Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lunches with Papa

My Papa Phil is in his late 80s, and is the most active human being you can imagine. He goes to the gym every day, makes his visiting rounds to his sister in law and my Uncle Joe, doing errands for them as needed, just all around keeping busy.

I like to say that he's the best of my family.

When we're in town, Jason and I like to go up and visit with Papa, and lately we've been bringing up lunch when we do.

Catch Papa in the right mood, and he'll pour out stories. And let me tell you, his stories are the BEST.

How many people do you know who grew up living in Hollywood during the Golden Age of the thirties? My great grandmother was a silent film actress turned president of the Pan American League. She hosted parties for the Presidents of most Latin American countries as well as the great Actors of the time. We have a photo of her with Shirley Temple! My great grandfather provided the lumber for all of the movie sets built at Paramount during the period.

Given the circumstances of his upbringing, my Papa had a unique childhood, and can tell some incredible stories about the best years in Hollywood.

His family lived in the Hollywood Hills, under the Hollywood sign, back when it was Hollywoodland. His best friends were the sons of Cecil B. DeMille (yes... really), and he delivered groceries to the homes of the rest of the celebrities living in the hills.

Here is my favorite of his stories -

During the summer, Papa’s family would vacation at the Beach and rent their home in the Hollywood Hills out. One summer they rented their home to a newly arrived young actor, in town to shoot a film you may have heard of: Animal Crackers. The young actor was Groucho Marx.

Now the boiler at the house in the Hollywood Hills was notorious for going out. When the boiler went out, you’d have to go back down into the basement and re-light it. This relighting process was always a little hairy, as the boiler was known to be a little tempermental.

All of this was explained to the young Groucho Marx, and he was given instructions for relighting the tempermental boiler.

Well, of course, the boiler went out one day, and young Groucho tromped down into the basement to relight it. He forgot the part about the boiler being tempermental.

And it blew, burning off the trademark eyebrows of Groucho Marx, onto whom eyebrows had to be painted for the remainder of shooting on Animal Crackers.

Twenty years later, my Papa’s young bride, Joan, was having lunch with a friend at the Brown Derby next to the table of none other than Groucho Marx.

Knowing the story of the tempermental boiler, Grandma Joan stopped by the table of Mr. Marx and introduced herself as the bride of the young man who’s family owned the house that burned his eyebrows off, and swiftly walked away.

Like I said, Papa’s stories are the best.

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