Sitting at the counter one afternoon, Joyce told the story of her father, who was on leave from the army during World War II. He spent a few days in Los Angeles and found his way to the Hollywood Canteen and eventually up to Hollywood Boulevard for dinner. He and a buddy stepped into Musso and Frank for the first time and sat in a booth. They both ordered the Thursday special, chicken pot pie. He told his family over the years how it was the first time in months he felt like he’d had a home cooked meal.
Time moved on and he never forgot the dinner. When his granddaughter was married in 2003, he returned to Hollywood for the first time since the war. He had told his family the story so many times that when they arrived at the airport a few days before the wedding, his wife suggested they look for the restaurant he mentioned so often.
The next day they found themselves on Hollywood Boulevard, and after asking a few locals for directions, they found Musso and Frank, much the way the two soldiers saw it in 1945. They went inside, checked the menu, and since it was Thursday, they happily ordered the special, chicken pot pie. He told them it was just as he remembered.
As his daughter remarked, many upscale restaurants brag about changing their menus every six months. But, as Joyce said, “when you do it right the first time, you don’t need to make changes.”
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Raymond Burr, who played Perry Mason on television, had long since passed on when Barbara Hale, who played his secretary, Della Street came into Musso’s one evening. The New Room was almost full, with diners, including TV personality Tom Snyder, sitting with his family in a booth and cowboy actor R. G. Armstrong dining with friends at a table in the middle of the room. Barbara walked in from the front of the restaurant by herself, looking for her friends. Suddenly the room was silent, and as Barbara located her friends in the rear of the room, applause broke out as she made her way between tables to her group.
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Jack La Lanne, the fitness champ, was another popular personality at Musso’s. He was given a big birthday party in the new room one night, with a dozen tables put together for friends and family. It was his 88th birthday and people from all over the room went to shake Jack’s hand and to congratulate him. His friends toasted him all evening and Jack lifted his glass of wine to them.
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Millicent Clarke was the Pepsodent Girl in the 1950’s. Billboards all over town displayed her face along with the claim, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” She was a regular at Musso and Frank and still tells the story of when the New Room was opened in the mid 1950’s. According to Millicent, the single booths that run along the bar were once exposed to the bar, but after too many tipsy drinkers crashed into diners, Musso’s moved the wall that faced the room to the other side, creating a separation between diners and drinkers. Today, tipplers bump into the wall, not the diners.
Millicent also says the original bar was much smaller and not as well known to customers walking in from the Boulevard. Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper sat at the bar, entering from the rear door, as did other famous people who tried to avoid the public. One day, Millicent says, two sailors came rushing in from the Boulevard entrance to the restaurant and approached the bar. Millicent was surprised to see them, but since Marilyn Monroe was sitting at the bar, she suspected they were going to fawn over her and ask for her autograph. Instead, they ignored her and crowded around Joe DiMaggio, her date. As far as Millicent could tell, they never even glanced at Marilyn. Not long after, The Stanley Rose Bookstore closed and Musso’s took over the space and created the New Room, moving the bar from the back to the more public location.
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Today, once a year a group of Marilyn fans, including lookalikes, hold court at Musso’s to celebrate her life. And once a year or so, the Bukowski fans meet at the bar to sit with Ruben and hear the old stories again. The Robert Benchley Society met at Musso’s, as did the former employees of Louie Epstein’s Pickwick Bookshop.
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Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia, lived at 1842 North Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood in 1946. She frequented Bradley’s 5 and 10, a bar at the corner of Cherokee and Hollywood Boulevard, half a block from Musso’s. She was also seen at Steve Boardner’s, another bar, just south of the Boulevard on Cherokee. The staff at Musso’s do not claim that she dined there, but some will say, “she must have.” After all, she lived a block and a half away. She could look out her fifth floor corner apartment and see Musso’s rear entrance. And, she was reportedly a fixture on Hollywood Boulevard before she was murdered in January, 1947.