A Taste of the Hollywood Life

In the golden era of Hollywood, legendary restaurants such as the Brown Derby, Romanoff’s, La Rue, Perino’s, and Scandia attracted celebrity clientele and high society with some of the finest culinary delights, impeccable service, and the chance to see and be seen.

Among these notable restaurants in Los Angeles that flourished from the1930s through the 1960s were the Brown Derby Restaurants. The most famous of the four Derbies, the Hollywood Brown Derby opened in 1929, located at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. It was the hub of Hollywood - surrounded by broadcasting studios, theaters, and movie studios. Its signature brown leather booths were purposely designed low to encourage table hopping among its celebrity patrons.  For those who ate at the restaurant, it was important to have your cartoon drawn by Eddie Vitch, and have your caricature hang on one of the adorning walls. The Brown Derby Restaurants photographs depict film stars, studio executives, and other industry insiders dining at the popular eatery. Below is a Hollywood Brown Derby menu, circa 1930s, from the William Beaudine papers.


The Hollywood Brown Derby menu featured a few simples dishes meticulously prepared from the finest and freshest ingredients. The restaurant emphasized its quality of ingredients and some dishes were sponsored by the celebrity patrons themselves. Dorothy Lamour, who was Miss New Orleans in 1931, contributed a New Orleans Shrimp Creole recipe to the menu. Louella Parsons’ request for a nonfat desert was the inspiration behind the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake. The famous Cobb Salad, named after restaurateur Robert Cobb, was served on an ice cold plate with a cold fork and old Fashioned French Dressing at the table side.

Across town on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, there was another restaurant that attracted a heady mix of Hollywood stars and high powered agents. Founded by vaudevillian Dave Chasen in 1936, Chasen’s began to build a celebrity following that included Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan, and Marilyn Monroe. While filming Cleopatra (1963), Elizabeth Taylor popularized Chasen’s when she requested their famous chili to be shipped to her shooting location in Rome. The restaurant’s specialty was Hobo Steak – a rich sirloin baked in salt and sautéed in butter, sliced tableside. Another signature dish, the Deviled Beef Bones – breaded ribs made from the standing prime rib roast had to be ordered a week in advance. Chicken Curry was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite dishes, Lucille Ball loved the Creamed Spinach and Banana Shortcake, and Jimmy Stewart customarily dined on small amounts of the thinly sliced Calf’s Liver. Below is a Chasen’s menu from the W.C. Fields papers.

Other notable menus in the Margaret Herrick Library’s Special Collections include autographed menus collected by Nelda M. Siegmund from 1933 and 1934. The collection includes two menus from Tijuana, Mexico establishments, the Hotel Agua Caliente and the Foreign Club Cafe de Luxe, both autographed by numerous Hollywood film personalities.


"The only black people in Ancient Egypt were Nubian soldiers and slaves."

Well, as you can see that’s not true. Several members of the royal house from the famous 18th dynasty had clearly dark skin in their depictions.

There was a lot of intermixing of people in Ancient Egypt, partly because of migration, but also conquest (both by and against Egypt). The idea that dark-skinned people could only be soldiers or slaves is influenced by recent American history. But recent American history is wildly different from Ancient Egypt and its perceptions. This influence gives a distorted view of the history of other societies.

"Why do we have to talk about the pharaohs being dark-skinned? It should be about history."

History has been used to justify oppression. Trying to deny a fact (dark-skinned, high status people in Ancient Egypt) is the true crime against history and against modern race relations.

"So Cleopatra wasn’t white, was she?"

Cleopatra was one pharaoh that was very likely light-skinned. Her family came from Macedonia (her ancestor being one of the generals of Alexander the Great) and intermarried almost exclusively with each other. Cleopatra VII was actually the first of her dynasty who learned to speak Egyptian and was popular in the south as well.

"Why are there not more ancient civilizations in Africa?"

This is a question that is not as innocent as it looks. It is often asked to either prove that dark-skinned people could not have had high status in Ancient Egypt ‘since they did it nowhere else’, or to justify modern power differences between Africa and other countries.

The answer to it? Egypt was not the only ancient civilization in Africa. Right near Egypt were the Land of Punt with its merchants and, with its pointed pyramids, highly sophisticated Nubia. There was also the Nok Culture in Nigeria and Sao Civilization in Cameroon, as well as cities like Malao, Essina and Mosylon in Somalia.