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Cinegrill hopes to revive a glorious past

June 01, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The Cinegrill. It's a name that immediately conjures up images of old Hollywood. Of Humphrey Bogart standing at the bar, and Marilyn Monroe seated at a dark corner table. Of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald hanging out. And Mary Martin starting her singing career, while an infant son named Larry Hagman sleeps in her dressing room.

For years the club was the entertainment heart of the Roosevelt Hotel -- itself a central Hollywood location and the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929. Over the decades, the Cinegrill has changed dramatically, in location, as well as style and significance. In the mid-'80s, it almost disappeared when new management took over the hotel. And last year, it experienced its most significant transformation when it was moved from its familiar Hollywood Boulevard position at the northeast corner of the hotel to an inner location.

It also received a new name -- Feinstein's at the Cinegrill -- reflecting its identity as a West Coast extension of Manhattan's Feinstein's at the Regency, both rooms designed to showcase the music and the musical preferences of singer/pianist Michael Feinstein.

Next week, yet another change takes place, when the room reverts back to its original name, the Cinegrill.

Reminded of the venue's history, Mitchell Davis, the room's new marketing director, shakes his head disbelievingly and smiles. "It's quite a responsibility," he says.

Much more than a name change, he adds, it's more like a complete re-imagining of the Cinegrill, via an overview that encompasses its colorful history as well as its potentially eclectic future.

According to Davis, 33, who bears a striking resemblance to his father, music mogul Clive Davis, "In the best of all worlds, the new Cinegrill will capture a bit of old Hollywood and a bit of the best new young talent, with a lot of musical choices from in between."

The initial element in that formula will be present June 9 in the opening act for the newly renamed club: Jan and Mickey Rooney. Married for 26 years, Rooney and the former Jan Chamberlin have worked as a team for decades. In April, they were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a duo (Mickey Rooney, 83, had been honored with three stars previously).

Their act, "The Jan and Mickey Rooney Show," is a multimedia presentation including projected images from Mickey's career, his impressions of actors such as Bogart and Jimmy Stewart, country songs by Jan and a few adroit dance steps done in tandem. The focus, throughout, is on what Mickey calls "the place where entertainment began, Hollywood."

The Rooneys' four-night run follows appearances by two other well-established Hollywood names while the room was still called Feinstein's -- Tony Martin and Keely Smith. But the Rooneys' performance represents only one anchor in the broad arc of programming that Davis, along with the room's talent booker, Clifford Bell, plan to bring to the Cinegrill.

"I'm going to open it up," says Davis, whose background includes talent agency work, concert production and -- like his three siblings -- law school. "We'll have some jazz, some R&B, some soul music, some pop music. I'm thinking in terms of people like Melissa Manchester, Ben Vereen, Vonda Shepherd."

Davis' omnivorous musical views are distinctly reminiscent of those of his father, and the advantages of the familial connection -- in terms of access to first-rate talent -- seem obvious.

Clive Davis is the record executive who helped shape the careers of artists ranging from Janis Joplin and Carlos Santana to Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys.

Perhaps understandably, however, Mitchell Davis prefers to play down the potential benefits of the family name.

"My involvement with the Cinegrill is me," he says, "doing it on my own. Of course I'll seek out advice and counsel from my dad, but not in a nepotistic manner. I'm enormously proud of having the heritage that I do, but I'm also like a shy kid who just wants to do good on his own."

Toward that end, Davis and Bell are taking the potentially risky but also potentially enlightening step of viewing the summer months as an experimental period in which to try out a range of entertainment options.

"We're going to bring in a whole range of diverse performers," Davis explains. "From Broadway, from cabaret, even TV performers. We'll mix it up and break out of what the club has been. On some nights, we won't have the kitchen open. We'll only serve drinks and we'll have a lower ticket price."

In the fall, Davis will begin longer bookings with acts he describes as the "heavy hitters," presumably from a variety of genres. Even then, however, he will continue to work at recasting the Cinegrill as a space in which "creative types from all across the board -- whether they're from television, feature films or Broadway -- can come in and do a few nights of performing."

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