Mickey Rooney 1920 ~ 2014

Patrons of Musso and Frank and fans all around the world mourn the passing of Mickey Rooney, a true Hollywood legend.

(With Steve Snow in Musso’s outside patio, 2013)

Happy Birthday, Manny!

Musso and Frank legendary bartender, Manny Aguirre celebrates his 80th birthday in March, 2014. He is still making exquisite cocktails in the old Hollywood tradition, with care and expertise. Please stop by and wish him a happy birthday!

A.C. Lyles Celebrates his 95th Birthday at Musso & Frank

Friday, May 17 marked the 95th birthday of A.C. Lyles, affectionately known in Hollywood as “Mr. Paramount” due to his long career at Paramount Pictures.

The event was hosted by Tom LaBonge, Los Angeles City Councilman,  and  Jimmy Pappas, the goodwill ambassador of Musso and Frank, and Special Deputy Tia Kanavos. The setting was the Old Room, where friends of A.C. gathered to renew friendships and reminiscence. Floral bouquets with a western theme topped the tables and the walls were decorated with enlarged photographs celebrating the long career of the  producer of Paramount western films.

Adolph Zukor II, grandson of Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount Studios, and Betty Lasky, daughter of pioneer film maker Jesse Lasky, recalled their long friendship with A.C.  Their families founded Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which later became Paramount Pictures. Adolph II and Betty both enjoy long friendships with Mr. Lyles. Jane Withers recalled memories that began 73 years ago.

Mayor Jimmy made a touching speech, explaining how much A.C. meant to him during his own career at Paramount. A short film biography was shown before lunch that reviewed A.C.’s long career, beginning in the 1930’s and continuing today.

Guests included friends Mickey Rooney, Rhonda Fleming, Ann Jeffreys, Jane Withers, Buzz Aldrin, Paramount executives and dozens more.

The birthday celebration was done in the grand style of old Hollywood, with Mayor Jimmy greeting the legends as they came to pay tribute to an old friend.

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Editor’s note: A.C. Lyles passed away on September 27, 2013.

Chapter 1 ~ Welcome to Musso & Frank

It was starting to come down hard. The man and the woman had been driving from the desert since early morning. By the time they turned on to Hollywood Boulevard, the rain was bouncing off the windshield of their sedan. The heater was broken and the man rubbed his knuckles while the woman clutched her coat around her neck. They listened to the radio, waiting for a bulletin. The sun had gone down hours earlier and they watched the rain puddles turn from green to yellow to red from the traffic signals. They were on their way to meet a man with a brief case at the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. The driver looked at his watch as he pulled over to the curb. They were right on time.

He parked the car and opened his door. The woman let herself out and they both rushed through the rain to the front door of the restaurant. It looked warm inside. They stepped in and the maitre ‘d greeted them.

“Welcome to Musso and Frank,” he said.

~ “The Man with the Brief Case,” 1948 radio drama

Chapter 2 ~ The Early Years

Well before their 20th anniversary, Musso and Frank advertised itself as “the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.”  90 years after they opened as Frank’s Francois Cafe in 1919, Musso and Frank is still going strong. In the intervening years, Sardi’s, the Brown Derby, Chasen’s, Mike Lyman’s, the Seven Seas, Edna Earl’s Fog Cutter, the Gotham, Fred Harvey’s, the Cock and Bull, Scandia, Nickodell’s and many other historic restaurants have come and gone. Musso’s is still the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.

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Joseph Musso and Joseph Carissimi opened their first restaurant, Progress, in Portland, Oregon in 1910. Later, they moved to Los Angeles, where they eventually teamed up with Frank Toulet, who had opened Frank’s Cafe, on Hollywood Boulevard  in 1919. The name was later changed to Frank’s Francois Cafe. In the early 1920’s, Joseph Musso became a partner and the name was changed again, this time to Musso-Frank Grill. Frank Toulet sold his interest in the restaurant in 1927. John Mosso and Joseph Carissimi purchased the restaurant in the same year. The restaurant survives today, much as it did in the early years, with the exception of the move from 6669 Hollywood Boulevard to 6667 Hollywood Boulevard in the mid 1930’s, and the addition of the New Room in the 1950’s, which occupies the space that once belonged to the Stanley Rose Bookstore. Rose died in 1954, and the bar in the back, where so many great writers ate and drank in the 1930’s, closed and moved to the New Room around the same time.

* * *

In the 1920’s, when movies were silent and Hollywood was dotted with cafeterias and grills, Jean Rue, Musso’s most tenured and famous chef, created the menu that exists today. He was with the restaurant from 1922 until 1976. He worked for 53 years and trained John Hellman and Michele Bourger, his successors. There were others, but Jean Rue and John Hellman, who served under him for thirty years, and Michele Bourger have been the three main chefs since 1919.

Perhaps the most famous head waiter at Musso and Frank was Jesse Chavez, who worked for over 50 years, beginning in the 1920’s. Jesse started as a dishwasher and moved up to baker, pantry man, busboy, waiter and finally headwaiter. In the 1970’s he became one third owner for a brief time. He ran a tight ship and roamed the restaurant putting out fires as he saw fit. Once, he told Charlton Heston that there would be an hour wait for his party of eight. When asked by Heston if he knew who he was, Jesse replied, yes, and Heston and party departed, never to return.

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In the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, the golden years in Hollywood, almost everyone in the entertainment business dined or drank at Musso and Frank.  Through the years, waiters served Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Cesar Romero and many more.  But the restaurant was also known for it’s clientele of famous writers. The famous back room was home to William Saroyan, John Fante, Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel West, William Falkner, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and many more.

In 1935, Grace Wilcox of Screen and Radio Weekly, reported that, “- Dan Ilich, the head waiter, is probably as well known as either of the proprietors, if not better known, and has served enough of the famous Musso-Frank flannel cakes to sink the Italian steamer Rex.”

The article went on to say, “Charlie Chaplin dines here more often than anywhere else.  He is fond of broiled lamb kidney and lamb currie and rice.  Also Irish stew and a salad of lettuce with Roquefort cheese dressing.  In season he likes duck.”

Wilcox wrote, “Sandra Shaw is partial to salads, but Gary Cooper likes a tenderloin steak baked potato and a green salad with French dressing.

“Ginger Rogers prefers steaks and rum cake for dessert.

“Joel McCrea orders a New York cut steak, rare and a chiffonade salad.”

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In 1964, writer Bob Thomas talked with Jean Rue, who recalled his early days at Musso’s in the 1920’s.  “They all used to come here.  :Rudolph Valentino was a regular customer; he loved the Italian spaghetti.  Charlie Chaplin had lunch here almost every day; his favorite was the boiled lamb with caper sauce.  There were many others – Douglas Fairbanks, Bebe Daniels, Alan Hale.  I remember when Hale first brought in his little boy – the boy who is an actor today.”

The Families

The current operators of Musso and Frank are the descendants of earlier owners from the 1920’s. Frank Toulet and his family opened the restaurant, Frank’s Cafe in 1919. Later the name changed to Musso-Frank Grill. In 1927, John Mosso and Joseph Carissimi purchased the restaurant. When John Mosso died in 1974, his daughter, Rose, and Joseph Carissimi’s daughter-in-law, Edith, ran the restaurant.

Years later, in 2009, the Carissimi family sold their interest to the descendants of  John Mosso. Today, John Mosso’s great-grandsons, Mark Echeverria and Jordan Jones are proprietors, while Mark is restaurant manager. Their families are passionately involved in maintaining the Hollywood institution known around the world as Musso and Frank.

Chapter 3 ~ The Mayor

“Mayor” is an honorary title, bestowed on one patron by fellow patrons, who recognize that this is the ambassador who best represents them to the management and customers.

Jimmy “Doc” Pappas, also known as the “Swashbuckler,” is the current Mayor of Musso’s. Jimmy is a regular in the dining room and at the bar and is well known by staff and customer alike. Always a genial host to new and old friends, Jimmy took over the reins when Nelson Hower, the previous mayor, moved on to Palm Springs and Venice Beach. The Doc, who has a long legacy in Hollywood, is the son an Ambassador Hotel lifeguard in the glory days. He resides at a historic address in Hollywood and drives a classic Cadillac.

Chapter 4 ~ Writers & Philosphers

By the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, a number of serious writers from the east coast and elsewhere settled into life in Hollywood. Most of them complained as they cashed bigger checks from the studios than they did from their publishers. Hemingway refused to write screenplays but sold his books to the movies. Faulkner worked for the studios, but when told he could write from home, instead of on the studio lot, he headed back to Mississippi.

Others stayed, and almost at the same time, they began to see a story of Hollywood worth writing. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who browsed at Pickwick Bookshop, west of Musso and Frank and at the Stanley Rose Bookstore a few doors east of the restaurant, spent time at the bar. He immortalized Irving Thalberg as Monroe Starr in The Last Tycoon, his 1940 unfinished nod to the decadence of Hollywood.

Raymond Chandler, screen writer of The Blue Dahlia, also sat at the bar. He mentions Musso and Frank in his 1939 novel, The Big Sleep. His book was later made into the classic film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe.

In 1938, John O’Hara’s Hollywood story, Hope of Heaven, hit bookstores. The author, best known for Appointment in Samara and BUtterfield 8, tells the story of a studio rewrite man, Jim Molloy, who sounds like the same disillusioned characters that O’Hara’s contemporaries created. Says Molloy, “Maybe I am not the man to tell this story, but if I don’t tell it no one else will, so here goes.”

Nathanial West’s Hollywood masterpiece, The Day of the Locust, arrived in 1939. In the book, West takes the reader around Hollywood, including his own home at “Chateau Mirabella” on Ivar Street, or as he calls it, “Lysol Alley.” A friend of Fitzgeralds, he also drank at Musso’s.

Another friend of Scott Fitzgerald’s, Budd Schulberg, wrote a timeless story of power and greed in Hollywood with his tale, What Makes Sammy Run, published in 1941. Another devotee of Pickwick and Stanley Rose, Schulberg wrote of Musso’s too: “As usual I browsed around Stanley Rose’s until I had an appetite and then as usual I went next door to Musso’s.” He even mentions his favorite employee: “Amelio was the restaurant’s indisputable forensic star.”

Yet another friend of Fitzgerald’s, Princeton pal Edmund Wilson, wrote his book, The Boys in the Back Room: Notes on California Novelists in 1941. The title referred to the Musso and Frank-Stanley Rose crowd that floated from the back room of the book store to the back room of the restaurant.

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Through the years, most of the writers associated with Hollywood in one way or another made their way to Musso and Frank. In the 1960’s, crime novelist Jim Thompson, who had already written The Getaway, The Killer Inside Me and The Grifters, was down on his luck. He lived a few blocks away on Whitley and nearly every day he made the trip down the hill to the bar, now in the New Room. With all of his books out of print, he worked at his typewriter in the morning and made his way to Musso’s in the late afternoon. Ruben remembers him, just as he recalls Charles Bukowski, who, like Jim Thompson, often couldn’t make it home without help.

In his book, Hollywood, Bukowski wrote, “I was leaning against the bar in Musso’s. Sarah had gone to the lady’s room. I liked the bar at Musso’s, bar just as bar, but I didn’t like the room it was in. It was known as the ‘New Room.’ The ‘Old Room’ was on the other side and I preferred to eat there. It was darker and quieter. In the old days I used to go to the Old Room to eat but I never actually ate. I just looked at the menu and told them ‘Not yet,’ and kept ordering drinks.”

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John Fante, author of Ask the Dust, and other books, wrote “[it] was a glorious beginning to the new day, a rekindling of the will to survive, a renewal of one’s faith in mankind.  A great charcoal fire roared in the grill, and a highhatted chef tended bacon, sausages and small steaks, the fetching aroma hitting your nostrils the moment you entered the room.  You sat at the counter in a comfortable swivel chair, as close to the fire as you could get.  The waiter brought coffee as soon as you sat down and French bread, but gave you a couple of minutes to pull down some hot coffee and smoke your first cigarette, before he asked what you wanted.  He put the morning paper before you…You were content…You lingered on, watching the charcoal flames slowly falling into a profound lethargy.  No doubt it was bad for you, all that coffee, all that cholesterol, all those cigarettes, all that time consumed.  But it was beautiful and unforgettable.”

Chapter 5 ~ John Barrymore & Company

The stories of the early days of Musso and Frank have become the stuff of legend and myth. Most of the tales can no longer be substantiated, but they sound good, nevertheless. Rudolph Valentino ate at Musso’s, where he could talk to the Italian waiters in their native language. There is the oft repeated, but unverified story of Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks racing each other on horseback down Hollywood Boulevard to Musso’s. Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore were regulars, each having his own favorite booth in the Old Room. Booth number 1, which is in the corner next to the sidewalk, is known as the Chaplin booth, but it was also Rudolph Valentino’s booth before his death in 1926, according to Jean Rue, his friend. In more recent times, the front booths have been occupied by Martin Sheen, Millie Perkins and many other celebrities. Booth number 1 is the only booth or table with a window view.

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Only twice have telephones been installed in the booths at Musso and Frank. Radio and television legend, Ralph Edwards, creator of Truth or Consequences and host of This is Your Life, was provided a telephone hookup at his regular table in booth 24. The other telephone was installed for Mrs. Carissimi at booth 35. The telephones were connected when they occupied the booths, and removed afterwards. Ralph Edwards was a daily patron and held in high praise by the staff. In the 1950’s, his offices were directly across the Boulevard and Mr. Edwards was a regular customer at lunch time. He began the tradition of sending Poinsettias to the restaurant for the holiday season. Today, the management continues the custom of decorating the restaurant with Poinsettias.

Camera girls, or restaurant photographers, were never allowed at the restaurant, in deference to celebrities and diners who preferred privacy.

Chapter 6 ~ The Staff

The professional wait staff of Musso and Frank has a long history in the restaurant business in Los Angeles. The three famous bartenders, Ruben, Manny and Mario have well over one hundred years of combined service.

Ruben Rueda has tended bar at Musso’s since the February 4, 1967. A native of Durango, Mexico, he worked at the La Brea Inn, Fog Cutter, Paprika and Small World in Hollywood before beginning his career at Musso and Frank. He remembers Bing Crosby, Phil Harris and Alice Faye sitting at his bar. Raymond Burr drank vodka gimlets and ate cheese stuffed celery at table #38. Ruben served Manhattans to Ali MacGraw and Lowenbrau to Steve McQueen. Writers Jim Thompson and Charles Bukowski were regulars at the bar . Ruben poured drinks for Rock Hudson the week before he died. Gangster Mickey Cohen was a frequent diner, but didn’t order liquor. Ruben would notice his bodyguard, Tony Colleros entering the New Room to give it the once over before escorting Cohen to table #37.

Manny Aguirre has tended bar at Musso’s for over twenty years. He came from Ecuador to the United States in 1953. He worked as a bus boy at the Statler Hilton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where he served James Dean coffee during a break in filming of Giant in 1955. Manny, well known for his martinis and specialty drinks, worked at Nickodell’s, near Paramount Studios. He worked for years at Scandia, home of the “Club of the Vikings” (Erroll Flynn & Victor Borge, etc.) on Sunset Strip. He has counted many celebrities as his customers at Musso’s, including James Wood, Randy Quaid, Francis Coppola, Nicholas Cage, George Hamilton, Drew Barrymore and Oscar de La Hoya.

Before Musso’s, Manny served Ricardo Montalban and Caesar Romero at Scandia and Nat “King” Cole and Delores Del Rio at Dublin’s Food and Fun on West Third Street in Los Angeles. At Nickodell’s on Melrose, Manny served the cast members from the television series, The Brady Bunch, The Mod Squad, Mission Impossible and Happy Days.

Manny was named Bartender of the Year for 2005 and 2006 by the Southern California Restaurant Writers. Manny explains the proper way to make a Martini, contrary to trends:  “When you make a Martini, it shouldn’t be shaken. It should be stirred. When you shake, the drink gets all watery. When you stir, you get a cold, strong drink.” Manny has often said, “To be a bartender, you have to like people. You’re like a doctor, lawyer and priest in one. Customers know when they’re dealing with a person who cares.”

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Mario Gurrola, the relief bartender, has worked at Musso’s since September 15, 1980. The consummate mixologist, Mario, along with Ruben and Manny, is one of the three Masters of the Martini at Musso’s. Mario’s masterpiece is the Bloody Mary, a specialty he has been mixing and serving throughout his long career at Musso and Frank.

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Manuel Alvarez, captain since 1974, has a long career in the restaurant business. He was a member of the staff at the famous Hollywood eatery, Edna Earl’s Fogcutter on La Brea Avenue, and later as a captain in the Banquet department at the Music Center in Los Angeles. Prior to Musso and Frank, Manuel worked for many years at Scandia on the Sunset Strip.

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Sergio Gonzalez, who has the first section at the front of the New Room, began his career at Musso and Frank in 1972. His first customer was Buddy Ebsen. Among his repeat customers are Gore Vidal, Johnny Depp, Keith Richards, Tim Robbins and David Spade. Sergio is the recipient of the coveted California Writers Association Waiter of the Year award for 2008. He served Christian and Cheyenne Brando the night that Dag Drollet was killed. The family later held a wake for Drollet at Musso’s.

Juan Ramos, who has worked at the restaurant since 1970, has his own section in the old room. In the early years, Juan and the other waiters moved from section to section, but for decades now, he can be seen near Table 10, the Mickey Rooney Booth, in the rear of the old room.  Over the years, Juan has served many celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty.  At Table 10, Juan has waited on Mickey Rooney, Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Travolta and Robert Blake, to name a few. 2010 is Juan’s 40th anniversary with Musso’s, where he is a clientele favorite.

Alfredo Marin began his career at Musso and Frank in January, 1991. He works in the New Room, assisting Sergio in the front section.

Jesus Martinez started at Musso’s in April, 2001. He also works in the New Room.

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Manny Felix, counter man at the grill in the Old Room, began his career at Musso and Frank in 1974. Manny has transformed the counter from an unassuming section to a vibrant place where repeat customers revel at Manny’s magic tricks tales of old Hollywood. They also appreciate his discerning service, where every customer is treated with respect. Manny’s favorite customers include Fay Wray, Mary Carlisle, Terri Garr, Julia Roberts, Anita O’day and Peter O’Mally, who keeps in touch with Manny year round. Before Musso’s, Manny worked at the Villa Capri in Hollywood and at the Statler Hilton in downtown Los Angeles. He was also a regular audience member and dancer at Lawrence Welk’s television show at the Hollywood Palladium.

Ignacio Soriano works side by side with Manny at the grill. He started at Musso and Frank in 1981. Prior to Musso’s, “Nacho” worked at Chasen’s, where he served Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. At Musso’s, one of his favorite customers was Antonio Aguilar, the famous Mexican actor, singer and songwriter, who died in 2007.

Another fixture at the grill, is broiler chef Indolfo Rodriguez, who started at Musso and Frank in 1984. Prior to Musso’s, Indolfo worked at Schwab’s Drugstore at Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights Boulevard in Hollywood from 1970 until 1984.

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Oscar Fuxa Balarezzo, a veteran of thirty years at Musso’s, has a long and legendary career in restaurants. Oscar worked in the main dining room at the Vine Street Brown Derby from 1970 until they closed in 1978. Among his customers at the Derby over the years, were Montgomery Clift, Natalie Wood, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Lucile Ball and Ann-Margaret. Oscar, a waiter and a bartender, was honored in Beverly Hills in 2002 at the Academy Foundation’s Brown Derby Exhibition, where memorabilia, photographs and caricatures of movie stars were displayed.

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Craig Vallone started with Musso’s on April 28, 2007. He has a rich background in the restaurant business, including the Russian Tea Room on West 57th Street in New York. Craig also worked at the Playboy Mansion and at Club Med.