Finally, I got a date set-up — Saturday August 20, 2011 — where I could hit Musso & Frank with Craig Graham, the guy who first told me about the place. Craig reserved a table with a view of the bar. We were on.
I suppose I met the Grahams, Craig and Patti, and their Vagabond Books enterprise around 1994 or 95, when they operated a brick-and-mortar store in Brentwood, down the block from Mezzaluna where Ron Goldman worked — not long after Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson were found murdered. Can’t remember what the exact reason for hauling down to LA was at the time, but it was something to do with Dennis McMillan.
They may not want it carved on their tombstones, but in the Posse McMillan Universe the Grahams have been most famed as the booksellers Dennis stopped in on (early 80s, I’m guessing) and his scrofolous old dog Skeezerinctum knocked up their dog. To become part and parcel of The Dennis Legend, it has to be something like that, you can’t just meet him at a booksigning somewhere. His dog has to knock up your dog. You have to hold a gun to his head. Something legendary. . . .
But in the real world Vagabond is quite respectable and handles lots of major antiquarian action — Patti mentioned that pretty recently they had acquired the Jimmy Durante library. I wouldn’t have thought that Durante would have had a library, but hey, I was glad to hear he did. The books just moved on recently, because although Durante died in 1980 he had married a much younger woman, a hat check girl in one of the New York clubs (something like that), who had kept the library intact.
So, we had the night lined up. Leo Grin was game for dinner, as usual, but Donald Sidney-Fryer wasn’t available. We parked in the back lot and moved in through the old room, where we paused to look at the Charlie Chaplin booth — up front, next to the doors, the only booth with a window looking out on Hollywood Boulevard — you want to be seen, a primo spot.
It was empty.
Our reserved table with a view of the bar was in the new room, but the host thought to ask if we wanted the Chaplin booth, since we were standing there, appreciating the history. Why not?
Found out that later on it became the favored booth of Steve McQueen. Cool.
This time we didn’t spot a single celebrity, at least that any of us recognised, but Craig mentioned that on one of his first stops in M&F in the next booth Lillian Hellman was dining. Yeah, everyone has set foot in M&F.
And before we hit the joint we made a whirlwind tour around to the various places Jim Thompson had lived in Hollywood. I figured they’d be mentioned in the bio Savage Art by Robert Polito, which I read the opening of once at somebody’s house — looked very detailed, thanks to Thompson’s widow having kept tons of material. But I never got that one. As I said before, I’m not that big a Thompson fan — which doesn’t mean I’m not interested in him.
I called Craig to see if he had a copy in stock I could get. He didn’t. But he said, “I’ll call Thompson’s daughter and see if she remembers the places.”
Suddenly we were going from a second-hand source to a first-hand source — very nice.