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Music Store Was a Player in Hollywood's Golden Era

June 22, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The Tishkoffs' rent-a-piano business is ending on a wistful note.

For more than 75 years, a parade of old-time Hollywood stars passed through its doors.

Then a celebrity parade of a different kind sent it packing.

That's the bagatelle version -- the short description -- of why the family-owned Hollywood Piano Rental Co. is shutting its doors June 30.

The piano rental store was a landmark near the corner of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard until developers of the Hollywood & Highland entertainment and shopping center -- home of the Academy Awards ceremonies -- bought it two years ago and tore it down.

"They needed our place to park the limos that drop off the stars at the Kodak Theatre," said Jerry Tishkoff, who has been running the business with his brother, Eddie. "Limousines won't fit in the underground parking they have at the Kodak. So for big events at the Kodak, they park them at our old place."

But it turned out to be harder than the pair thought it would be to find a new location for their rental shop. They finally leased a Highland Avenue storefront eight blocks away that had half the floor space and virtually none of the parking that their old place had.

The new store was so small that the trademark neon "Hollywood Piano Rental Company" sign wouldn't fit on the front. There was room for only "Hollywood Piano."

So Jerry, 76, and Eddie, 73, are closing the shop that their father, Abe Tishkoff, and his brother, Archie, launched in 1928.

"Everybody knew our old store," said Eddie Tishkoff.

"Now, nobody can find us. We're lost," said Jerry.

The impending closure means that Tinseltown has lost one more landmark of Old Hollywood -- in this case, to make room for something decidedly New Hollywood.

Hollywood has seen several new shopping centers, such as Hollywood & Highland, open in recent years in what many consider a revival of the area. But now there are fewer places that link Hollywood to its storied past, such places as the piano shop, the C.C. Brown's ice cream shop near Grauman's Chinese Theatre and Schwab's drugstore.


The Tishkoff family has long been synonymous with pianos in Hollywood but started off in construction. When one client couldn't pay Abe for an apartment project, he gave him 300 pianos he had in storage in lieu of cash.

"My father had pianos stuck everywhere after that. One day, a lady came in his office and saw one of the pianos and offered to rent it for $2 a month. That's how the rental business started. My father knew as much about pianos as you know about missiles," Eddie said.

The store quickly became the primary source of pianos for Hollywood's movie studios, radio stations and the emerging recording industry. Hollywood's stars frequented the place daily -- sometimes just to sit down and play.

"Fred Astaire would drop in all the time -- his driver would drop him off. One time, he didn't have a ride home, so I took him," said Jerry.

"Another time, I delivered a piano to actor Dick Powell's house, and he invited me to stay for dinner. His wife didn't look very happy at having a last-minute guest, so I didn't."

When Eddie delivered a piano to Errol Flynn's home one day, he was surprised when the actor gave him an impromptu tour of the grounds. It included a spin through Flynn's bedroom, where the actor showed off the mirrors hanging from the ceiling.

"The stars back then were very down to earth. Jack Benny was a real gentleman -- he came in for a piano for his daughter. Eddie Cantor got one for his daughter too," said Jerry. "Back in the old days, many of the stars would come in on their own. After the '60s and '70s, they would send people in for them."

Soon, the shop was selling pianos as well as renting them. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were customers. Frank Sinatra was a repeat customer, often buying pianos for friends, said Eddie. Ronald Reagan and first wife Jane Wyman acquired one.

Peter Lawford rented one to use during the 1960 Democratic National Convention. Gov. Goodwin Knight often stopped in just to play.

Once, so did Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

"They'd been over at Grauman's Chinese Theatre putting their handprints in cement, and they came in and rehearsed a number for 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' " said Eddie.

Russell proceeded to sit down in front of a grand piano and bang out a tune from the movie. Monroe sat on a nearby piano bench, crossed her legs and started singing along.

They had to lock the shop's door when the two actresses attracted a crowd outside the storefront window.

"We practically had a riot outside," Jerry said.

Records are incomplete, but the Tishkoffs believe their father rented out the piano that played the victim of a steep stairway in the 1932 Laurel and Hardy comedy, "The Music Box."

Since then, their pianos have been banged up as often as they've been banged on -- some for scenes that were takeoffs on the Laurel and Hardy classic.

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