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By Kyle Branche Copyright 2010 www.LABartender.wordpress.com Last October 2009, I bartended a private party at the old home that was once owned and lived in by Jean Harlow in the late 20's and early 30's, on 512 N. Palm Drive, a several block street basically between Sunset and Wilshire. We needed two bartenders for the evening and guest count, so I called in one of my bartenders, Tami Ross, to work alongside me.
It was my second or third time working a party there. I was able to take this shot (above) of the original bar in the house, kept in very good condition, as we were prepping up the bar from about 5:00 pm to open it at 7:00 pm for about 100-150 guests. One could imagine the cocktail parties they had at the house way back in the day. In the backyard is a lighted tennis court and plenty of room to relax and enjoy the afternoon, or evening! I wondered if they ever made Mojitos as much as we made that night, as well as many other drinks of choice, along with a selection of wines red and white, and a few different beers.
One can imagine Clark Gable making drinks behind the bar, as Harlow and Gable, who called her “Sis”, were best friends. William Powell, Walter Huston, Louis B Mayer as well as many other possibilities. Unfortunately, Jean died in 1937 at the young age of only 26, from a uremic poisoning brought on by acute nephritis. Jean’s real name was Harlean Carpenter, born in Kansas City on March 3rd, 1911. Next year will mark the anniversary of her 100th birthday, had she been alive today. She was also the godmother of Millicent Siegel, daughter of the notorious mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. She had two famous superstitions: She always wore a lucky ankle chain on her left leg. Back then she had to be one of the first wearing an anklet. Her other is a lucky mirror in her dressing room. She wouldn’t leave the room without first looking in it. Across the street from her lived Lee Duncan, who was the owner of the famous canine superstar, Rin Tin Tin. As the story goes, when the dog passed away at the age of 16, Harlow went over to the house and cradled the dog's head in her lap. Setting up the bar was always a bit of a task depending on if you’re using real glassware, as there’s basically true backbar, and the underbar has its’ original stainless steel still in place. Therefore, mise-en-place always had to be as efficient as possible, though the wine rack built in the wall in back helped a little. As you can tell at the bar, all the archways throughout the home remained the same, so pretty much the entire property inside and out was kept to its’ original style and architectural design, fitting, given the history. Though a multi-storied home, I’ve yet to get the chance to peruse upstairs, maybe next time. Due to security being out in front of the home before the guests arrived, I didn’t get a shot of the front, but it’s beautifully laid out with a veranda and fine tile up to the front door, and a waterfall in the open flat part of the yard.
When I was outside next to my truck putting my dress shirt on for the gig, I took a shot before the sun went down of the front of this house just two doors down, at 508, that used to be owned in the 50's by Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, shortly after they were married. Marilyn idolized Harlow, as Jean was "The Original Platinum Blonde". The party went well for the most part. There’s always some imperfections that occur during the night, whether it be behind the bar (a breakage or a spill) or somewhere else in the house where guests are hanging out and enjoying themselves, including appetizer tray-passers who have to weave in and out of the constantly moving floor. I had Tami leave a little earlier after the bar slowed down later in the night, about an hour before I cleaned up the bar. Putting my sizeable bar kit back together, I closed up the bar except for an area of self-serve I set-up on the bar top for the remaining friends of the family, got paid, said my goodbyes and slowly walked out the front door. Sticking around long enough behind the bar alone, I was hoping for the possibility of an otherworldly visitation or two, just in case they wanted to make an appearance, as I’m “open” as they say, to be their path of least resistance. This bar gig is also written in one of several scenes of what would be the pilot to a treatment for a one-hour dramatic television series I wrote a little over a year ago, titled “Life Behind Bars”. The weather had changed in the previous hours of the bars’ peak drinking period, as it was raining a light mist with plenty of new cloud coverage above. But the temperature was perfect and slightly balmy on the skin. The streets of Beverly Hills are wide for the most part, and very clean with tall palms. It’s not everyday you get to hang out and relax in an area like this, much less in the middle of the night, and the gorgeous slow rain that L.A. always is in need of, gently lit up from the occasional street light in the short distance. My work is done for the evening. I can slow my mental gears down, shove my bar kit in the passenger seat of my truck, hang my collared shirt back up, light a cigarette and go stand in the middle of the dark, empty street of the famous Palm Drive for a while, just breathing in all the history of what once was, before I take the road home back over the hill and into the West valley. In honor of Ms. Harlow, I’ll leave you with two of her quotes: “I was not a born actress. No one knows it better than I. If I had any latent talent, I have had to work hard, listen carefully, do things over and over and then over again in order to bring it out.” “Men like me because I don’t wear a brassiere. Women like me because I don’t look like a girl who would steal a husband . . . at least not for long.”