Guest Author - Amber Grey
The "Hollywood" sign. The Grauman's Chinese Theater. The Hollywood Walk of Fame. When any of these locations come to mind, we are often taken to the glamorous world of old Hollywood. The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant is no different. It was where the great stars of yesteryear dined with each other. We are willing to bet that anyone who loves classic film and old Hollywood would have loved to have been a fly on those walls.
There is a common misconception, however, between the Whilshire Blvd Brown Derby restaurant and the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant. Oftentimes, both restaurants are confused with each other as to which Hollywood's elite attended the most because both locations shared the distinction of the movie star caricatures on the walls. The Whilshire location was a popular spot not only because of its giant derby hat entrance but also because of its proximity to The Cocoanut Grove and the Ambassador Hotel. But the Hollywood Brown Derby, modeled in a Spanish-Mediterranean style, was one of the finer dining options closest to the movie studios.
The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant was where the dueling gossip columnists, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper would choose this spot for their interviews while The Marx Brothers and Humphrey Bogart were counted amongst the regulars. Actress Carole Lombard also frequented the Hollywood Brown Derby to spend birthdays and Booth Number 5 was the booth where Clark Gable proposed to her and was always especially reserved for them including for their one-year anniversary. And who can forget the hilarious "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy and The Mertzes run into actress Eva Arden and actor William Holden at the restaurant?
And what about those famous caricatures that lined the walls at the Brown Derby? They were created by the restaurant's caricaturist, Zel, and were drawn up while the movie stars had their meals. When they were finished, the stars would sign the caricature and it would be hung up onto the wall.
Unfortunately, it was in 1987 that the Hollywood Brown Derby succumbed to a fire where most of the building was destroyed. Meanwhile, when the Whilshire Brown Derby was sold and now the stucture is incorporated into a Korean mini-mall. The derby hat can still be partially seen from the streets. But today, the legacy of the Brown Derby is kept alive through the Disney Corporation. In Disney's Hollywood Studios, located in Orlando, Florida, the theme park features a fully operational restaurant that was replicated to look like the original Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant. Inside, the famous Hollywood caricatures lines the walls and includes a menu with the restaurant's famous Cobb Salad and The Grapefruit Cake.
Very few people know that there were four Brown Derby restaurants throughout California. The Beverly Hills Brown Derby has long been demolished but a campaign to save the fourth and final Brown Derby restaurant located in Loz Feliz, California has been made. And in 2006, the dedicated campaign succeeded in making the location an historical landmark in hopes of preserving it from being destroyed. As of today, this location is called "The Derby," a nightclub-restaurant.
If you would like to know more about The Brown Derby or want to re-create some of its dishes for yourself, check out the book "The Brown Derby Restaurant: A Hollywood Legend" By Sally Wright Cobb & Marc Willems. It is filled with fantastic photographs of old Hollywood's beloved stars, loads of information and practically every recipe from the restaurant's history.
*The partial book review featured in this article was not endorsed in any way. The book comes from the editor's private book collection.*