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Hollywood Boulevard--Good Shops, Garbo, Glamour

Several readers, like me, do not agree with Jack Gabriel that Hollywood Boulevard was never glamorous.

Gabriel says he came here in the 1930s by transcontinental Greyhound bus (after which experience almost any neighborhood might seem glamorous); his introduction to Hollywood was lunch at the Brown Derby, and he didn’t see a single movie star.

I never lunched at the Brown Derby until the 1970s, when it was already in decline. But there is plenty of evidence that in earlier decades it indeed was the favorite luncheon scene of the local celebrities.

Leslie Hope, professor of English at Los Angeles Valley College, happens to have been doing some research at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library and found a photograph of Greta Garbo striding down the boulevard on a shopping tour--in trousers.

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Hope also sends a few pages from “The Life and Times of Greta Garbo,” a 1931 book that reports that she often went shopping on the boulevard. It tells of one shopping trip she made with Mr. and Mrs. John Loder for Christmas decorations.

“The first place we went was the 5- and 10-cent store on Hollywood Boulevard,” Loder recalls. “Greta selected a pile of Christmas-tree decorations. Then she said she wanted to buy some jokes. She bought a little silk brassiere, a pair of lady’s garters for her business manager and an assortment of boy’s neckties for (a man friend).”

Loder recalls that Garbo was wearing a big gray coat and a felt hat pulled down over her face--a familiar Garbo guise. She was “laughing and having a gay time” until a little woman recognized her and laid a hand on her arm.

Annoyed, Garbo said “Let’s get out of here!” in German. She led the way down the boulevard to a candy store, then said “Let’s go to Musso-Frank’s for lunch.”

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Garbo often went to the restaurant in the late afternoon, when the crowd had gone, and was served by a German-speaking waiter. This time she ordered a steak, fried potatoes and beer. Then Garbo entered a Chinese store near Warner’s Theater and bought several Chinese artifacts.

That Garbo herself shopped the boulevard is enough to refute Gabriel’s recollection that it had no good shops and no glamour.

By the way, Irv Elman notes that although Musso & Frank is the restaurant’s correct name, nobody says that. (I had used that form in an earlier column.) “It is always simply Musso-Frank’s,” he said. Garbo’s “Musso-Frank’s” seems to bear that out. However, I know someone who always says Musso & Frank. Me.

Mary Leigh-Hunt remembers that in 1923, her mother took her into a women’s shop named Robinson’s, at Hollywood Boulevard and Camden Place, so she could impress her friends back in Iowa when she went to visit them.

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Evidently her fancy duds didn’t do much for her when she and two friends from UCLA (the old Southern Branch on Vermont Avenue) climbed to the storied Montmartre Cafe (where Rudolph Valentino danced the tango and Joan Crawford danced the Charleston) and sat at a table waiting for some men to ask them to dance.

“My two friends succeeded,” Leigh-Hunt recalls wistfully, “while I remained alone at the table.”

Nettie Armant of Torrance recalls that in 1947 her 15-year-old daughter “saw Van Johnson (in the Broadway department store) and was thrilled to get his autograph.”

Ralph Trembley of La Jolla recalls that many autograph hunters used to crowd around the entrance to the Brown Derby at noon. He remembers that Mae West, Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller were ringside regulars at the Legion Stadium fights. Gary Cooper and George Raft were known to buy clothes at the fashionable McIntosh tailor shop.

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“During the flaming days of the 1920s,” recalls Wanda Marchessault of Dana Point, “when the early stars actually lived in the Hollywood Hills, and movies were filmed right on the streets, the excitement that prevailed was incomparable.

“There was no comparable place to shop,” she recalls. “There were certainly no suburban shopping malls, and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was much more like downtown Des Moines or Topeka.

“I’m sure Gabriel never attended any of the lovely big theaters on the boulevard . . . where anyone who was young in the ‘20s and ‘30s took their dates for an evening and the wonderful Hollywood Palladium was only one block below on Sunset Boulevard.”

Norma J. Cathcart recalls, among other landmarks, the Seven Seas cocktail bar across the street from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I remember it well. I used to have a beer or two at the bar right after the war when I was trying to get established in Los Angeles. A tin canopy hung over the bar, and every 15 minutes or so torrential rain would fall on it.

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I felt like a character from W. Somerset Maugham.


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