Bernard Schwab, 94; Opened Pharmacy With 3 Brothers

Times Staff Writer

Bernard Joseph Schwab, the last survivor of the four brothers who founded Hollywood’s legendary Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard, where stars shopped and hopefuls waited to be discovered, has died. He was 94.

Schwab died of natural causes March 5 in L.A.

In 1932, the brothers bought a failing drugstore, attached their name to it and began catering to the actors, writers and other film folk who frequented the nearby Republic, RKO and Columbia studios.

The Schwabs opened charge accounts and cashed checks for actors not yet considered bankable stars. They installed a pager and special phone for incoming calls to their growing movie clientele.


Their risks paid off. Schwab’s became a Hollywood hangout for more than half a century.

Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, given a second-floor office by the accommodating brothers, wrote a monthly magazine feature titled “From a Stool at Schwab’s.” He boosted the Schwab popularity with the oft-quoted line, “at Schwab’s they operate on the notion that Joe Doakes is just as important to Joe Doakes as Lana Turner is to Lana Turner.”

Turner was _ or wasn’t _ discovered sitting at the Schwab’s counter sipping a Coke. (The late Leon Schwab, best known of the four brothers as the face of the pharmacy, insisted she was. Turner claimed a scout spotted her with a milkshake in another establishment near Hollywood High School.)

Hugh O’Brien, who had not yet achieved fame, was a soda jerk. Charlie Chaplin, who had, was allowed to make his own milkshakes.


Among the Schwab’s regulars were Judy Garland, Clark Gable, the Marx Brothers, Cesar Romero, Shelley Winters and Robert Forster.

Gloria Swanson bought her makeup there. Schwab’s was even featured in her tour de force film “Sunset Boulevard,” co-written and directed by Billy Wilder in 1950.

William Holden’s character in the film, screenwriter Joe Gillis, is rebuffed by a studio magnate and then narrates: “After that, I drove down to headquarters. That’s the way a lot of us think about Schwab’s. Kind of a combination office, coffee klatch and waiting room. Waiting, waiting for the gravy train.”

The four brothers _ Bernard, Leon, Jack and Martin_ owned six pharmacies at the peak of their success, although the Sunset Boulevard location was the longest to survive and the best known.


Even it fell on hard times and closed in 1983. All the contents were auctioned to satisfy debts, and the building was razed to make way for a shopping complex.

Bernard Joseph Schwab was born in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, 1908, to Polish immigrants. After moving to Los Angeles, he operated the pharmacies and was active in the Wisdom Masonic Lodge 202, Scottish Rite Temple, Al Malaikah Temple and the Peace Officers Shrine Club.

Widowed since the death of his wife, Frances, Schwab is survived by four sons, Leland, Michael, John and Robert; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.