen people will spend six hours taking down the whole shebang and returning the space to its former life as a convention-friendly ballroom.

The 3,600-square-foot club comes to you courtesy of a set designer, natch, Bob Rang, who brings to the job his je ne sais quoi from designing for the Lido de Paris as well as Griffin's old "Dance Fever" TV show.

Jack Shelton and his 20-piece orchestra will open, presiding over the 900-foot dance floor.

Look for lots of palm trees, colored lights and faux monkeys. Those with a particular taste for those mischievous little primates can smoke cigars at Chimps, the plush Coconut Club-adjacent hang being brought to you by such manly men as Chuck Norris and Jim Belushi.

*

Prince of Porno: Once you've stuck America's pigtails in the inkwell as the country's most reviled pornographer, what do you do for an encore? Work those pigtails as a talk show host, of course.

Don't think it hasn't occurred to L.A.'s very own smut peddler Larry Flynt, who dreams of becoming the next Rush Limbaugh.

Sort of.

"I'm afraid Rush and I are at the opposite ends of the spectrum."

In form, if not in content. The Hustler magazine hustler figures the time has come for his reincarnation as a shock jock. "I have a lot of unconventional opinions and, of course, I've never been one who's hesitated to speak my mind. And I find that's often what's admired most in a TV talk show host is someone who's not reluctant to speak their mind."

Think of the possibilities: "Late Night With Larry Flynt." Brought to you by our sponsor, (900) HOT-SEX.

Flynt is floating his own balloon, because not too many people have been keen on floating his balloons for him. On Jan. 19, from noon to 2 p.m., Flynt will host a schmoozefest on the Internet he's calling "Freedom Radio Network." If it flies, he will do a few more on the Net and then try to get the show syndicated on radio.

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