Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chow Time: Idle Hour, The Devil's Playground

As it so happens, I prefer consuming my food from a barrel.  It has oft been whispered around the dinner table that I eat like a horse; after our feature on the Barrel of Boron, it was confirmed that the closest thing I can find to a socially-acceptable trough has indeed become my food-delivery method of choice.  

And in other barrel-related news, we finally made it to Idle Hour in North Hollywood. 

A few years back, on our hunt for Bing Crosby's Toluca Lake estate, we happened upon a barren barrel, crumbling after decades of delinquency.  The barrel-shaped restaurant was once the Idle Hour Cafe, a 1941 taproom faithfully serving the thirstiest of the San Fernando Valley's wartime residents.  In 1972, the Idle Hour changed ownership and became a flamenco bar known as La Caña.  Going belly-up in the early-'80s, the great big barrel has since remained shuttered, a forlorn reminder of Los Angeles' fabled legacy of programmatic architecture.

While the wacky tacky adventure team was brimming with brilliant ideas on how to bring the barrel back to life, there was one tiny, little issue; our dreams are forever woefully underfunded.  Luckily, another group of visionaries came along with both the desire and the necessary capital to resurrect not only the barrel but the original name, Idle Hour.  With its rotten siding, festering water features, and yawning awning, La Caña was essentially perfect already; on some level I wish it could've retained just a dash of its weather-beaten charm.  But in a town free of meat, gluten, lactose, peanuts, and joy, I can only imagine the outrage when a drink might have arrived with an unexpected garnish of mosquito larvae skewered by splinters covered in lead paint.

Idle Hour - North Hollywood, CA

Except for the fact that it remains a giant barrel with an identical street address, it is hard to believe that this is the
same La Caña we once knew.  This is due in no small part to our pal, journalist and preservationist, Chris Nichols.

After a glossy transformation, the once empty barrel is full again - full of craft brews and a surprisingly-diverse crowd.  Who knew that an oversized barrel would become an every man's watering hole, appealing equally to the preciously bewhiskered, the vintage vanguard, neighborhood regulars, and wacky tacky turkey necks.  

I didn't get many interior pictures because well, it looks like the inside of
barrel (a multi-million dollar barrel, to be sure).  I loved the curved walls,
the barrel skylight and the barrel-shaped windows made of thumbprint glass.

On the tail end of a recent work/adventure day, I found myself in the vicinity of both Idle Hour and my oldest friend.  She has been my friend since the day I changed schools in the middle of first grade and found myself in an unfamiliar classroom with an unfamiliar teacher, husky of voice who wore velour pant suits and smelled of cigarettes and instant coffee.  As I wept, I felt a hand on my arm and heard a little voice that said, "It'll be okay."  It's possible that our friendship may not have endured for thirty years had I heard the tag, "you dumb crybaby..."  Because I'm unsure of her feelings about being spotlighted on wacky tacky, we won't use her real name.  Instead, we'll call her Sharon Marilu because she is like one of those memory wizards...like Marilu Henner.  Seriously, a short time ago (for reasons unknown to even me) I found myself contacting Sharon Marilu to find out the name of our middle school librarian.  She knew it instantly.  I've already forgotten.  As Sharon Marilu is keen of memory and has known me longer than pretty much anyone outside of my family, she would probably be the one to go to should you need any dirt on Mr. Tiny (the only trouble is that she is far too kind to dish the proverbial dirt).

Sharon Marilu said that she was embarrassed to be drinking in front of me (I told
her to go for it; the Idle Hour is the devil's playground after all).  I have a feeling
that she'll be even more embarrassed by the the heart frame I put around her face.

Meeting at Idle Hour, we second-guessed ourselves after deciding to sit outside; even at seven o'clock in the evening it was still quite hot.  We were well rewarded for our decision, however, with an inexplicably-breezy courtyard, shaded by lovely trees and Idle Hour's resident mascot.

Like a pipe-smoking watchdog, a replica of the world-famous Bull Dog Cafe (immortalized in The Rocketeer) stands guard over the Idle Hour patio.  Originally built for display at The Petersen Automotive Museum, the scale model had
to be cut down, trucked over, and reassembled onsite.  It took us several puffs to figure out that the pipe actually works, billowing an occasional cloud of "smoke" over the unsuspecting heads of Idle Hour patrons.

The fare at Idle Hour can best be described as pinkies-up pub grub, ranging from the pedestrian (The American Burger) to the inexplicable (turmeric rice with mayonnaise and an egg).

Neither one of us raved about our dinners (me: chicken sandwich, Sharon Marilu: veggie sloppy joe) but what Idle Hour might lack in noteworthy menu offerings, it more than makes up for in charming atmosphere and attentive service (and probably booze).

But what am I complaining about?!?!!
For someone who abstains from alcohol,
I sure do frequent many a cask!

If you find yourself in the Toluca Lake/North Hollywood neighborhoods of Los Angeles with an hour to idle, then make your idle hands the devil's workshop/playground/et al. and work your way over to Idle Hour.  Our visit was so pleasant that when we checked the time, we realized that we had idled away many an hour and needed to hightail it toward home.  Until we meet again, I will keep searching for more giant barrels to indulge my endless appetite for crazy roadside restaurants.  So, join Mr. Tiny and Sharon Marilu - let's "Roll Out the Barrel" one more time!!!

"Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out the Barrel)" - The Andrews Sisters

Idle Hour
4824 Vineland Ave
Los Angeles, CA



Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

wacky tacky goes Hollywood pt. III: Love, Shirley Temple

A day late and a dollar short is the most apt description of my participation in the world.  Fortunately, the kid sister needed a ride to the airport last week and my subsequent propinquity to Santa Monica, CA coincided with the last day of Love, Shirley Temple: The Exhibit.  As it turns out, the whole thing is about a lot more than 7Up and grenadine.

With Los Angeles as one of only five stops, the exhibit is sort of a traveling auction preview; it is the world's last chance to see the priceless collection of Shirley Temple's personal archives of "movie costumes, dolls, and childhood memorabilia" all in one place.  While small, the exhibit was crammed full of dimpled, 1930's nostalgia and moments of sincere disbelief that only a masking-tape line on the carpet separated me from my baser, "snatch-and-grab" tendencies.

The dress that sold a million dolls.
According to one of the docents, the tea-stained finish of the polka-dot,
organdy dress from Stand Up and Cheer was original; because bright white
did not photograph well, almost all of Temple's "white" costumes were really
more ivory or tan in color.

I'm sure they have their reasons, but it seems a low-level tragedy for the Temple-Black heirs to separate such a comprehensive collection.  In all honesty, though, I had no idea that this collection even existed.  As it happens, Temple's mother stipulated in her studio contracts that the family would retain all of the costumes from Temple's productions.  The result is a wonderland for fans of Shirley, old Hollywood, and the history of cinematic costumery.

Few things make me happier than seeing a costume illustration paired
with the genuine article, like this stunning piece from Captain January.

Having been carefully stored for the last eight decades, the costumes are preserved
in near-mint condition, including this little antebellum dream from The Littlest Rebel.

Another fact of which I was unaware was that every production yielded a
costume replicated in miniature, intended to dress a Shirley Temple Doll.
Many of the dolls accompanied their full-size (although still tiny) counterparts.
This scotty-dog dress from Our Little Girl, is the very definition of juvenile
fashions of the '30s. 

The costume and the matching doll from Little Miss Broadway

The Curly Top outfit embroidered with ducks
is almost the same size as Shirley's mini-me

And yet another matched set 

Everywhere one turned, there were more and more matinee memories.  I circled each room about ten times each to make sure I didn't miss anything.

I couldn't stop taking pictures of this trio; I loved them all!!!
Shirley as The Little Princess

Costumes and a signed self-portrait from Heidi

Shirley's hula ensemble from Captain January

A frothy little number from Baby Take a Bow

These satin pajamas with appliqué bunnies as seen in Curly Top were so cool!

I appreciate authentic 18th-Century costuming almost as much as I appreciate
18th-Century costuming as interpreted by the designers of Hollywood's golden age!!!
This beautiful robe à la française and court shoes were featured in a scene from Heidi.

As promised, the exhibit included more than costumes.  Letters, paintings, toys, record players, and other effect of young Miss Temple were carefully incorporated into the costume installations.

Perhaps none so grand as this life-sized doll of a traditional Japanese bride,
gifted to Shirley by a wealthy Japanese couple living in Hawaii at the time
of her first visit to the islands.

A gas-powered, roadster-style minicar which the security staff wouldn't
even let me try to fit into...I wasn't even going to go anywhere...I swear.

All the cowgirl trappings and the western-styled dolls to go along for the ride

I was particularly excited by the letters/photographs she exchanged with
the Roosevelts, her honorary police chief badge, her childhood paintings,
her birth certificate, and her collection of celebrity autographs (including
Orson Welles).

The exhibit was certainly a joyful exercise in nostalgia overload, but my favorite part of it all was the eavesdropping.  I entered the hall at the same time as a group of seniors who had just been dropped off by bus.  As they hobbled, wheeled, and "walkered" their way around the costumes, their eyes twinkled.  I was tickled by the chorus of "oohs" and "ahs," overjoyed at every memory shared of afternoon movies, tap-dance classes, dolls, and Shirley Temple scrapbooks.

In Shirley Temple, they saw their own life stories.

It probably sounds corny, but it is no overstatement to credit a three-year-old girl with helping the world cope with the many indignities of the Great Depression.  The pint-sized dynamo captured the heart of the nation, taking audiences for an escapist adventure on the Good Ship Lollipop and beyond!

One of the most iconic pieces in the collection is the plaid dress worn by Temple in a scene from Bright Eyes.

"On the Good Ship Lollipop" - Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (questionably colorized)

If you believe in that sort of thing, it is kind of nice to think of Shirley Temple-Black looking down upon us.  And while, as one of Heaven's newest ambassadors, she probably has more critical issues at hand, we hope that she is getting a thrill out of all the abiding love and good wishes still on Earth for Shirley Temple.

"Heaven looking upon Earth" by Shirley Temple


Mr. Tiny

Friday, June 12, 2015

Waking the Dead: Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary

Raise your hand if you knew that Nell Carter was Jewish.  It was a surprise to me too.  Honestly, if you had shared that choice little tidbit with me last week, I would've said, "Gimme a break!"  And yet, the fact remains that Carter's remains rest in one of Los Angeles' largest Jewish cemeteries.

"I'll see you at temple!"

Now, it's been a long running joke at awards shows that the majority population in the business of show (Nell Carter included) descends from God's chosen people; after visiting Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles, it became clear to this wacky tacky WASP that the joke is funny because it's true.  One trip around the verdant grounds of this beautifully-maintained cemetery yields a veritable constellation of classic-Hollywood's biggest stars (of David).

Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary - Los Angeles, CA

The sole function of Hillside's largest monument appears merely to be a stunning architectural centerpiece in which six columns support an open rotunda from which spills forth a cascading waterfall.  This is more than just atmospheric grandeur guiding loved ones into the next life, however, this is all part of one man's grave.

Under a great stone canopy stands the marble
sarcophagus of filmdom's favorite Jazz Singer
Al Jolson
Are you my Mammy?
The shrine includes a life-size statue of the singer-
actor who famously ushered in the era of "talkies."

Directly behind Jolson's monument is the entrance to the mausoleum.  A reverential tone is set by the building's soaring panels of beautiful stained glass and its incredible light fixtures.

Cool, but none could outshine the star power of the famous residents.

The mausoleum

The godfather of television game shows 
(including my favorite, What's My Line?), 
sits just to the left of the main entrance.

Aaron Spelling
Isn't it some kind of sacrilege that his current
zip code is 90045 and not 90210?!?!!

Jeff Chandler
I would definitely consider converting if it meant
that I too got wavy, prematurely-gray hair.

Dinah Shore
Who needs to see the USA in a Chevrolet when you
can be the "someone" in the kitchen with Dinah?!!

The neighboring grave sites of the Bonanza cast broadened our understanding of the term "family plot."

Lorne Greene
This is the look that told Hoss he was in big trouble.

Michael Landon
Even with its infamous traffic, he found his
Highway to Heaven in Los Angeles!

Like some kind of heavenly roast, a host of comedy legends made Hillside their final stop before going up to that big Friar's Club in the sky.

Jack Benny
For one so famously thrifty, Benny sure went all out on
his final resting place.  I think it was for the love of Mary.

A funnyman, a singer, and the guy
responsible for "Makin' Whoopee."

Milton Berle
I was never a huge fan of "Uncle Milty" but his cameo
in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure always makes me laugh.

In which otherworldly realm do you think 
the Three Stooges are practicing their hijinks? 

It is mandatory for every American to know no more than 23 percent of 
the lyrics to Sherman's most famous song, "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah."
"Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" - Allan Sherman 
on the Perry Como Show

Dreaming of making my home a terrazzo-clad "sanctuary of kindness," makes me
want to take the easy way out and just take up residence at Hillside Memorial Park!

Cyd Charisse & Tony Martin
In some totally immature, passive-aggressive way, don't you hope that
their kids turned out ugly; it's not fair for two people to be so beautiful!!!
How badly did I want to "take one" from the crystal
bowl of disposable yarmulkes?  I did but I didn't...

Friz Freleng
The innovative animator gave us some of the most
memorable cartoon moments of the 20th Century!

Sheldon Leonard
A supporting player in It's A Wonderful Life and I Love Lucy,
Leonard was a successful producer of another wacky tacky 
television favorite, The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Eydie Gorme
It is customary at Jewish cemeteries to place small stones on the
graves of the departed.  Nobody said they couldn't be rhinestones!!!

Shelley Winters
It's always difficult for me to think of Ms. Winters as a sex pot;
my introductions to her body of work came via Roseanne and
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

I was a bit reticent to include the next resident, as he was a convicted criminal responsible for all kinds of abominable activities during his rise to the top of the Los Angeles crime syndicate.  But you can't spell infamy without fam(e), right?  And even bad guys need to be laid to rest.

Mickey Cohen
The boxer obviously took his fair share of punches.

Other big names found within the grounds of Hillside Memorial park include Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Tom Poston, Suzanne Pleshette, David Janssen, George Jessel, and the Max Factors (Junior and Senior).  The most recent addition to the star roster is none other than Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy.

Leonard Nimoy
At the end of a footbridge near the edge of a glittering
pond, Nimoy's marker is so new that the permanent
plaque is not yet in place.

Sci-fi enthusiasts are another tribe to which I cannot count myself a member, but some icons of popular culture are so significant that they are able to transcend even my ignorance.  As I walked away from Nimoy's memorial towards the wacky wagon, I noticed a grave marker that featured a symbol that looked distinctly familiar.

I was quite touched when I learned that Nimoy incorporated a
sacred gesture from his faith into his Star Trek character.  It was a
surefire way to make sure that it would "live long and prosper."

Walking the grounds, contemplating death, and the meaning of celebrity, I heard a loud thud that broke the silent spell cast by a graveyard.  Looking around for the source of the noise, I saw a smudge on a large pane of glass that led into the mausoleum's foyer.  As if I needed another reminder of the fleeting nature of life, I looked down to see the lifeless body of a bird.
I guess if you gotta go, a cemetery is a most convenient place...

In the end, I suppose we're all here to learn something; I think it is just as Leonard Nimoy says in the song, "Nature Boy," written by Jewish mystic, Eden Ahbez.  "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."  Godspeed little bird!

"Nature Boy" - Leonard Nimoy

Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary
6001 W Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA



Mr. Tiny