Googie Nights!

GOOGIES’ MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH

Table olives, ready for me to start processing...

Table olives, ready for me to start processing…

November

brings to our island some much needed rains, milder temperatures,

and the start of the olive harvest…

The air will soon be fragranced with the earthy aromas of processing oil, wafting from the numerous surrounding mills (our nearest one, only a block away).  I like it.  But the steady flow of farm tractors, hauling in sacks of the daily harvest and hauling away barrels of oil, is still light. It’s also time to start processing the table olives for home…a laborious, time-consuming, but ultimately rewarding labor of love (I love olives just as much as I love pumpkins!).

November also ushers in the beginning of the holiday season.  The time of year when we start planning the parties and get-togethers with friends and family…the time of year when we celebrate the bounty of the harvest and count the blessings in our lives.

While contemplating the topic for this month’s blog, I thought I’d feature food for just that kind of entertaining…  My original plan was to focus on appetizers and party food that highlight olive oil (and incorporate video of our local oil production)…  But this recipe isn’t one of them.  It does loosely tie-in with American Thanksgiving, so000…the olive oil posting will have to be one of my next postings.

We’re making the fabulous Monte Cristo sandwich from the legendary Googies Coffee Shop in Hollywood (a favorite hangout of James Dean’s)!  Make it as a most unique party offering or just for your own private indulgence…  It’s easy, fun, and unexpected.  (Keep this in mind for Thanksgiving turkey leftovers too!)  We used this recipe when we had our very first book release party at CHEVY’S AMERICAN DINER in Laganas, here on the island.  They were a HUGE hit with the crowd!!!  It’s made with sliced turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese between buttered white bread, then egg-battered and fried.  Served with a side of strawberry jam, it’s unusual, a little bit sweet, a little bit savory…and 100% delicious!

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But if YOUR  Thanksgivings ever go anything like this one from the movie Giant (1956)… 

you might consider making “just cheese” Monte Cristo’s like I did a couple of days ago…They were Yummy!

There’s an exciting new video for the Monte Cristo sandwich and recipe details at the bottom of the page (including my vegetarian, mixed cheeses version).  As a reminder, you can click on any of the photos to see them larger.  But first, here’s a little history and a couple of stories…

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GOOGIES COFFEE SHOP

Googies Coffee Shop

Googies Coffee Shop

Googies Coffee Shop was built in 1949 on a vacant lot at 8100 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood (at the corner of Crescent Heights, next to the famous Schwab’s Drug Store and overlooking The Garden of Allah Hotel and Villas), by architect John Lautner (a student of Frank Lloyd Wright).  It became the symbol and namesake of the post-WWII futurist movement, epitomizing space-age, atomic, Jetson’s idealism in commercial buildings.  The coffee shop was christened after Mort Burton’s (the owner) wife Lillian’s nickname.

Design elements of Googie Architecture often include cantilevered rooftops, crossecting angles, boomerangs, starbursts, Sputnik shapes, and streamlined, sleek interiors.  The building itself became the sign for the business.  It was a controversial style, criticized as cheap and tacky at the time, but would go on to be remembered as iconic.  Sadly, a mini mall now sits at Googies Coffee Shop’s former location, just like most of those futuristic 50s masterpieces that are now gone or disappearing quickly from the current Los Angeles cityscape.

Beyond it’s architectural fame, Googies Coffee Shop became famous for it’s clientele…the tables and counters were packed with Hollywood hopefuls, hard working extras, and the movie studios’ most popular stars.  I was privileged to have had a number of correspondences with Steve Hayes, the night manager of Googies, while researching recipes for my book Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean.  Steve, a prolific author himself, wrote a fascinating 2-part memoir entitled, Googies: Coffee Shop to the Stars.  (Unfortunately, my copy of the book is on Kindle, and my computer has been at the repair shop for weeks…so I can’t access all the great stories to share with you here…it’s a highly insightful read and I truly recommend it.)

Steve (whose wife of the time, Janet was one of the cooks there), shared a number of anecdotes with me through our email exchanges.  Steve moved to Hollywood from England in 1949, where for 10 years he pursued his acting and screenwriting dreams.  He supplemented his income working at the best known restaurants and nightclubs.  In 1954, he became night manager of Googies.  Some of the famous patrons of the coffee shop included Natalie Wood, Rod Steiger, James Garner, Jayne Mansfield, Louis L’Amour, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Marilyn Monroe, Shelly Winters, Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, Lana Turner, Sterling Hayden, Tab Hunter, Tony Perkins, and of course, James Dean.

“The difference between Hollywood and Duluth, Rose, is HERE when you see someone that looks like someone, it REALLY IS someone.”

Two tourists on the sidewalk in front of Googies Coffee Shop, as overheard by Steve Hayes

Jim and the kaffeeklatsch.

Steve had known Dean previously.  In 1951 they had worked together parking cars at the CBS Radio Studios.  He recognized Jim entering the restaurant one evening, but Steve was taken aback when Dean strolled past him and headed directly to his usual back booth without even saying hello…he assumed Jim had become snobbish with his new found success.  Steve found out later that it was vanity, not snobbery that led to Jim’s snub.  Dean wasn’t wearing his glasses and couldn’t see Steve.  They were good friends thereafter.

Jim “holding court” at Googies.

Jimmy “held court” from his back booth, situated where he could see everyone and everything going on, and everyone could see him.  He was part of a regular late night kaffeeklatsch that included Jack Simmons, Maila Nurmi (Vampira), Arthur Lowe Jr., and a revolving door of others (all involved in the film business).  Steve told me that Jim and his gang usually just drank coffee, taking advantage of free refills, and lingering for hours (much to the annoyance of the waitress’s).  They were not known to be good tippers.  Although Jim rarely ate while seated there, several people have commented on the large quantity of Googies take-away wrappers always present at his apartment.

When reports started to circulate about Dean’s fatal auto accident, Googies became the spontaneous meeting spot for many of his shocked friends and admirers.  For several years later it also became a regular haunt for the large number of red jacket-clad look-alikes, who hung out there hoping to get noticed.  The phenomenon became such a nuisance, that unless they were ordering food, Steve made them all sit at the front benches usually reserved for waiting customers.

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MAILA NURMI

Maila Nurmi in an early pin-up shoot.

Maila Nurmi in an early pin-up shoot.

Maila Nurmi was born in Finland.  In 1923 at the age of 2, her family moved to the US.  She relocated to Hollywood shortly after graduating high school in Oregon.  Maila had moderate early success in movie extra roles and doing pin-up photo shoots as a stunning blond bombshell.  She supplemented her income as a hat check girl in the swanky nightclubs in and around Hollywood.  In 1952, Nurmi attended a Halloween party dressed in a costume inspired by the Charles Addams cartoons in New Yorker magazine (which would later be the basis for The Addams Family TV show, 1964-66). She won first prize and caught the attention of a television producer who signed her immediately as the late night horror film hostess, Vampira.  The Vampira Show premiered on KABC-TV in 1953.  The macabre, campy humor, her seductive good looks and extreme corseted figure were an instant success with Los Angeles viewers.

Maila first saw James Dean in a bit part in Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952).  (You see a brief clip of him from that movie at the tail end of my new video below.)   She was instantly attracted to him.  She saw him in person at the premiere of Sabrina (1954), but failed to meet him.  Coincidentally, the next day she saw him again at Googies.

Maila Nurmi portrait.

“I first saw him in person at Googies.  It was the Summer of 1954.  I was sitting inside with 2 friends, Jack Simmons and Jonathan Haze, when suddenly I was shocked to see him outside the window.  I grabbed Jonathan, who knew him, and said ‘That’s the only guy in Hollywood that I want to meet!’  So Jonathan went out to bring Jimmy in…but they didn’t come back in.  So Jack Simmons introduced us.”

Once that momentous introduction was made, “we were never again separated.”

“In the months to follow, Jimmy and I came to know each other very well.  We didn’t date because I was 8 years older and married at the time, but we were intimate friends.”

“Jimmy and I were playmates.  We had similar senses of humor.  I was also a west coast mother figure to him.”

“We’d meet at Googies.  Then maybe we’d go to Barney’s Beanery or Tiny Naylor’s.  We’d drive around looking for adventure.  We were like high school kids.  Mostly though we’d sit around Googies and talk about a new song or what was on each other’s minds–but not about each other’s careers that much.  We didn’t talk about serious things often.  When we were at Googies, he (only) talked about acting twice with me.  I’d have coffee and scrambled eggs or banana cream pie, and Jimmy’d usually just have coffee.  Regardless of how much money he was making, he’d only pay for his own coffee.  No tax, no tip, no treating.  He was a miser.”

They came to be called “the Night Watch” at Googies, “the coffee shop that never slept.”  Maila mentions that Jim frequently doodled on restaurant napkins while they were hanging out.  Maila visited him on the set of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Jim purportedly even appeared on an episode of her late night TV show (although no copy exists, since the show was shot live and no kinescope copies were ever made of any of them.

Maila Nurmi on set of The Vampira Show.

When they first met, Maila (due to the huge popularity of her TV show) was the recognized celebrity.  Jim would poke his head up and wildly wave his arms from behind the crowd of autograph seekers shouting “Asses and elbows!” (Meaning that’s all he could see.)  Once East of Eden (1955) was released, the roles were reversed and Maila would shout at Jim from behind the crowd, “Asses and elbows!”

In 1956 her TV show was canceled.  She found a few bit parts in movies from time to time, but is most remembered for appearing in Ed Wood Jr.’s cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).  (A flop at the time, but gained cult status years later as “the best worst movie of all time.”). She made ends meet by laying lineoleum flooring and cleaning houses for other celebrities.  In the 80s she was approached by the CBS network to revive The Vampira Show in national syndication.  Initially she agreed, but pulled out of the deal when contracts required her to sign over all rights to the character.  The networks replaced her with Cassandra Peterson in a copycat role of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  She attempted to sue Peterson, but was unsuccessful.  Sadly, I’m unaware of any authentic surviving photographs of Dean and Nurmi together.  Maila said she loaned them to a fan magazine who was doing a story…and never saw them again.

“He was the first and last human being I’ve ever known, with whom I felt we were of the same species.  Everybody else to me is a stranger.”

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Here’s an ultra-rare peek of The Vampira Show (1953-56) that I cobbled together of the only surviving kinescopes known to still exist.

They were recorded by the TV studio for use as promos for the show.

The website VampirasAttic.com (as seen watermarked over a couple of the shots), closed down sometime after her death in 2008.

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TONI LEE SCOTT

Row, Row, Row (1959) by the Bob Scobey Band featuring Toni Lee Scott.  This was her first recording on the RCA label in New York City.

Portrait of Toni Lee Scott from 1954.

Portrait of Toni Lee Scott from 1954.

Toni Lee Scott is a Jazz singer, known for her eloquent mastery of smooth vocal gymnastics and diverse stylings.  She traveled extensively with the Bob Scobey Jazz Band for many years as well as toured with her own cabaret-style show.  She is highly renowned and respected amongst her peers.  (Check out YouTube for her appearances on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and a wonderful appearance on This Is Your Life.)

At the age of 19, Toni and her husband were involved in a tragic motorcycle accident, where they were rear-ended by a car.  Toni lost her leg.  She endured countless surgeries, depression, divorce,  a long painful recovery, and adjusting to her new prosthetic limb.  Two years later in a fateful encounter on the way to her waitress job, she met James Dean.  The following 18 months changed her life.

“On my way to work in the mornings, I’d often stop at Googies for breakfast to catch up on the previous night’s happenings.  It was a place to go for the ‘would-bes, has-beens, and the maybes’ of the movie industry.  Frequently I sat next to a sleepy-eyed, tousle-headed kid.  Aside from mumbling “pass the sugar,’ we rarely spoke.  Each morning after breakfast he’d go out, hop on his motorcycle, and blast off.”

“…one evening I went to see a movie that everyone was raving about, East of Eden.  The actor playing Cal looked familiar.  But it was several minutes before I realized–that’s my sleepy-eyed friend from Googies!  I sat through the movie twice, entranced by his performance.  He was one of the most sensitive actors I had ever seen.  Watching the credits I learned that his name was James Dean.”

Toni avoided Googies for a little while after that.  On the afternoon she decided to go back in, Jim ran up to her, kissed her on the cheek, and said “Hey, where have you been?”  They slipped into one of the booths and started chatting away.  She had read in the gossip columns that Dean admired Marlon Brando, so she mentioned that she had pasted a gallery on the way to work that had a bust of Brando in it’s front window.  That peaked his interest, and the 2 of them drove immediately to the studio of Kenneth Kendall (who later would gain renown for sculpting the bust of Dean at Griffith Observatory, and thousands of other painting, miniatures, and sculptures of Jim).  This life changing moment was the one and only time Kendall would meet Dean.

On another evening, Toni and Jim were situated in a booth at Googies drinking coffee, adjacent to a group of young male actors discussing who they would be escorting to the premiere of A Star is Born.  One actor that Toni knew (and had dated) said he hadn’t decided yet.  One of his companions suggested Toni.  Jim and Toni got quiet.  Not knowing that she was seated directly behind him, the actor exclaimed “For a premiere this important do you think I want to be seen with a one-legged girl?”  Toni was devastated and ran out of the restaurant.

The doorbell of her mother’s house rang at 4am.  It was Jim.  He’d been trying to track her down all night.  In her beautiful memoir, A Kind of Loving, Toni recounts the encounter:

” ‘I want you to do something for me,’ he said coming in and closing the door behind him.  ‘Sure,’ I replied.  ‘Take off all your clothes.’  ‘What?’  ‘You heard me.  Just do it for me, will ya?’  ‘O.K.’ I trusted him.”  He caressed her scars and ran his hands over her stump, asking about each mark and gently kissing her leg.  ” ‘It’s beautiful’ he said ‘and you’re beautiful.  And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  Now get dressed.’  I did.”

“We talked for a long time that night, and on many other nights, or rather Jimmy talked and I listened.  Over and over he told me that I was beautiful, until I almost believed him.  You’ve got a good mind, he’d say; use it; develop your insight, so you can look behind the words and see why people say them.  Learn to appreciate people; that’s hard, but important.  But even more important, first learn to appreciate yourself.  Because you’re special, very special.  So don’t let yourself be smothered under all this ugliness in Hollywood.  It was a rough time for me.  He sensed it and worked with me, helping me go through it.”

Jim helped Toni regain her confidence and return to her singing career.  She took lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.  She in turn, coached him through his emotional break-up with Pier Angeli.  He was a frequent 4am caller at her mother’s house and Toni would fix him hot chocolate and cinnamon toast.  When he moved, Jim gave her his Hollywood Hills apartment  (the years rent had been prepaid).  They frequented Googies, the Villa Capri, private parties, or just spent time talking back at the apartment.

“What he gave me was infinitely more precious.  He turned me in the right direction.  There was never any romance between us; there was friendship; and that, too, is a kind of loving.”

Jim and Toni as photographed by Phil Stern outside of Googies.

Jim and Toni as photographed by Phil Stern outside of Googies.

 

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THE MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH

2 tourists across the street from Googies and Schwabs.

Two tourists across the street from Googies and Schwabs.

Googies Coffee Shop offered basic food that was good…and cheap!  They were known for their burgers, served with a side of shoe-string French fries.  Pancakes were also a popular menu item, served with a side of extra-crispy hashbrowns that the cooks kept sizzling on the back corner of the griddle.  The Monte Cristo was a unique menu item that wasn’t offered just anywhere, and very popular with Googies customers.

The history of the Monte Cristo sandwich was a “rabbit hole” for me (as my friend Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers in London so accurately describes it).  Turns out that the Monte Cristo is an American invention, with recipes being traced back to the 1930s.  American cookbooks often called it a French Toasted Cheese sandwich or simply French Sandwich.  It was a variation of the French Croque-Monsieur, a pan fried sandwich of ham and Emmental cheese on sliced Brioche.  The all-American grilled cheese is the poor cousin to the Croque-Monsieur, just as the British toastie and Greek tost sandwiches are as well.

The classic Monte Cristo starts with commercial sliced white bread.  Sliced white bread was first sold in the US as early as 1928 by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, MO.  It was called “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread.”  The slicing machine that made it all possible was invented by a man from Davenport, IA 16 years earlier.  The second slicing machine was sold to the Holsum Bread company in St. Louis, MO, who perfected the method of wrapping a pre-sliced loaf of bread. By 1930 “Wonder Bread” was being distributed out of Indianapolis, IN, across the entire country.

Googies, after the Schwabs remodel...

Googies, after the Schwabs remodel…

In the 1950s, Americans were eating sliced white bread at every meal…nearly a pound and a half per person per week…30 % of their daily calories.  But the uniform, clean, pristine white loaves, “untouched by human hands,” were not fully embraced by homemakers.  Many found it flavorless and the texture was “cottony fluff,” “cotton batting,” “fake,” “limp,” “hot air,” and a “soggy mass of chemicals.”  Prior to WWII, when the “peace-time draft” was initiated, draft boards turned away 380,000 of the first million men due to “malnutrition.”  The government immediately mandated that all flour and bread manufacturers would enrich their products with thiamine, niacin, iron, and riboflavin.  Mom’s and housewives were told by the Surgeon General that is was their patriotic duty to feed their families these products.

After WWII, the US used it’s technological advancements in refining flour and producing industrial loaves of bread, as a weapon in the cold war against communism.  Offering the technology to countries in Central and South America, proving to them that the “American way” had more to offer.  They tried to convince the Japanese to switch from rice to industrial white bread, to build their “democratic spirit.”  And thus began the worldwide spread of sliced white bread.

But back to this sandwich…it starts with the buttered white bread, topped with layers of ham, cheese, and turkey, dipped in egg-batter and either pan fried or deep fried.  Regional variations affected slight differences in the recipe, ingredients, and preparation.  Currently,only 2 restaurants at Disneyland (and not too many other places around the country) still offer them on the menu.  They’ve achieved nearly cult status amongst Disney regulars.  Generally they are served with a side of strawberry or other berry jam.  Alex likes his with honey.  Maple syrup is also a great accompaniment.  The unique combination of sweet and savory is what takes this sandwich over the top!

Here’s my video, showing just how easy and fun these are to make:

Turn up the volume on your device…the soundtrack is especially “cool” for this video (and a nod to James Dean’s love of Modern Jazz, Afro-Cuban, and bongo drums…

 

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THE RECIPE

Click to view larger.

Click to view larger.

This is great for lunch, brunch, or maybe just for those times you want to treat yourself.  It also works well for parties.  The sandwich assembly can be done ahead, then covered and refrigerated until frying time just before your guests arrive OR finish them totally ahead of time and reheat in a 300F oven for 10 minutes, turning once, to recrisp them.  This worked perfectly well when I tried it recently with Monte Cristos I had made the day before.

Here’s some notes on preparation:

 

I hope you and your friends love this nostalgic treat as much as I do when you make them!  Take a pic and let me know…

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Who on your shopping list for the upcoming holidays loves to cook?  Loves James Dean? Loves old movies and movie stars? Loves the 1950s? Loves history?

We have the easy answer for All of them!

Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean is on SALE now through the holidays!!!

Get 20% off the cover price at The James Dean Gallery (765) 948-3326 and Payne’s Restaurant in Gas City, IN (765) 998-0668. Fast and easy shipping.  European orders can get the same deal by contacting me directly through this website.

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I LOVE reading your comments!

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. As always Greg I very much enjoy your blogs, full of history and packed with creativity. I’m left feeling happy and greatful for the trip and having learned more historical tid bits about a time I love to get lost in for awhile. Thank you once again.

  2. What a fabulous rabbit hole you have been down Greg! Loads of great social history as always, loved the post and loved the video! You are so stylish!

    • Thanks Jenny! I learned so much researching this one (and even found a couple of food bloggers out there that are even more long-winded than me! haha). I’m sure Mr.R and Alex could identify, when I talk for hours about how they managed to speed up the proofing process for industrial white bread, or the 1950s, 5-year long research project of housewives in Rockford, Illinois and they’re bread buying habits, or… YOU know. LOL

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