How Celebrities Drank and Dined in the Golden Age of Hollywood Unveiled in New Exhibit

The Garden of Allah. The Cocoanut Grove. The Brown Derby and The Luau. They were the hottest places to see and be seen during the Golden Age of Hollywood, from the 1930s to the 1960s. Anyone who dined at these glamorous venues or wishes they had will thrill to the Out With the Stars exhibit, opening Saturday at the Hollywood Heritage Museum. The exhibition showcases these starry restaurants and much more from the 20th century in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York, with a special room devoted to World War II’s Hollywood Canteen.

Most of these atmospheric spots are long gone now, except a few stalwarts like Musso and Frank, the Tam O’Shanter and the Smokehouse. But in the days before social media and TMZ, making the scene at one of Hollywood’s swanky nightspots was the best way to boost your career, explains entertainment manager Darin Barnes, who helped curate the exhibit. An up-and-coming starlet could mingle with studio execs and get photographed for the morning and evening newspapers while dining on stuffed squab at Sardi’s or sipping a zombie at Don the Beachcomber.

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Angie Schneider, director of the museum that is housed in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn across from the Hollywood Bowl, is working to bolster its programming with exhibits featuring rare items from entertainment collectors, such as the recent MGM 100th anniversary showcase.

One room of Out With the Stars is dedicated to an extensive collection from the Hollywood Canteen, the integrated club that welcomed service members on their way to or from their military assignments. Stars including Bob Hope, Bette Davis and John Garfield were just a few of the 3,000 celebrity volunteers who helped boost morale during World War II, and the exhibit includes autographed postcards along with artifacts, photos and treasures from the 1944 film “Hollywood Canteen.”

Pirate's Den
W.C. Fields, center, at the Pirates’ Den with Rudy Vallee.

One highlight is the menus and ephemera with colorful art deco graphics from historic eateries including Clara Bow’s It Café, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, Sardi’s, Ciro’s, Perino’s and Pig n’ Whistle. A display is devoted to Don Dickerman’s Pirates’ Den — a wild 1940s theme nitery with celebrity partners including Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Erroll Flynn, Rudy Vallee, Fred MacMurray and Hope. Rare photos showcase the quirky spot where mock battles were staged while female patrons were abducted and held in the brig to see who could scream the loudest — highly inappropriate by today’s standards.

Other displays feature table settings, address books and menus from the stars’ home entertaining, a magnificent cape and items from “exotic” singer Yma Sumac, a tiki bar display and a section on studio commissaries. The original neon sign from El Cholo and the Coffee Shop sign from the Brown Derby’s Vine Street location are on display, but not the familiar derby-shaped sign itself, which was too tall to fit inside the museum doors, Barnes explains.

The exhibit opens Saturday with a party featuring vintage music, and runs until Labor Day.

(pictured at top: Cesar Romero dines with friends at the Brown Derby.)

Ciro’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip later became the Comedy Store.
Ciro’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip later became the Comedy Store.

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