The only thing more incredible than the amount you’ll pay at Koreatown’s H.M.S. Bounty for three stiff Jack-and-Cokes, an Amstel Light and a bottomless bowl of pretzels is the storytelling that comes from Kathy Potter, the restaurant’s waitress of some 25 years — or, as she puts it, “since the Last Supper.” The perfectly coifed blond is a treasure-trove of Hollywood lore.
She was recommended for the job by Brass Monkey owner Allen Spear — “the best bartender I have ever worked with” — whom she knew from their days together at Taylor’s Steakhouse. “He called me and said, ‘You’ve got the personality for this place,’ ” she says. “I went in and started work the same day.”
At that time, the Bounty — the street-level restaurant in the Gaylord Apartments building at 3357 Wilshire — was called the Secret Harbor and was famed for a cocktail hour during which prospering businessmen, lawyers and insurance salesmen racked up rounds on their expense accounts. “Even secretaries could sign for their bosses’ cards back then,” says Potter.
She tends to list booth numbers after a customer’s name: “George Peppard, he always sat in booth number four, right there by the door.” Potter, who served many celebrities from the Ambassador Hotel across the street, herself has the fine features of a movie star, a beauty that got her bit parts in several films. She played a newspaper girl in Al Capone with Rod Steiger. In Pillow Talk, she played a hat checker named Kathy — “It was supposed to be Ruth” — and was forced to dye her hair red because Doris Day “didn’t like blonds.” Her scene was with Tony Randall and Rock Hudson. “I knew Rock was gay,” she says, “and no one believed me.”
Potter also worked at Chasen’s, the legendary Beverly Hills restaurant, and was sent to events at the homes of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. “They were the kind of homes where the horse stables smelled like perfume.”
Now that her hours have been cut back to the weekend nights (boo, Bounty!), Potter fills her time volunteering at the Dream Center, the nonprofit outreach that has been providing shelter to Katrina survivors. “I enjoy giving the children sponge baths and doing their hair,” she says. Some of her Bounty regulars, after learning about what she’s doing, have offered employment to survivors, even setting them up with transportation and lunch money.
On a recent afternoon, Potter took $200 of hard-earned tips to shop at a 99-Cent Store for new clothing for the Katrina crew. A curious onlooker gave her an additional $10 and offered to sew up some pants for a large-waisted man who had only pajama bottoms. The woman told Potter that she was a pretty good seamstress, not to mention a Mae West impersonator.
“I knew she looked familiar,” says Potter.