Edith Carissimi dies at 95; a family pillar of Musso & Frank Grill

Newly divorced from a studio executive, Edith Reich needed a job in the early 1960s. She found one, and her future, at Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant.

Hired as a cashier-hostess, she soon married Charles Carissimi, whose family had co-owned the establishment -- famous as a literary haunt -- since the 1920s.

When he died in 1969, their marriage was 6 years old, the restaurant 50. She was 55 and spent much of the next four decades managing Musso & Frank, in turn becoming something of a Hollywood institution herself.


Edith Carissimi died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Park La Brea, her family said. She was 95.

“She was as much a part of the history and the lore of Musso & Frank as the building itself,” said Huell Howser, known for his “California’s Gold” series on KCET-TV Channel 28 that documents the state’s history and culture.

“Here was a lady that a lot of people wouldn’t recognize on the street, yet she was as much a part of Hollywood as any movie star ever was,” said Howser, a restaurant regular who became her friend.

The dynamic Carissimi “could charm the birds out of the trees” as she mingled with customers, said Ricki Kaye, the grill’s bookkeeper since 1970. “She was a great, great asset, making Musso & Frank what it is today.”

Long famous as a haven where writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler and others held court, it was also a frequent dining spot for such Hollywood personalities as media mogul Merv Griffin and comedian Jonathan Winters, who became friends with Carissimi, her family said.

An immigrant from Hungary by way of Argentina, Carissimi was used to rubbing shoulders with the famous. She wrote for South American equivalents of Photoplay, her family said, and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s so her first husband, William Reich, could become vice president of the independent studio American International Pictures.

Until late last year, she co-owned Musso & Frank, named for Frank Toulet and Joseph Musso, who founded it in 1919 on Hollywood Boulevard. They sold it in 1926 to John Mosso and Joseph Carissimi, Edith’s future father-in-law, who eventually passed his share along to his son Charles.

After Mosso died in 1974, Edith Carissimi ran the enterprise for decades with Mosso’s daughter, Rose Keegel, who was 87 when she died in 2000.

“Mom welcomed her just as Rose’s father had welcomed Mom,” said Fred Reich, one of Carissimi’s two sons. “Together they made it an incredible success and also rode out many storms together.”

For a while, they had a third partner, Jesse Chavez, the maitre d’ who started as a busboy in 1927 and bought into the business.

Her interest in Musso & Frank has been sold to the Mosso family, and the restaurant is now run by Jordan Jones, great-grandson of John Mosso.

“She was very hands-on and well loved by her employees,” Kaye recalled, “and she had a wonderful heart.”

She was born Edith Blau on June 17, 1914, in Budapest, the younger of two daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella Blau.

After performing in a dance troupe, Carissimi immigrated to Argentina, where she met Reich, a fellow immigrant from Hungary whom she married in 1945.

In the 1980s, she married her third husband, Carl Maston, a noted local modernist architect whose buildings include the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona. Maston died in 1992.

At Musso & Frank, Carissimi’s favorite dishes on the extensive menu included clams on the half shell, sand dabs, squab and lobster Thermidor.

In addition to her son, Fred Reich, she is survived by another son, William Reich; and two grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Sunday at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.