Didn’t spot any celebrities during the recent stop in Musso & Frank (not to say that they weren’t there, but I didn’t recognise them if they were), but I knew a specific ghost from the past to check for over my shoulder. Yeah, I’d say every celebrity hit M&F, but just before I left on the trip I got tipped to one of my favorites.
In the bio Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story, good old Jackson recalls casually meeting Mary Livingston, his wife for years, a couple of times before the attraction clicked. Then:
In 1926 in Los Angeles I went out on a double date with a fellow vaudevillian, Al Bernovici, his new wife, Ethel, and Ethel’s younger sister. . . . The sister, my blind date, was a smashing brunette with a vivacious smile and sparkling brown eyes. . . . She didn’t let on that I had not only ignored her the first time we met, but was even ruder later in San Francisco.
This time it was love. Love at third sight.
The four of us had dinner at Musso Frank’s in Hollywood. I don’t remember many of the details except that I kept staring at her and she kept smiling and I wanted desperately to say clever and provocative things, but I was tongue-tied and embarrassed.
In 1926 the dinner would have been in the old room, inside the front doors, where Chaplin’s favorite booth sits at the window.
Jack recalled that Mary wore “a simple black dress with a pearl choker and a white cloche hat.”
It occurred to me to ask Jo Hammett if she ever met Benny — she had, and her most distinct memory was of his jacket, which she bet cost a thousand dollars.
Jo was dining in The Brown Derby (the one near the Beverly Wilshire) with her dad when he spotted Benny and introduced them. She says Hammett genuinely liked Benny, who — unlike many in show business — he thought was “a real person.”
And that’s yet another notch on the idea that for a couple of decades, Hammett pretty much knew everyone in Hollywood, and in New York, too.