Denny’s Adventures in Allee Willis’ “Willis Wonderland” (Part 95 – August 2010)

Submitted by denny January 30th, 2011
Certifikitsch Winner

The wall in the kitchen at “Willis Wonderland” are lined with these incredible portraits from the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. I went and picked out the ones whose names I recognized for posting here. This is Miss Linda Darnell.

Mr. Cesar Romero.

Mr. Robert Stack.

Not a celebrity but still fabulous. These character sketches line the wall of a bathroom at “Willis Wonderland”.

This is Paul. I have no idea who he is.

This is Frank who I think was a Liberace admirer?

22 Responses to “Denny’s Adventures in Allee Willis’ “Willis Wonderland” (Part 95 – August 2010)”

  1. Allee Willis

    The first couple portraits are among some of the most valuable things in the house. They’re original Brown Derby portraits.

    The Brown Derby was probably the most famous restaurant in Hollywood from the 1930s through 1950s, largely made popular because that’s where Lucy and Ricky ate whenever they came to Hollywood in I Love Lucy. There were three Brown Derbys, the last one of which closed in 1990 I think. I got 36 of these portraits, most of them for $5 each and some of them for 25¢ each. They were originally bought from the Brown Derby by a gallery who stored them in a Bekins storage facility and then went bankrupt. They were sold along with other restaurant equipment at a parking lot sale at the storage facility. Everyone there wanted things like chairs, stoves, and fixtures. There was only one other person there for the portraits as the ad that Bekins put in the paper was one of those teeny tiny little classified ads so no one saw it. I made a pact with the girl who was the only other person who was interested in the portraits that we would take every other one so we wouldn’t end up bidding against each other and ramming the prices up high. It’s probably the best bargain I’ve ever gotten in my entire thrifting life.

    The final three chalk portraits were done by the same person and, I swear to God this is true, I found them in three separate places at three separate times. They look to be done by the kind of portrait artist who gets hired at parties to do guests’s portraits. I absolutely love these. they sit proudly over my toilet.

    • k2dtw

      Me again… I’m still thinking about the Brown Derby Portraits. i”ve seen them in the backgrown a million times, in pictures and film, it’s wonderful to be able to see them up close & personal. I’m blown away by the Linda Darnell portrait, her beautiful eyelashes and her little nose.
      This A.M. on CBS Sunday Morning, I saw their interview with Mitchell Lichtenstein, on his fathers work. He said, why would anyone accept “two simple lines”…a “parenthesis and a apostrophe” as a nose…yet we do? It made me think of what he said when I looked at Linda Darnells cute nose. Then looking at Cesar Romero and Robert Stack…some apostrophes are bigger than others…smile.

      Found this… CBS has a video from this A.M….

    • Lisa Rios

      It’s amazing that you found someone so willing to do the “every other one is yours” thing. Those portraits! So famous… the mind boggles. How beautiful that 2 strangers could be so wonderfully civil to one another.

      • Allee Willis

        Definitely yes to your last point. The story gets even better though. It ended up that the other bidder was a TV writer and we had several mutual friends. I lost touch with her but about 15 years later I walked into one of my really close girlfriend’s house and there were all the portraits that went to the other woman hanging in her house. She had to sell them and my friend Maxine got them. So now they’re all in the family now and I get to visit them at least once a month as I see her pretty often. (I actually just got home from seeing her in a spectacular nightclub performance. She was a TV comedy writer too, lots of big stuff, and is now doing standup. Hysterical.

  2. MyFunCloset

    Too wonderful for words. Priceless in every way. It would have been no fun to walk into a store and pay full price. It’s all about the journey. (I’m back).

  3. Karen

    Geez Allee I don’t even know what to say…..You have got to have the most awesome collection of kitsch and what not that I am sure I have only seen a tiny bit of it.

    These are fabulous and the Linda Darnell, well, oh my…..jealous jealous jealous! Speechless!

    • Allee Willis

      Seriously, you’ve only seen a thimbleful. I started collecting in 1969. Pedal was to the medal the second I walked into my first thriftshop and I’ve never lost velocity since.

      Yea, I was thrilled to have Linda Darnell. The first person I ever came to Hollywood to work with was Ann Miller. She was going to tap dance on a disco version 42nd St. that I cut in 1975. We never reached a deal because she wanted the lionshare of the record but I had an unbelievable time sitting in her house listening to her tell stories. Linda Darnell was her best friend and she talked about her often. So I’m happy that Linda is in my care now.

      • Karen

        I think it is the picture in a whole that threw me, But taken apart the lips, hair and eyelashes just makes me like it even more! There was so much classy style back then.

        Allee you are one lucky woman!

  4. windupkitty

    I need to hit the jealous button at least a thousand times for this post! I CAN NOT believe you have actual Brown Derby Portraits! I”M flipping out!!!! I’ve seen them in the backgrounds of photos and wondered if they were the real thing….WOW!!!!!!!!!! And the story to go with is amazing!!!!!!!!! I’m so glad they are safe in your house!!!!!!

    • Allee Willis

      I have 24 other ones that are larger, at least 14″ x 18″, but I keep them safely tucked away. My entire kitchen wall, 16 portraits, cost a total of $30. And the other 24 came in two giant, 12 drawings each, gold framed pieces. I got each panel of 12 for $5 making my total expenditure to acquire 40 original Brown Derby portraits $40. These came out of the most famous Brown Derby, on Hollywood and Vine. There was also a Brown Derby on Wilshire and that’s the one with the famous Brown Derby hat exterior. But my portraits came out of the Derby that was the most famous. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on that particular BD:
      Hollywood Brown Derby – Despite its less distinctive Spanish Mission style facade, the second Brown Derby, which opened on Valentine’s Day 1929 at 1628 North Vine Street in Hollywood, was the branch that played the greater part in Hollywood history. On account of its proximity to nearby movie studios, it became the place to do deals and be seen. Clark Gable is said to have proposed to Carole Lombard there. Rival gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper are recorded as regular patrons.
      In “L. A. at Last,” the first of the Hollywood episodes of I Love Lucy, Lucy (Lucille Ball), Ethel (Vivian Vance), and Fred (William Frawley) have lunch at the Brown Derby. During the misadventure, the trio dines in a booth with Eve Arden on one side and William Holden on the other. This leads to the famous disaster scene in which Lucy inadvertently causes a waiter to dump a plate of food on Holden.
      Like its Wilshire Blvd counterpart, it was the home of hundreds of caricatures of celebrities. Many of these caricatures were drawn by Jack Lane between 1947 and 1985. Lane, who lived in Woodland Hills, California up until his death on April 2, 2009, had written a book, A Gallery of Stars: The Story of the Hollywood Brown Derby Wall of Fame, describing his many years as the resident caricaturist there.
      It also claimed that the Hollywood Brown Derby was the birthplace of the Cobb Salad, which was said to have been hastily arranged from leftovers by owner Bob Cobb for showman and theater owner Sid Grauman. In the I Love Lucy episode featuring William Holden at the Brown Derby, Holden orders a Cobb Salad.
      The building was largely destroyed by fire in 1987. Only a small fragment of the restaurant’s facade remains, and is being incorporated into a new W Hotels development.

  5. denny

    Allee – I didn’t know the last three were called “chalk portraits” but I found one (I think at the dump) and brought it home with me. I believe I may have posted it here at