Friday, August 31, 2007

Finally, the Last Day of August 2007 - El Cholo, Santa Monica

El Cholo Friday Evening
I've had it with this rotten summer. I have never looked so forward to Labor Day weekend till this year. Okay, my mom died in June, but the heat this summer has been brutal even here in Santa Monica. Is it the humidity? That's what they say about New England. In Gardena, where my mother had lived until recently, and where I grew up, there was usually a strong breeze bouncing off the hills from Redondo Beach even on the bad days. I don't know if Gardena received that benefit this year or not. Some would say I'm complaining about beautiful weather. They're probably right. I'll shut up now about the weather. Happy Labor Day.

So, when my wife came home, to beat the heat, we darted over to Wilshire & 11th and bathed in the air conditioned cavern that is El Cholo. Somewhere pinto beans were being boiled. A waiter passed with a steaming plate of beef fajitas. Alongside his father, a little boy was celebrating his mother's birthday. She was sipping a majito. Friday night office workers hadn't hit the place in numbers yet and the hour was too early for dates, so there was room everywhere except the patio. We sat at the bar, eager for refreshment before sustenance.

Not my wife!
At home we make a classic margarita. We use fresh lime and/or lemon juice, Cointreau (not Triple Sec, the "corn syrup" of spirits), and 100% agave tequila. (When we were in Puerto Vallarta last year, a waiter recommended we try sipping DON EDUARDO tequila. We did and I couldn't find a bottle here in L.A. until four months ago. I'm happy now.)

At El Cholo they make an "L.A. Lemonade" that suits our requirements and is pleasantly served in a no nonsense glass with a piece of fruit. We would eventually have two rounds. We were walking home, remember?
L.A. Lemonade
I'm preparing a series on the glorious Caesar Salad in Westside Los Angeles, so I'll have to admit in advance that I ordered El Cholo's "Felix's" Caesar Salad, created circa 1991. (The menus show the dates some of the original dishes first appeared.) The barmaid advised us to add shrimp to the salad. My wife insisted the cook grill them a bit.
Felix's Caesar SaladMy wife ordered the green corn tamales (no date listed), available May through October only. The green corn tamales were excellent as usual. I enjoyed the Caesar with the added shrimp, but the lack of any anchovy presence added to my disappointment. I have no idea if the shrimp were grilled or not.Green Corn TamalesWe cleaned our plates and headed home to watch Bill Maher on HBO. When we got home, we opened our windows and turned on the fan.
Empty Plates

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Four

John Huston's grave at Hollywood Forever CemeteryI left the white bird and heading southward, I stepped over to say hello to John Huston (August 5, 1906 - August 28, 1987). Today, August 28, the day of this posting, is the 20th anniversary of his death.

I admit it. I think his first film was his best film, but I'm partial to Dashiell Hammett and Bogart. While THE MALTESE FALCON may be my personal favorite, John Huston's films dominate my top 50 and for good reasons.

I always smile when I watch Bogart outwit Edward G. Robinson on the boat at the end of KEY LARGO. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE moves from scenes of homicidal mania to comic humility. THE AFRICAN QUEEN brilliantly showcases the talents of its two veteran stars, Bogart and Hepburn. Thanks to Ray Bradbury and Herman Melville (not to mention Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart), MOBY DICK is a masterpiece and a perfect example of the melding of cinema and literature.

Although from time to time, I'm apt to confuse Huston's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE with Kubrick's THE KILLING (both caper films star Sterling Hayden), I can never forget the scene when Sam Jaffe's lecherous crook indulges himself for too long with the sight of a beautiful young girl dancing, only to be arrested moments later.

Who can forget the anguish of each of the lost characters in THE MISFITS, the mental and spiritual battles of Richard Burton's character in Tennessee Williams' THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, or the pain felt in the soul of of Stacy Keach's character in FAT CITY? Remember the bravado of stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING? They dominated the film in tandem.

While Huston's films orchestrate drama and comedy magnificently, this hard-drinking, chain-smoking, bad boy, prankster, devil, ladies man had his broader comic side. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN is a delicious comedy for me, even if the musical bear sequence is an intended reproduction of a similar montage in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Although I haven't seen WISE BLOOD in years, I remember Huston's adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's novel as an absurdist comedy in the vein of what David Lynch would later bring us. I remember being disgusted by the Brad Dourif character, but that's what Brad Dourif was good at around that time. (I liked his performance in RAGTIME better than CUCKOO'S NEST.)

My second quarter in grad school at UCLA in 1981, I got a job running the post-production office for a low budget horror film with Bo Svenson, Susan Tyrell, Jimmy McNichol, and an unknown Julia Duffy. (She showed her breasts in the movie.) After looking at the footage, they added a few extra shooting days and I wound up on the set, way up in the hills of Echo Park. When I went to the local market to get orange juice to go with the donuts I brought up from Gardena, I ran into my screenwriting teacher Richard Walters. Meanwhile, up at the location, members of the crew were digging a hole in someone's backyard and filling it with water to make it look like the side of a lake. (Think of that scene in ED WOOD when Bela wrestles with the octopus.) Inside the house, the kitchen was being dressed to match its previous incarnation during principal photography. As one of the first movie sets I was being paid to work on, I was a sponge, soaking it all in and asking for more.

Veteran director William "I Love Lucy" Asher, an incredible gentleman, was directing and his mere presence elevated the material. He was very paternal with me and I will never forget his kindness. He had been married and divorced to Elizabeth Montgomery (a sexy mother figure for me) and his son John would marry and divorce Jenny McCarthy. Regardless, William Asher seemed the kind of man you would want for a father. I'm sure John thinks so too. Lucky guy.

The sun had gone down in Echo Park before the crew got to the kitchen scenes and FAT CITY star and Oscar nominee SUSAN TYRELL had already arrived for her scenes. Two of the movie producers were from the mid-west and were concerned about Susan's tendency to drink a lot. The third producer was from New York and had perfect confidence in my ability to keep her talking and not drinking. So, I sat down on the picnic bench with Susan Tyrell and we got drunk together. I didn't sleep with her though. That's not how this story ends. (I was interested in her blonde agent who stopped by and told me her divorce saga while Susan went to work.) After a sufficent number of drinks, I asked her what it was like to work with John Huston on FAT CITY. She took the actor's obligatory pause, refilled her drink from the bottle we both shared and said, "He was a chauvinistic, son-of-a-bitch." She took another pause and sipped her drink. "But he was a genius."

We'll get back to my day trip to Hollywood, the cemetery, the lake, the birds, the bookstore, the bar, and the drive home in Part Five.

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part One

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Two

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Three

Monday, August 27, 2007

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Three

I walked towards the northwest corner of the lake and the wind wouldn't send the fountain spray in my direction. I watched this white bird skirt out of the water and caught her image before she hit the shadows.She just hopped out of the lakeAfter I took the picture I followed her around the small tree and, as my wife puts it, "she spread her wings in flirtation with me." I feel complimented. My wife does the same thing. She stretches a lot.What a flirt Well, my new love proved fickle. Our relationship never got off the ground and now that I think of it, she never did either.She's as coy as Elizabeth Taylor After I took her picture, she left me for a place in the sun. We're both better off.Get it? 'Place in the Sun' and Elizabeth Taylor?You've got to give me credit. When I was thinking about what to write, I remembered I had an old Polaroid photo of myself here in this spot in 1990. I dug through my storage unit and found the picture. Here I am with three co-workers (the fourth is operating the camera) who I convinced to tour the stars' graves during our lunch hour.See the lake in the backgroundJust after the picture of the four of us was taken, an elderly woman dressed in black came over to us and introduced herself as Valentino's "Lady in Black." We listened to her stories of how she claimed to be the daughter of the original "Lady in Black" and followed her over to the mausoleum where Rudy is buried. Here is a picture of yours truly in 1990 standing in front of Valentino's crypt with the "Lady in Black." I appear to be wearing mostly black myself, but that's not unusual for me.The Lady in Black and meOkay, enough with 1990. I turned my back on the white bird, that tease, and headed south. But that's Part Four.Heading South

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Two

Hollywood Forever Cemetery used to be a dump. What few paved roads it had were spotted with holes, lined with veins of crabgrass, and covered with lots of dirt. The lawns were unkempt and gravestones were buried beneath the neglect. I don't know how fish were able to survive in the polluted and muddy lake. Then, a young fellow with vision and a bankroll bought the place and it's become a model for the postmodern cemetery in the 21st century.

Alba PathwayThe grounds were cleaned up. Roads were paved. The lake and the fountains were refurbished. You can build a monolith to yourself or an ancestor. You can press a button on a monument and watch a video of the dead person's lifestory. On hot summer nights, you can watch a movie being screened outdoors.
Johnny Ramone Monument So, after my luncheon at El Coyote, I drove through the gates of Hollywood Forever Cemetery and headed over to the lake area. I passed by Johnny Ramone's cenotaph and bid hello to the angel with the harp. Back against that ivy covered wall is an area I call "kid alley." The plots along that wall are all childrens' graves garishly decorated with religious and holiday knick-knacks as well as lots of toys. Come Halloween, the alley's creepiness approaches the sublime.
Angle with HarpAfter parking my Mercury, I walked over to see if a tombstone had finally been placed on the grave of Darren McGavin. Well, there wasn't a stone marker yet and the temporary plastic sign still stuck out of the ground, but a slab of concrete had been placed atop the grave. I wondered if either the cemetery or the relatives of the deceased were concerned about X-Files fans bodysnatching his corpse or maybe it was a place for the movie night audience members to sit instead of wearing out the grass when visiting one of their favorite actors. This was a mystery worthy of Kolchak.
Darren McGavin's Grave is SLABBED As I turned around to go over to the lake, I noticed this new structure being built. The cemetery is becoming peppered with huge, new monuments to the wealthy, immigrant dead. The stones used are beautiful and engraved with photographs of the dearly departed. Some even have life-size statues of the deceased sitting on their favorite throne.
Four Pillars to Whatever The heat and my undigested lunch were starting to get to me, so I headed for the lake hoping the spray from the fountains or the shade from the trees would offer me relief, but that's Part Three.

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part One

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Affordable" Airstream Just $49,066

I'm really more of a room service kind of person, but I've always appreciated those shiny metal Airstream trailers you see on the highways looking for a place to hook up to a cesspool. I'm a city kid and I didn't do much camping until I went to school in the suburbs. In fact, I'm such a city kid that, when during college, I went to teach theatre at a Santa Cruz mountain summer camp, I was the only one on staff who hadn't passed the Red Cross lifesaving class and I had no idea how to swim the butterfly stroke. In contrast, none of those suburban, middle-class, christian, republican staff members had a father who was a gangster or a mother who spoke French-Canadian.
Mini-AirstreamThose bright folks at Design Within Reach (DWR Studio) in partnership with architect Chris Deam have come up with a designer travel trailer for those who have some disposable income or just like having an American icon sitting in their driveways. The "affordable" Airstream sells for just $49,066 and comes with brand name chairs, linens, and other accessories you can show off to your friends. This Saturday, they're having an open house in Manhattan Beach where you can take a look at this cute and cozy little item. Despite my lack of disposable income, a driveway, and a need to purchase trendy things I don't need, I'll give them $3,000 for one of them - CASH. Or maybe on my next vacation, I'll just invest the $3K on room service. Don't miss the popcorn, the hot dogs, and the book raffle.

"DWR has partnered with Airstream and architect/designer Chris Deam to introduce the Design Within Reach Airstream travel trailer. Instead of telling you how cool it is, just come by and experience it for yourself. A representative from the local Airstream dealership will be on hand to answer any questions. See this update of an American icon in person and take part in our raffle for your chance to win a copy of a book documenting the history of Airstream. Popcorn, hot dogs and other refreshments will be served."

The DWR Airstream
451 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
Unit B100
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Phone: 310.796.1976
Fax: 310.796.1978
Saturday, August 25, noon-5pm

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Day Trip to Hollywood - Part One

Tuesday, August 21st, Noon, I found myself driving east on Pico. It wasn't too hot and as long as I didn't use the air conditioning, I wouldn't have to worry about my Mercury causing a fit. I considered stopping at Lazer Blazer, but decided I didn't feel like shopping. I was hungry.

Near Century City, police car sirens told me to pull over to the side of the road. Two squad cars passed me by and I swear I heard a helicopter overhead. Then, there was an ambulance. I considered turning around and heading back to "Burger Madness" in Ocean Park, but the call of El Coyote gave me courage. Turned out there was nothing to fear on Pico except the traffic. When I passed La Cienega, I looked at the piece of property where KOWLOON once stood. Many rum drinks served with umbrellas were sipped by me and mine there amongst the aquariums stocked with fish. Then, they tore it down. What a waste. It would probably have been a big hit these days.

I turned north on Hauser and drove through the spine of Park La Brea. I used to ride my bike here before they put up all the gates and drove out us peasants. My windshield was dirty. It wasn't that grey of a day.

6th and HauserEl Coyote CafeChips, Salsa, Scratch MargaritaBefore I reached my seat at the bar, the bartender had already taken my order. Fox News was on the television and I wanted the remote more than the scratch margarita I'd just asked for. Luckily, one of the regulars I always see in there at lunchtime got control of the remote and started changing channels. He gave me the choice of baseball or soccer. I chose CNN, but he switched it to baseball. Anything's better than Fox News.

Caesar Salad with Fajita Chicken In all the years I've been going to El Coyote, I never had the Caesar Salad before. This day, I had it with Fajita chicken. It was awesome. The second scratch margarita made it even better.

Blick Art Store I left El Coyote by the alleyway and drove onto Beverly heading east. The New Beverly Cinema is still open while the Rialto in Pasadena ceased operation last week. Let's just hope a Starbucks doesn't wind up there someday.

New Beverly CinemaGower and Melrose I slipped over to Larchmont and turned up to Melrose. As I approached Gower, I decided it was a good day to take another left and stop over at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. But that's Part Two.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Groucho and Lenny are Buried in Eden

Eden Memorial Park,
Mission Hills,
the San Fernando Valley,
Los Angeles, California

My wife's grandmother and grandfather are buried here along with my two most favorite dead comedians Groucho Marx (October 2, 1890 - August 19, 1977)and Lenny Bruce (October 13, 1925 - August 3, 1966). Hmm, they were both born in October and both died in August. The astrologers and numerologists could have fun with that fact. As for me, I call it a coincidence.

Groucho Marx When I discovered Lenny in high school circa 72-73 thanks to his records and books, my whole life changed. Here was someone who spoke the truth to bullshit. When I re-discovered Groucho in the 80s thanks to home video, I learned how to speak bullshit to the phony myths we call truth.
Lenny Bruce Among the other graves at Eden, you'll find the always hysterical comic actor Harvey Lembeck (April 15, 1923 - January 5, 1982). While I loved him as 'Rocco Barbella' on "The Phil Silvers Show" aka "Sgt. Bilko" and as 'Erich Von Zipper' in the "Beach Party" movies, his performance as 'Sgt. Harry Shapiro' in Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17" approaches the sublime. He originated this role on Broadway. His son is Michael Lembeck, not only a veteran actor, but director as well.

Howard Caine (January 2, 1926 - December 28, 1993) played Gestapo Major 'Wolfgang Hochstetter' on "Hogan's Heroes." My father (he served in the Army in Europe during WWII) and me watched "Hogan's Heroes" religiously. We'd howl deeply, knowing the tragic truth beneath the humor.

Sam Jaffe (March 10, 1891 - March 24, 1984) is buried at Eden. I saw him in reruns of "Ben Casey" and as "Gunga Din," but when I think of Sam Jaffe, I think of that lecherous crook 'Doc Erwin Riedenschneider' in John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle."

Funny guy Milton Kamen (March 5, 1921 - February 24, 1977) wrote for Sid Caesar and discovered Woody Allen.

Actor Julius Harris (August 17, 1923 - October 17, 2004) began his career in blaxploitation movies and played the memorable Bond villain 'Tee Hee Henderson' in "Live and Let Die."

Playing 'Frank De Fazio' in "Laverne and Shirley," Phil Foster was consistently the funniest element of that series.

Composer George Wyle wrote "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island."

While best known for playing 'Cpl. Chuck Boyle' in "Gomer Pyle, USMC," character actor Roy Stuart worked steadily from the 60s through the 80s.