November 19, 2014
Did you know that Humphrey Bogart once got arrested for protecting his drinking buddies—who happened to be a pair of stuffed pandas? Or that Ava Gardner would water-ski to the set of Night of the Iguana holding a towline in one hand and a cocktail in the other? That none other than “The Duke” John Wayne may have very well invented the Margarita?
Barely legal Natalie Wood only let Dennis Hopper seduce her if he provided a bathtub full of champagne. Bing Crosby’s ill-mannered antics earned him the nickname “Binge Crosby.” And sweet Mary Pickford stashed liquor in hydrogen peroxide bottles during Prohibition.
Below are a few anecdotes, watering holes and boozy quotes from some of our favorite stars. They were beautiful, glamorous, clever too—and very often drunk.
★RAINBOW BAR & GRILL★
9015 SUNSET BLVD.
Founded in 1972 by Roxy Theatre owners Lou Adler and Elmer Valentine (the latter of whom also owned the Whisky a Go Go), the Rainbow occupies a lot that once belonged to Villa Nova, an Italian restaurant famous as the site where Vincente Minnelli asked Judy Garland to marry him, and where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio had their first date. Its ties to the glamour of old Hollywood, however, end there.
The Strip had started to skew sleazy by the late 1960s, and while that didn’t suit the image of Villa Nova (which reopened in Newport Beach), it fit the Rainbow like a glove. A grand opening party in honor of Elton John established the grill as a primary haunt of just about every major rock star of the time, including John Lennon and Led Zeppelin. (The Rainbow, it should be noted, is also one of two places rumored to have served John Belushi his last meal—Dan Tana’s is the other.)
By the mid-eighties, the Strip had become ground zero for hair-metal: Members of Poison and Mötley Crüe were often seen at the bar; Guns N’ Roses featured it in three separate videos. (And although it’d be sacrilege to lump him in with the lipstick-and-spandex crowd, it should be noted that Motörhead’s lead singer and bassist, Lemmy Kilmister, was downing Jack and Coke there as long as any of them.)
Today, with hair-metal long dead, the Rainbow feels less like the hottest bar in town and more like a museum that serves steak.
2 OZ. SILVER TEQUILA
1 OZ. COINTREAU
¼ OZ. FRESH LIME JUICE
Rub the rim of the cocktail glass with a lime wedge and press into a plate of salt. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into the cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime wedge. The Margarita is also frequently served on the rocks in an Old-Fashioned glass.
Doesn’t John Wayne seem like an eat the worm kind of guy? After all, his favorite booze was tequila — Sauza Conmemorativo, to be exact — though there is no worm in that bottle. Still, as he would tell Playboy magazine in 1971, Sauza is “as fine a liquor as there is in the world. Christ, I tell you it’s better than any whiskey; it’s better than any schnapps; it’s better than any drink I ever had in my life.”
That’s quite an endorsement, and this from a man who truly knew. Wayne was, if you can believe it, one of the very first drinkers to try a margarita. The time was 1948, and the place, Acapulco. The Duke had a vacation house down there, near the Flamingo Hotel, and would pal about with the likes of Lana Turner, Fred MacMurray and others — “pal around” being a euphemism for drinking yourself stupid. Conrad “Nicky” Hilton of the Hilton Hotel chain was there, too, as was Joseph Drown, who owned the Bel-Air. The group would gather at the home of Dallas socialites Bill and Margaret “Margarita” Sames. (Maybe you can see where this story is going…)
Legend has it, the gang began to tire of the standard fare (Bloody Marys, Screwdrivers, beer). Wayne and his cohorts wanted something new under the sun, and they challenged their hostess, Margarita, to come up with it.
By the filming of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor had been married four times, divorced twice, widowed once, had three children with two different men and was in the process of adopting a fourth with her third. And she wasn’t yet thirty.
It does suggest a certain take-no-prisoners attitude. But despite Richard Burton’s halter armor and leopard-pattern fur vest, his green silk tunic and matching leather wrist guards, he would end up falling on his sword—at least as Mark Anthony. This was the beginning of Liz & Dick, in hindsight a phenomenon whose scope and power was almost impossible to comprehend—a Grade 10 earthquake, a Category 5 hurricane that would rage throughout the remainder of the sixties and into the early seventies.
Their first scene together had no dialogue; they were just to look at each other. Burton showed up hungover—the attraction was instant and mutual. Still, at least in the beginning, the Welshman had intended it to be “once-over-lightly,” a brief dalliance—he being a man who polished off women like pints.
At the moment, Taylor was married to Eddie Fisher. A feat that she accomplished by busting up his marriage to her good friend Debbie Reynolds. Fisher and Reynolds had been dubbed America’s sweethearts, and the nation was not pleased. Three years later, in Italy, Fisher and Taylor’s relationship was now winding down or, perhaps more accurately, exploding into a thousand pieces upon the world stage. Fisher initially objected to Burton constantly prodding his wife to drink, not that she needed prodding. The grape and the grain was something Taylor had embraced years earlier, during her brief first marriage to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton—heir to Hilton hotel fortune, and a young man with a gambling, boozing, wife-beating problem.
There had since been numerous stories of her drunken hijinks—different films, different leading men. Taylor drinking chocolate martinis with Rock Hudson while on location for Giant. Taylor jumping into a public fountain with Montgomery Clift while on location for Raintree County. It seemed standard movie star fare, but in matters of the liver, just as of the heart, Taylor rarely did anything half-assed. As her third husband, theater and film producer Mike Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen), would note, “I have often seen her pour her own champagne for breakfast.” And by this, he meant a bottle, sometimes two.
Cleopatra was to balloon into the most expensive movie ever made. And Liz & Dick’s affair was to balloon into perhaps the biggest scandal ever. Taylor and Burton called it le scandale, an on-again, off-again juggernaut that whipped the paparazzi into an orgiastic frenzy never before seen. Even the Vatican piled on, publishing an open letter in the Vatican City weekly accusing the adulterers of “erotic vagrancy.” Back in the States, Congresswoman Iris Blitch of Georgia attempted to have the couple barred from reentering “on the grounds of moral undesirability.” Of the media spotlight, Burton remarked, “It’s like fucking Khrushchev!” The man had a way with words. “I’ve had affairs before—how did I know the woman was so fucking famous!” But there was no stopping now.
Not the suicide attempts, not the drunken rows—often public and violent, Taylor giving as good as she got. It was a love affair set within the scorching hot crucible of movie magazine madness: flashbulbs popping, hands groping—constant pandemonium. When they arrived in Boston in 1964 from their honeymoon, hundreds of crazed fans flooded the tarmac and surrounded the plane. Mobbed at the hotel, Taylor was slammed into the wall, her hair pulled, Burton throwing punches. For the next ten years it was a nonstop circus as they crisscrossed the globe, emptying bottles together and making films together—The V.I.P.s, The Sandpiper, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedians, Boom!—crap, really. The one exception being Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?, arguably the best performance of each of their careers. But how far from reality was it? A drunken Martha and George raging around the set during the day. A drunken Liz & Dick raging around the bedroom at night.
I’m loud, and I’m vulgar, and I wear the pants in the house because somebody’s got to, but I am not a monster! I’m not!
You’re a spoiled, self-indulgent, willful, dirty-minded, liquor-ridden . . .
No longer limiting herself to champagne, Taylor started her days with Bloody Marys, then turned things over to Jack Daniel’s; Burton was plowing through three bottles of vodka a day or maybe taking it easy with five bottles of wine. It is a matter of debate as to who could drink more. But they were quite the pair, puking in hotel lobbies, falling down restaurant stairs, punching paparazzi, policemen, costars. Taylor would confess that her capacity was terrifying, saying—“I had a hollow leg. I could drink everyone under the table.” She called Burton a burnout, talentless. He called her a “fat little tart.”
Ugliness, made even more so by the backdrop of such incredible movie-star splendor. Biographer Robert Sellers describes celluloid gods with Rolls-Royces, mink coats (one for him, too), diamonds and more diamonds—Burton out-bidding Aristotle Onassis on a $1.1 million rock. In their massive dressing room suites, butlers and maids catered to a sprawling entourage of hairdressers, publicists, make-up artists, personal assistants, not to mention friends, family members, and hangers-on. Vacation homes and movie locations, traveling with a pack of incontinent dogs and ninety-three suitcases—how did they sustain it all? Physically, emotionally, let alone financially? And why did they want to?
Burton commented in private, “Elizabeth is more famous than the Queen. I wish none of it had ever happened.” Taylor told the press, “I don’t know how many plates I broke over his head.” Finally in 1972, during the filming of Divorce His-Divorce Hers (a two-part TV movie), the well began to run dry. There is much irony here: they were back in Rome, telling the story of a marriage destroyed beyond repair. Burton was a mess physically, Taylor a mess emotionally, nothing new with that. There is a story of him inviting an attractive extra up to his room and Taylor leaping out from behind the couch. She breaks a liter of vodka and chases him around the room with the bottle neck—nothing new there, either. Just that maybe, after a decade, it finally felt old.
Back in Hollywood, the fighting would continue. One day Taylor showed up at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She walked into the bar, where she knew Burton would be, and punched him in the face. Divorce His-Divorce Hers had recently been broadcast on TV—and Taylor soon announced that she and Burton were officially separated. A year later they would get divorced.
Of course, a year after that, they would remarry.
★BROWN DERBY COCKTAIL★
2 OZ. BOURBON
1 OZ. FRESHLY SQUEEZED
1/2 OZ. HONEY
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The generally accepted story is that late one night Brown Derby president Robert Cobb found himself hastily preparing a meal. Sid Grauman, showman and owner of the famous Chinese Theater, had dropped by, but the restaurant’s kitchen was almost bare. Improvising, Cobb tossed together lettuce, bacon, and blue cheese — and the Cobb Salad was born. As for the Brown Derby Cocktail, its history is a bit murkier. Some say it was absolutely created at the restaurant. Others credit the nearby Vendome Restaurant with inventing the drink and naming it after its neighbor. Still others argue the cocktail just looks like a brown hat. Regardless, both the drink and the restaurant were wildly popular in the 1930s.
Tallulah Bankhead – “My father warned me about men and alcohol, but he never said anything about women and cocaine.”
Jean Harlow – “I like to wake up each morning feeling a new man.”
Joan Crawford – “If they want to see the girl next door, let them go next door.
Steve McQueen – “When a horse learns to buy martinis, I’ll learn to like horses.”
Dennis Hopper – “People used to ask how much drugs I did. I only did drugs so I could drink more.”
Orson Welles – “There are three intolerable things in life—cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women.”
Ava Gardner – “A party isn’t a party without a drunken bitch lying in a pool of tears.”
John Barrymore – “You can’t drown yourself with drink. I’ve tried; you float.”
Errol Flynn – “I can’t reconcile my gross habits with my net income.”
Humphrey Bogart – “The whole world is about three drinks behind.”
2 OZ. VODKA
5 OZ. FRESH GRAPEFRUIT JUICE
Judy Garland’s favorite drink was vodka and grapefruit juice, what is essentially a Greyhound. It’s not just a perfect eye-opener; when on tour her assistant kept two thermoses at the ready — one filled with pre-mixed vodka and grapefruit juice, the other with ice. Garland even kept a thermos on hand while working on A Star Is Born, drinking right up through the film’s premiere. For that occasion, she had her dress designer fashion a hand muff large enough to hide a bottle.
Pour vodka and grapefruit juice into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Stir gently.
MARK BAILEY is an author and Emmy-nominated screenwriter. Bailey’s books include American Hollow, Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers, and the children’s book Tiny Pie. His films have appeared on HBO, PBS and Lifetime. Bailey lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.
EDWARD HEMINGWAY has illustrated several children’s books including Bump in the Night, Bad Apple and Tiny Pie, as well as his previous book with Mark Bailey, Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. He has done feature reporting for GQ Magazine and written comics for Nickelodeon, and been featured twice in American Illustration. His artwork has appeared in The New York Times and other publications.