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Romanoff's Restaurant

          ** Click Here To View Photos **

Romanoff'sTo an industry driven by fantasy and imaginary, Romanoff's was a perfect fit. The Beverly Hills Restaurant was the name sake and invention of a self-declared prince with a personality big enough to dazzle the town's most important movers and shakers.  Competing studio heads, Daryl Zanuck and Jack Warner were among those who put up the money fro Romanoff's in Beverly Hills, and 'Prince' Mile Romanoff became a celebrity.

Romanoff was born Hershel Geguzin in Lithuania in 1890 and immigrated to New York City at age ten and changed his name to Harry F. Gerguson sometime after 1900.  His father was a tailor and Harry became a pants presser. At some point, he claimed to be Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, nephew of Tsar Nicholas II. The fact was, no one cared whether or not Romanoff was Prince Romanoff or Grand Duke Michael Romanoff or Harry Gerguson, the son of a tailor, which apparently he was. His ancestry was merely irrelevant.
When He arrived in Hollywood in 1927, the always dapper Prince Romanoff - known for his trademark spats, moustache and walking stick - lived in hotels, borrowed money from his wealthy pals and charmed everyone in sight. He even spoke with a genuine Oxford accents - although it was believed he acquired it working a servant in the lofty British university. Still, there was always room for Romanoff on a Hollywood polo team because he was the kind of a guy the movie crowd loved having around.  
In 1931, a member of the Russian guard branded him a fake, and since he had not citizenship papers or passport to dispute the charge, Romanoff disappeared for a decade.  In 1941, he resurfaced, opening the first Romanoff's at 326 N. Rodeo Dr., in Beverly Hills. By 1945, Life Magazine crowned him 'the most wonderful liar in 20th-century US,' a description that only seemed to further his restaurant's success.
The place was so popular that its only problem was appeasing the celebrities,  who all felt deserving of one of the 'A' booths across from the bar.  As it was, at lunchtime the first booth was always occupied by Humphrey Bogart, the second by William Morris agent Abe Lastfogel, the third by Louis B. Mayer, the fourth by Darryl Zanuck and the fifth by Harry Cohn.
So in 1951, Romanoff moved to larger quarters down the street at 240 S. Rodeo Drive, where there was a roof garden, ballroom for private parties, a small private dining room and a much larger dining room designed to accommodate 24 equally-desirable booths.  It didn't quite work out that way -- people only wanted to be seated on the left of the staircase as they entered, and there were only four booths on that side of the room. Unfortunately, if twelve V.I.P.'s showed up - including say, Clark Gable, Lana Turner and Cole  Porter - Romanoff was forced to seat someone in Siberia.
Although business at the new location prospered through the late fifties, after that it became increasingly difficult to fill the room.  When all the booths weren't booked, the restaurant, which was starkly decorated and brightly lit (with neither flowers nor candlelight to soften it) looked particularly barren. 
But then there was increasing competition from newer restaurants in town, and much of Romanoff's clientele was aging into the old guard. For all Romanoff's charm, he could also offend. One lunchtime he made disparaging remarks about Alfred Hitchcock who appeared to be napping after consuming a large meal. Hitchcock, however, heard every word and never returned. 
To stimulate reservations, Romanoff introduced black-tie dinner dances on Thursday nights - maids' night off' in Beverly Hills.  But his political associations doomed him. He became ultra Republican in a community of Democrats, and actually began to distribute political literature on the tables.Compounding this problem was a financial blunder - opening the disastrous Romanoff's on the Rocks restaurant in Palm Springs.
In 1958, Romanoff achieved his goal of becoming a U.S. citizen by an act of Congress signed by President Eisenhower. Romanoff's closed its doors on New Year's Eve, 1962.

Photos of Romanoff's Restaurant can be seen on the hollywoodphotographs.com web site. 

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