Mocambo Nightclub


At the end of 1940, a much-anticipated nightclub was in preparation for a New Year's opening, but it missed the gala holiday by just three days. The Mocambo nightclub bowed to the public onJanuary 3, 1941, at the site of the old Club Versailles on the Sunset Strip. The ten-dollar opening night tariff hardly slowed the steady procession of stars parading under canopy into a room that was to be the setting for a decade's worth of extraordinary glamour. Owners Felix Young and ex-agent, Charlie Morrison, who had never run a nightclub before, created an extraordinary background for their restaurant, which was described as "a cross between a somewhat decadent Imperial Rome, Salvador Dali, and a birdcage." Allusions to a Mexican motif, as suggested by the name, were carried out in a "medley of soft blue, flamboyant terra cotta, and scintillating silver." Splashed on the wall were paintings by Jane Berlandina, and scattered discreetly along the walls were huge baroque tin flowers. Columns were painted a flaming red, and harlequins scampered on them. Rows of oversized ball fringe decorated lacquered trees, and striped patterns were everywhere. The crowning point of the club, however, was a dazzling aviary of live birds that everyone was talking about. The birds, in fact, almost caused Mocambo not to open. The twenty-one parakeets, four love birds, four macaws, and a cockatoo were thought to be damaged by exposure to nighttime noise, and local animal lovers wanted them protected. However, Morrison assured everyone that the birds were enjoying themselves, and he even kept the drapes pulled during the day, to allow the birds extra rest. The $100,000 establishment was a nightclub's nightclub. Every evening was a star night, including the presence of many of Hollywood's homebodies, who made it their occasional haunt. Even competitors dropped in for fun and food. Prince Mike Rominoff slipped in from time to time. Even a partial list of those who turned up at the Mocambo was amazing for its time: Marlene, Dietrich with Jean Gabin; Judy Garland with husband David Rose; Lana Turner and Tony Martin; Myrna Loy and Arthur Hornblow celebrating their divorce together; Carole and Clark Gable; Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnez out rumba'ing; Louis B. Mayer; Reggie Gardiner; Hedy LaMarr; Barbara Hutton; Cary Grant; Cole Porter; Irvine Berlin and Rosalind Russell. At one table might be Franchot Tone, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and Burgess Meredith; while, at another, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. could be found deep in conversation with Norma Shearer. With such a highly charged room of celebrities, the fights were inevitable. Errol Flynn, in one altercation, slugged Jimmy Fiddler, who had slurred him, and promptly got a fork in the ear from the columnist's wife. Mocambo boasted of having some of the top performers, such as Edith Piaf, Eartha, Kitt, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Jack Benny Lisa Kirk Billy Daniels and Lena Horne, entertain the "Who's Who" of the entertainment world. According to Hollywood legend, Marilyn Monroe persuaded the owners of the all-white club to book Ella Fitzgerald in the mid1950s &emdash; and the gig changed Fitzgerald's career. She became the first black performer at the Mocambo. After leaving the Tommy Dorsey orchestra in 1943, Frank Sinatra made his Los Angeles debut as a solo act at the club. When Charlie Morrison first saw Earth Kitt perform, he was Ecstatic. "The singer is wonderful," he said. "I'll hire her anytime." She performed at Mocombo several times. Parties were another extravagance that Mocambo easily accommodated. Oil heiress Elinore Machris gave a $30,000 party to announce her remarriage, only to be topped by Lana Turner, who gave a $40,000 birthday party for her husband. Andre was sured away from "21" in New York as maitre 'd. Phil Ohman, long a fixture at the Trocadero, was the house bandleader, and August Roche, a twenty-year veteran of continental cooking, presented the pampered stars with culinary treats. Mocambo, as fan-magazine reporter Lloyd Pantages observed, "... is a place in Hollywood which looks like Hollywood &emdash; magnificent, luxurious, exotic and unique. With the opening of Mocambo, the last great heyday of Hollywood nightclubbing was in full swing. Together with Romanoff's, Ciro's, the Coconut Grove, the Palladium and Earl Carroll's, the pace for the rest of the '40s was set. With the exception of the bigger draws like the Palladium and Earl Carroll's, most clubs of the decade tended toward the intimate and refined, dismissing the loud bands and novelties of the 1930s. Subdued and sophisticated were the call words. By 1945, with the war's ending imminent, Hollywood and its social scene were on the verge of dramatic changes that would alter forever the business of motion pictures and the equally serious business of nightclub entertainment. With a world war under its belt, and studio pressure absent from a star's personal life, sometimes it was easier to stay home and socialize with an intimate group of friends, rather than make the rounds a Hollywood's nightspots. The advent of television also made it fun to stay home and be entertained. The process of Hollywood's nightclub demise was a gradual one, but clearly VJ Day marked the beginning of the end. Ciro's and Mocambo, the two most popular spots, also managed to pack in the crowds, something they would accomplish for several more years. Mocambo continued to operate for a short time after Charlie Morrison's death, but it wasn't the same. Finally, much to sadness of its many notable patrons, the famous club closed its doors on June, 30, 1952.

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Vic Damone shakes hands with Humphrey Bogart. Jack Benny and Jane Wyman behind Damone. Lauren Bacall seated at right. Mary Livingstone pulling Damone's coat.
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Mocambo Nightclub on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood
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Mocambo Nightclub in West Hollywood
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
Mocambo NightclubVic Damone shakes hands with Humphrey Bogart. Jack Benny and Jane Wyman behind Damone. Lauren Bacall seated at right. Mary Livingstone pulling Damone's coat.
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Mocambo NightclubMocambo Nightclub on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood
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1942
Mocambo NightclubMocambo Nightclub in West Hollywood
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Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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1950
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Interior of Mocambo Nightclub in West Hollywood
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Interior of the Mocambo nightclub
Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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1950
Mocambo NightclubInterior of Mocambo Nightclub in West Hollywood
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Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo nightclub
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Interior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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Mocambo NightclubInterior of the Mocambo Nightclub on the Sunset Strip
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