A Taste of the Hollywood Life

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 08:30

In the golden era of Hollywood, legendary restaurants such as the Brown Derby, Romanoff’s, La Rue, Perino’s, and Scandia attracted celebrity clientele and high society with some of the finest culinary delights, impeccable service, and the chance to see and be seen.

Among these notable restaurants in Los Angeles that flourished from the1930s through the 1960s were the Brown Derby Restaurants. The most famous of the four Derbies, the Hollywood Brown Derby opened in 1929, located at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. It was the hub of Hollywood - surrounded by broadcasting studios, theaters, and movie studios. Its signature brown leather booths were purposely designed low to encourage table hopping among its celebrity patrons.  For those who ate at the restaurant, it was important to have your cartoon drawn by Eddie Vitch, and have your caricature hang on one of the adorning walls. The Brown Derby Restaurants photographs depict film stars, studio executives, and other industry insiders dining at the popular eatery. Below is a Hollywood Brown Derby menu, circa 1930s, from the William Beaudine papers.


The Hollywood Brown Derby menu featured a few simples dishes meticulously prepared from the finest and freshest ingredients. The restaurant emphasized its quality of ingredients and some dishes were sponsored by the celebrity patrons themselves. Dorothy Lamour, who was Miss New Orleans in 1931, contributed a New Orleans Shrimp Creole recipe to the menu. Louella Parsons’ request for a nonfat desert was the inspiration behind the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake. The famous Cobb Salad, named after restaurateur Robert Cobb, was served on an ice cold plate with a cold fork and old Fashioned French Dressing at the table side.

Across town on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, there was another restaurant that attracted a heady mix of Hollywood stars and high powered agents. Founded by vaudevillian Dave Chasen in 1936, Chasen’s began to build a celebrity following that included Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan, and Marilyn Monroe. While filming Cleopatra (1963), Elizabeth Taylor popularized Chasen’s when she requested their famous chili to be shipped to her shooting location in Rome. The restaurant’s specialty was Hobo Steak – a rich sirloin baked in salt and sautéed in butter, sliced tableside. Another signature dish, the Deviled Beef Bones – breaded ribs made from the standing prime rib roast had to be ordered a week in advance. Chicken Curry was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite dishes, Lucille Ball loved the Creamed Spinach and Banana Shortcake, and Jimmy Stewart customarily dined on small amounts of the thinly sliced Calf’s Liver. Below is a Chasen's menu from the W.C. Fields papers.

Other notable menus in the Margaret Herrick Library’s Special Collections include autographed menus collected by Nelda M. Siegmund from 1933 and 1934. The collection includes two menus from Tijuana, Mexico establishments, the Hotel Agua Caliente and the Foreign Club Cafe de Luxe, both autographed by numerous Hollywood film personalities.