A Night on the Strip


In 1934, W. R. “Billy” Wilkerson, the entrepreneurial owner of the Hollywood Reporter, opened the Trocadero, a smart, French-themed late-night club at 8610 Sunset (just east of where Chin Chin now stands), cozy-close to the Reporter offices. It was a simple enough plan: Create an elegant playpen where the swells and belles of Hollywood could eat and drink and dance and, oh yes, be assured of making the A-list society column in the Reporter. It worked, and it worked big. With two dance bands and a Saturday-night floor show through which newcomers could, in effect, audition for the Zanucks and Selznicks, the Troc was the place to see and be seen. On any given night, you could walk past tables brimming with Betty Grable, George Raft, John Wayne, James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Dick Powell, William Powell, Eleanor Powell . . . . And forget California casual. This was black tie, tulle and taffeta and lots of shoulder. These people took glamour seriously; it was part of the fun--and the job description. If you had kids, get a nanny. This was also a post-Prohibition, pre-12-step crowd, very rigorous about night life, which often tended to last well past the wee hours, much to the ruination of more than a few. The Troc was not for the hoi polloi or the weak of head.


By 1940, when Wilkerson, having pulled out of the Trocadero, opened his next hot spot, glamour was replacing recklessness, and Ciro’s, at 8433 Sunset (now occupied by the Comedy Store) was toujours glamour. The club’s simple, sleek exterior belied its over-the-top baroque innards: red ceilings, red-silk wall sofas and pale green-ribbed silk draped over everything that didn’t move--and some things that did. To ensure success, according to Jim Heimann in “Out With the Stars,” the Reporter continued its self-referential campaign. If readers should wonder where to go of an evening, they were assured that “My dear, everybody who’s anybody will be at Ciro’s.” It was true. For almost 20 years, Ciro’s ruled. Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, James Stewart, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Lucy and Desi, Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn--everybody wound up at Ciro’s. No wonder Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper made it their headquarters; equipped with private telephone lines, each perched eagle-eyed, watching for brawls, dangerous liaisons and benders-in-progress. Those were the days when gossip columnists had real power--and lots of ammunition. Ciro’s hung on well into the mid-'60s, when for a brief time it featured the likes of Buffalo Springfield.


The Mocambo opened in 1941, at 8588 Sunset, not far from Ciro’s, and despite being a non-Wilkerson production, it was an instant draw. Maybe it was the Mexican overtones, or the fact that the owners had snagged Andre, the maitre d’ at New York’s 21, as well as the bandleader from the Troc. Or perhaps it was the enormous aviary with its finches and parrots and macaws that the ladies went wild for. Whatever alchemy was involved, whatever gods invoked, Mocambo was considered the nightclub’s nightclub. Even during the war years, there was an air of casual decadence that moved even the most jaded reporters to remark on its quintessential Hollywood-ality. While the Troc waned, the Mocambo joined Ciro’s, the Cocoanut Grove, the Palladium and a few others as the carbon-arc-drenched center of Hollywood’s revels. And today, well, it’s a parking lot.