Never on a Sundae

The Soda Fountain Rag (1914) was written by Duke Ellington at age 15, inspired by his job as a soda jerk in Washington, DC.  It was his very first of the 1000’s of compositions he would write throughout his career.   He turned professional at age 17.  At his first paid performance, Ellington played until his fingers bled.  He excitedly ran home to show his mother the 75 cents he earned (the most money he had ever seen), but couldn’t play piano for two weeks after.  In later years, he removed this song from his repertoire, saying it was too difficult.  The Soda Fountain Rag is performed here by Shelly Berg in 2009 for the NPR program titled Riverwalk Jazz.

James Dean with cake (photographed by Dennis Stock in NYC).

James Dean with cake (photographed by Dennis Stock in NYC).

February 8th, 2016 marks what would have been James Dean’s 85th birthday.

To celebrate, we’re throwing a party at the iconic Hollywood meeting spot, Schwab’s Pharmacy.  It was a favorite hangout of Dean’s and steeped in legendary Hollywood history and lore.

The featured recipe is Schwab’s “Don’t Care Sundae,” a homemade coffee syrup, ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, with a cherry on top delight, that was the favored pick-me-up of ambitious actors and actresses taking breaks from long shooting schedules at the nearby studios.  (The recipe appears at the end of this blog, along with a step-by-step photo cook-along.  You can scroll down if you want to skip all the stories…)  It’s an adult-flavored treat that promises to transport you and your guests back to the golden era of Hollywood.

Disclaimer: the title of this blog is a play on another of my favorite movies, actresses, and songs, Melina Mercouri in Never On a Sunday (1960) and has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story (other than I live in Greece)…so please pardon my pun.

(Click on any of the photos within this blog to view larger.)

 

SCHWAB’S PHARMACY

Schwab’s Pharmacy was the landmark Hollywood hotspot where the famous and the hopefuls gathered…waiting for that “big break.”  It developed a club house atmosphere, frequented by Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplan, Greta Garbo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and countless others…including James Dean.  Yet to be discovered stars like Hugh O’Brian worked behind it’s counter.

Schwab's the hub of Hollywood hopefuls...

Schwab’s the hub of Hollywood hopefuls…

This was an era when the local pharmacy was much more than a place to have prescriptions filled…it was the hub of the neighborhood (Schwab’s neighborhood just happened to be Hollywood).  It was a pharmacy and a newsstand…a shoeshine and a dry goods store…you could cash checks there, receive mail there, or get a quick meal at the lunch counter and soda fountain.  They served hamburgers, eggs and onions, lox, meatloaf, corned beef and cabbage, chop suey, beef stew, lentil soup, and all kinds of pie…you could get malts, egg creams (milk, seltzer, and syrup), and phosphate sodas.  The sign on the wall that read “Coffee 40 cents per cup, maximum 30 minutes,” was roundly ignored.  The movers, shakers and Hollywood deal makers all hung out there.  An out of work actor could always depend on getting a meal on credit or for free (as Lucille Ball did many times there during her chorus girl days).

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We’ve never turned somebody down who was hungry. My mother told us if anyone needed, give, never turn down.”

Leon Schwab

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(James Dean playing a kid at the soda fountain in Has Anybody Seen My Gal? ,1952.  It was Dean’s first “big screen” dialog.  The star of the film was Rock Hudson.)

The Schwab's brothers (l to r) Leon, Jack, and Bernard.

The Schwab’s brothers (l to r) Leon, Jack, and Bernard.

Schwab’s was started in 1932 by 4 pharmacist brothers; Jack, Leon, Bernard, and Martin Schwab.  They renovated an existing, but run-down pharmacy at 8024 Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights Boulevard.  The drug store was situated near the RKO, Columbia, and Republic Studios and across the street from the famous upscale residential complex, Garden of Allah.  The Hollywood studio “star system” had taken hold…big money was flowing in and around the film industry.

The brothers began catering to their studio clientele, installing a row of telephone booths and instituting a paging service… so agents could quickly contact actors.  It was a dark, crowded and cozy space at the time.  Bit-players were close to the lots when news circulated about upcoming casting calls.  Copies of Variety magazine circulated from hand to hand.  It’s trendy customers called it “The Schwabadero” ( referencing the swanky Trocadero Nightclub).  Eventually the Schwab brothers would open 7 locations, but none would surpass the popularity of the original.

Marilyn Monroe had her prescriptions filled there, Gloria Swanson got her make-up there, and Cher bought lipstick by the case.  Ava Gardner and Charlie Chaplan occasionally jumped behind the counter, to the amusement of fellow actors and the delight of movie fans.  (Contrary to legend, Lana Turner was NOT discovered there.  It happened 2 miles up the road at Pop’s Top Hat Cafe, across from Hollywood High, where she was skipping class and drinking a Coke.  The perpetual rumor that it occurred at Schwab’s was never disputed and perhaps was even fueled by it’s owners.)  But F. Scott Fitzgerald DID have a heart attack there (while waiting in line to buy a pack of cigarettes), and Humphrey Bogart DID ask owner Leon if he had a cure for a hangover…to which Leon replied, “Stop drinking,” and Harold Arlen DID write the song Over the Rainbow there about people dreaming of somewhere better.

“After that, I drove down to headquarters. That’s the way a lot of us think about Schwab’s. Kind of a combination coffee klatch, and waiting room. Waiting, waiting for the Gravy train.”

Joe Gillis, the washed-up writer (played by William Holden) in the film, Sunset Boulevard (1950)

 

Marilyn's prescriptions from Schwab's Pharmacy. The eye drops in the center from when she was married to Arthur Miller.

Marilyn’s prescriptions from Schwab’s Pharmacy. The eye drops in the center from when she was married to Arthur Miller.

 

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“At Schwab’s they operate on the notion that Joe Doakes is just as important to Joe Doakes as Lana Turner is to Lana Turner.”

Sidney Skolsky, Hollywood gossip columnist

(Click on the photo to scroll through a slideshow of Schwab’s Pharmacy, fashion, and change through the years…)

 

1944 (Sidney Skolsky in the doorway)

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In 1949 Googie’s Coffee Shop (with the iconic atomic-age architecture of John Lautner) was built next door.  It was another favorite haunt of James Dean’s (but that’s a whole other topic for a future blog…former manager Steve Hayes shared several great stories with me).  Schwab’s remodeled the entire interior and exterior of it’s Sunset Strip flagship store in 1956.  They expanded, taking over the space formerly occupied by the Crescent Heights Market to accommodate their increasing popularity and crowds .  The corner became a starry-eyed tourist magnet.  Two women were overheard, “The difference between Hollywood and Duluth, Rose—is when you see someone who looks like someone, it really is someone.”

SIDNEY SKOLSKY

Sidney Skolsky checking his mail at Schwab's.

Sidney Skolsky checking his mail at Schwab’s.

Sidney Skolsky, was a Hollywood reporter and gossip columnist for over 50 years.  He rented second-floor office space from the brothers and wrote monthly reports for Photoplay magazine entitled From a Stool at Schwab’s.  He also had a radio show and daily and weekly columns syndicated in newspapers worldwide.  Skolsky is credited for first using the name “Oscar” for the Academy Awards and coining the term “beefcake.”  He always hitchhiked around town (Skolsky was more than able to afford the finest of cars, but never owned one), because he got the best gossip from the random conversations of those rides.

Sidney’s particular philosophy as a journalist, was to plug the newcomers and unknowns as frequently as possible.  He was a fan and a friend of James Dean, and often went the extra mile (even printing letters from young girls who wanted to start James Dean fan clubs and needed to know how).

“…then a young fellow approaches. He is wearing a black leather jacket and a pair of old-fashioned steel-framed glasses. It’s Jimmy Dean. I can tell by the way they greet him that they respect him. The talk continues. Jimmy slumps in the booth, seldom opens his mouth. When he does join in, all listen, and he says something like this: ‘All neurotic people have the necessity to express themselves. For me, acting is the most logical.’ “

Sidney Skolsky (at Googie's Coffee Shop)

In one account, Skolsky mentioned that Marlon Brando could do “a terrific” impression of James Dean, but that Dean, not to be out done, did “really excellent impressions” of Brando doing Chaplin and of Chaplin doing Brando.  At a party at Ella Logan’s house (that was also attended by Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat Cole) Skolsky reported, “…the night’s real entertainment was watching James Dean watch Marlon Brando, who was casing Jimmy Dean.”

 

James Dean and jazz singer Toni Lee Scott on the corner of Crescent Heights Boulevard and Sunset (you can see the Googie's sign behind them)

James Dean and jazz singer Toni Lee Scott on the corner of Crescent Heights Boulevard and Sunset (you can see the Googie’s sign behind them)

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He broke the story on the secret affair between Dean and Italian actress Pier Angeli…”James Dean has the lead in East of Eden and you’ll be hearing from him…Pier Angeli has discovered him already.”  A week later he wrote, “The East of Eden set is closed to every visitor except Pier Angeli.  She’s James Dean’s Eve, regardless of denials.”

Skolsky reported on everything from what he ate to what kind of pajamas he slept in (“conservative,” in case you were wondering).  When Dean came down with laryngitis for 3 days on the set of Rebel Without a Cause, Sidney revealed “Lili Kardell and Vampira have been taking turns bringing him hot soup and making hot tea.”

“He talks to few people on the set. When he does get into a conversation, he listens with the same intensity he puts into his acting. He usually wanders away and has to be summoned to play a scene. Generally he comes running to do a scene or will stand to the side of the camera jumping and waving his arms. Sometimes he will box a little with his stand-in, former champ fighter, Mushy Callahan.”

Sidney Skolsky (on the set of Rebel)

Skolsky was also a novelist (5 books to his credit) and film producer.  He produced The Jolson Story (1946, receiving a Best Picture Oscar nomination), and The Eddie Cantor Story (1953).  He was in talks with his friend Marilyn Monroe to play in The Jean Harlow Story when she was found dead (on the day he had a 4pm meeting with her).

The cast of Rebel, Steffi Sidney as "Mil," back row center.

The cast of Rebel, Steffi Sidney as “Mil” (the middle girl in this photo).

Sidney Skolsky’s daughter Steffi Sidney, was an actress.  She was cast as gang member “Mil” in Rebel Without a Cause (Steffi was originally slated for the character of Judy before the role was awarded to Natalie Wood).  Director Nicholas Ray and script writer Stewart Stern explained to her that “Mil” was insecure.  Steffi decided that an insecure girl would brush her hair a lot…so she brushed her hair constantly throughout the movie.  Most of her scenes, unfortunately, hit the cutting room floor.

She last saw Dean at a party that Frank Sinatra threw at the Villa Capri for it’s owner, Patsy D’Amore.  “He came over to me and threw his arm around me and said, ‘We’ve never had a picture taken together, Steffi.’ ‘Fine, let’s take a picture.’ ” she said.   “The 8x10s of that picture came to me on September 30th, 1955 (the day Dean died).”

The last photo of Steffi and James, a candid photo from the same party, and a photo of Jim and Steffi's father Sidney Skolsky at the party.

The last photo of Steffi and James, a candid photo from the same party, and a photo of Jim and Steffi’s father Sidney Skolsky at the party.

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“Dean surprised regulars by coming all dressed up: blue suit, white shirt, and tie. Also, Jimmy didn’t make his usual entrance through the kitchen, but through the front door, with lovely Ursula Andress.”

Sidney Skolsky ( at the Villa Capri)

THE LEGACY OF SCHWAB’S

The demolition of Schwab's Pharmacy in 1988.

The demolition of Schwab’s Pharmacy in 1988.

Schwab’s was featured as a location in a number of Hollywood films, most famously perhaps in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden (the exterior shots were filmed on location but the brief interior scenes where recorded in a meticulously reproduced set on the Paramount Studios lot.

A not-so-meticulously reproduced facsimile has been recreated at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, FL where park-goers can dine from a 50s soda fountain-inspired menu.

The film was also adapted into a Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and features a song about the famed pharmacy.

In 1984 the Hollywood neighborhood that includes the “Sunset Strip” was incorporated, and is now known as West Hollywood (called WeHo by the locals).

Schwab’s became increasingly popular with tourists and remained the axis of movieland’s movers and shakers through the 50s and 60s.  In the 70s it was dominated by the popular musician crowd of the era and even into the early 80s was frequented by celebrities like Sylvester Stalone, Goldie Hawn, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Governor Jerry Brown and his then girlfriend Linda Ronstadt.  When the Screen Actors Guild went on strike in 1980, news agencys sent their reporters to Schwab’s to get the scoop on what was going on.

After 51 1/2 years in business at the same location, Schwab’s was closed in 1983 (Leon Schwab was 72) and eventually demolished in 1988 to make way for a Virgin Megastore and shopping plaza (since demolished and replaced by a Trader Joe’s).  “It was a tough decision to make, but everything comes to an end,” stated Leon.

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Schwab’s Pharmacy’s Don’t Care Sundae

Schwab’s Don’t Care Sundae was  a staple of the soda fountain’s menu during James Dean’s time there and very popular with the actors and actresses working long hours at the nearby film studios.  Your guests will love the rich, dark, caramel-ly flavors of your homemade coffee syrup, perfectly complemented by the vanilla, creamy textures of the sundae base.  The recipe is easy, but the flavors surprisingly outshine the deceptively simple ingredients.  (Reminder, you can click any of the photos to see them full size.)

 

SUNDAE DIRECTIONS:

-Dip one scoop of vanilla ice cream into a sundae tulip.  Cover the ice cream with coffee syrup and garnish with whipped cream.  Sprinkle on chopped nuts and place a maraschino cherry on top.

SYRUP INGREDIENTS:

2 cups strong coffee * (see below)

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

SYRUP DIRECTIONS:

-To make syrup, heat the thrice-brewed coffee in a saucepan to a simmer.  Stir in sugar and vanilla, and continue to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring until sugar completely dissolved.  Cool before using.

*- For the strong coffee, make 3 small pots of coffee with the same liquid.  Brew the first pot in the usual way.  For the second pot, use the first batch of brewed coffee as the liquid instead of water, with fresh coffee grounds.  Then repeat with twice-brewed coffee to produce the final pot.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKED FOR ME:

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1453984560413

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1453984565752

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1453984532124

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Happy 85th Birthday James Dean!

 

I’d love to hear how you all decide to celebrate James Dean’s Birthday on February 8th this year…drop me a comment here!

This recipe and over 200 others are available in the recently published Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean available from this website and from these fine independent retailers around the US.

I love reading your thoughts and comments…leave me a note below, subscribe to receive emails about future postings, and freely use the social media sharing buttons to share this story with your friends and family…

 

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