“She’s Just a Cheap Imitation of Lana Turner” ~ The Legendary L.A. Formosa Cafe’ • 1929
Everybody’s Gotta Eat ~ even Hollywood Royalty…
At one Time or Another, just about All the Hollywood Stars have rolled up their sleeves to go to work at The Lot. In 1934, When The Legendary Formosa Cafe’ opened – The Lot was known as the Warner Hollywood Studios, the sister lot to the main Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. But the Lot was around before that, being one of the Oldest Studios in Hollywood, and so was a little Red Train Car luncheonette across Formosa Avenue. And by then, Like All Proper Hollywood Stars & Legends, the Lot & the Luncheonette had already Re-invented Themselves ~
The Lot Began Life in January of 1920, when Hollywood’s Hampton Studios opened a spacious new building and backlot to house their growing production company, and moved their operations to Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue from their former home on east Sunset Boulevard. Hampton Productions, now long gone & forgotten, was an early pioneer in Hollywood film making; their movies starred, among others, William Desmond and H.B. Warner.
Shortly thereafter, the studio was bought by the First Couple of Hollywood, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.They named it Pickford-Fairbanks Studios. Together, they turned out such HollywoodLand Film Classics as “Robin Hood” and “The Thief of Baghdad.” The First Hollywood Power Couple.
In 1928, along with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, Pickford and Fairbanks formed and founded United Artists, prompting Charlie to leave his Chaplin Studios nearby on La Brea for this new locale.
A few years just before all these Hollywood Happenings were Taking Hold – in 1925, an Enterprising Former Prizefighter Fella with the Distinctly Chinese name of Jimmy Bernstein came to town. Jimmy wrangled himself an abandoned L.A Pacific Electric Red Line Train Car & plopped it down near the corner of Formosa and Santa Monica Boulevard, directly across from The Pickford-Fairbanks Studio.
Jimmy named his Red Car Joint the Red Post and Started Serving Up his Little Luncheonette to the Hard Working Hollywood 9 to 5 Stars, Studio Folk and WannaBe’s a short walk across Formosa from the Studio.
The Studio Star Machine grew and Business was Good. Chaplin, Norma Shearer, Douglas Fairbanks & Co. began an Exotic Hollywood Happy Hour Escape Exodus across Formosa that soon outgrew the Red Post.
Prizefightin’ Jimmy had to Expand. Along with his Fledgling but Booming Business, apparently Jimmy had a Penchant for the L.A. Ladies of Asian Persuasion. So, he added a Dining Room, Bar and Kitchen and faster than you can Say Sayonara to the Red Spot, he changed the name of the joint to Formosa Cafe. The Hollywood Studio Gentry took to the expanded version, Tradition Took Hold and the Red Spot Train Car became the Formosa Star Dining Room, as Celebs Big & Small brought Jimmy autographed 8×10 Glossies he Decorated his Dining Room with…for the next Several Decadent Decades ~
The ‘new’ (if you can possibly imagine it ever was) Formosa Cafe’ was a Small, Dimly-Lit Cantonese Cave of Coolness with a neon sign on Santa Monica Boulevard. Inside, A Cavalcade of actors mingled (& mingle still) easily with lighting technicians, stage hands, writers and cameramen, without tourists or high-powered producers talking mega-deals. Indeed, the Credo of the Formosa was & is Low-Key.
Across Town, enter one New Los Angeleno, an emigre’ from China named Lem Quon. Master Quon came to the United States on a cargo ship when he was 12, joined his parents who had already come to Los Angeles, and began working for his father in Tuewfar Lowe, one of a handful of Chinese restaurants in the city.
The Formosa 1940’s & L.A. Noir ~
By Now just about Every Star under the Hot Hollywood Sun had made their way into the Formosa. Indeed, one could write All Day listing a Who’s Who of Legends, The Faded & Forgotten Failures & Successes & Formosa Fortunes Made & Lost ~ Perhaps a Young Eastern Visitor to Hollywood, with its Extras, Excesses and Extra-Curriculars said it Quite Well…
“The Truth About Hollywood”, [Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Morality]
It ought to be possible to write sanely about the morals of Hollywood. It will be well to keep in mind the purpose of the slightly bewildered but resolute statesman who said “I will go to the end of the road, let the chips fall where they may.” Recollection of the well known limerick may also be useful: “Said the Reverend Jabez McCotton, ‘The waltz of the Devil’s begotten.’ Said Jones to Miss Blye, ‘Don’ Mat you mind the old guy; To the pure almost everything’s rotten.’ ” I went to Hollywood, to find out the truth, good and bad. I talked with actors, directors, producers, screen writers, extras, merchants, doctors,ministers, bankers, detectives, performers, extollers, denouncers, newspapermen and women, publicity men, housewives, onlookers, lenders, spenders and others of high and low degree and varying standards of veracity. I sat with the heads of official agencies investigating the Taylor murder, the traffic in narcotics and bootleggers.
I watched movie people at their work and their frolics ~
Thoreau Cronyn • NEW YORK HERALD ~ March 19-April 2, 1922
Into this Extra-Exotic Era of Hollywood Excesses,
Enter Master Lem Quon~
Quon joined the Army during World War II and worked as a cook. Returning home, he worked briefly as a cook at the Shanghai-Gin, and when it lost its lease, he moved to the Formosa and while he worked the Kitchen, Bernstein Worked the Bar.
In 1945, Quon became Bernstein’s partner. “I ran the kitchen and he ran the front,”
Quon told The Los Angeles Times, in 1993.
And Thus Begins The Classic Noir ’40’s Era of the Formosa & Tales of Legend ~
• The Formosa Cafe’ – Black Dahlia Connection ~
It is from 1940’s HollyWood Leading Man Franchot Tone that we get our closest near-glimpse of the Notorious Black Dahlia ~ Ms. Elizabeth Short in Hollywood, in those moments when her Still-All-in One-Piece shadow falls over a still extraordinary film called Phantom Lady made for Universal in 1944.
While Tone was making this film, he encountered Elizabeth the Soon-to Be-Dahlia at the Formosa Café. According to his later testimony, Tone asked her what she was doing there: “She said she was waiting for someone, and I said, ‘Of course you are, you’re waiting for me!'” He then told her that he knew of contacts in Hollywood who were looking for girls with her kind of looks, and offered to take her to meet him. In reality, he was simply taking her to his own apartment. “I thought it was a pick-up from the start,” he recalled later; “she came with me so easily, but to her it wasn’t anything of the kind.” His attempts to seduce her were firmly rebuffed, so he gave her some money and sent her home in a taxi: “There was something sad and pathetic about her.”
• When L.A. Mobster & Doomed Envisionary of Vegas Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel’s half-century – old safe was opened the other day at the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood, where Siegel once had an office, it was . . .(According to Modern-Day owner of the Formosa Jimmy Quon, Ben Siegel Did have a Safe Stashed in the back…)
• The Formosa served Cantonese Cuisine under the gaze of 1,000 photographs of film personalities–Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Pearl Bailey, Elvis Presley–and Lem Quon knew them all. He had his favorite anecdotes, such as billionaire Howard Hughes borrowing $20 to pay a debt to a drinking buddy.
• Lana Turner once danced in the aisles, Elvis Presley came to drink beer late at night, a Drunken Lee Marvin was thrown out and a sotted Rudy Vallee was once driven home by the staff. The Waitresses remembered Clark Gable as a lousy tipper, & the Costumed Cast Members of the “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Dynasty” lunched on Sub Gum Pork and Chow Mein. Quon arrived at work one morning, upon entering the Kitchen confronted by a Hungover & just Slept-over John Wayne – who calmly asked him how he liked his Eggs ~
After All The Stories & All The Formosa Lurid & Likely Tales of Iniquity, perhaps in True Hollywood Fashion, No Better View of the Legendary Cafe’ Than This some 60 Years Later ~ By Hollywood Itself, A Classic Example of L.A. Art Imitating Legend ~
The Formosa often played host to real-life L.A. Gangster Johnny Stompanato and his famous lover, Lana Turner. Stompanato’s gangster boss, Mickey Cohen, and organized crime chief Bugsy Siegel were both Formosa regulars, and had their own “back room” for private meetings and card games. Cohen’s arrest for tax evasion in 1952 is the starting point for L.A. Confidential but probably the ending point for the Secret Back Room.
In 1976, 1920’s PrizeFighter Jimmy Bernstein Passed to the Big Barroom in the Sky, and after 30 Years of Formosa Partnership, Lem Quon became Sole Owner of the Formosa. In 1991 The Formosa, along with Quon, Bartender Lindy Brewerton, serving drinks since 1942, and 2 Formosa Waitresses with Tales of Serving Hollywood Royalty since the 50’s, successfully fought off Warner Bros. Studios, who wished to demolish the Formosa and build a Parking Garage… Instead Quon and Cafe’ Regulars, calling themselves Friends of the Formosa, got the restaurant declared a Los Angeles Cultural and Historical Landmark and the Formosa was preserved like an Ancient Embalmed Chinese Lady.
The newest source of reference for this Legendary Tale is from 1993. Federico can attest the Fabled Formosa is Definitely Still A Dark Den of Hollywood Royalty ~ He was there last week, in 2010. Formosa Boss Man Quon married twice and lost both wives to cancer, the first in 1955, the second in 1976. He is survived by Jimmy Quon; who now Carries The Torch of Formosa Tales and runs the Joint, William Jung, three stepdaughters and several grandchildren.
The Cafe’ that serves up Cantonese Cuisine amid a Gallery of close to 1000 glossies still has that Star Attraction. Lem Quon’s first scrapbook, which is locked away for safekeeping, includes greetings from Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Clark Gable and other Hollywood Heavyweights ~
“L.A. is so ephemeral — there are not many places like this that gather that kind of ambiance and history,” said Teresa Grimes, preservation officer with the Los Angeles Conservancy, a private preservation group…
… “Nothing is really sacred. Nothing is here for a long time. We should be protecting not only our architectural resources but our cultural resources.”
Detective Ed Exley :
“A Hooker cut to Look Like Lana Turner is Still a Hooker…”
Detective Jack Vincennes :
“She is Lana Turner”.