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.
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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.”