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Is Musso & Frank the True Crossroads of Hollywood and Literature? Richard Schave Wants to Find Out

Richard Schave with wife Kim Cooper at Musso & Frank
Richard Schave with wife Kim Cooper at Musso & Frank
Simone Paz

At Hollywood's Musso & Frank Grill, legend has it, giants of

American literature -- Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William

Saroyan, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond

Chandler, James M. Cain, Charles Bukowski -- used to drown their sorrows,

alongside the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Tom Mix, Sean

Penn and Al Pacino.

Did that really happen?

Richard Schave plans to find out.

"The

challenge is that there's a lot of misinformation, because no one's

ever sat down and done the homework, and gotten the dates right, and

really looked at who was there and who wasn't there," he says. "And so

this is really what we do. We endeavor to create canonical time lines,

canonical narratives, of what really happened."

Together with wife

Kim Cooper, Schave, 43, is founder of tour company Esotouric ("Bus

adventures into the secret heart of Los Angeles"), as well as the Los

Angeles Visionaries Association, or LAVA, an organization that aims to

create cultural programming. Cooper takes the lead on events focused on

true crime or music history, but anything with an architectural or

literary focus, she says, becomes "very much Richard's baby."

While

Musso & Frank had long been a stop on Esotouric tours, the

restaurant is such a historically rich location that it became clear it

needed more than a drive-by in a tour bus to have its story properly

told. Schave and Cooper settled on a series of literary salons at the

long-loved location: part immersive history lesson, part dinner party.

The inaugural salon, scheduled for Jan. 23, will feature a discussion of

John Fante, author of what's come to be considered the great overlooked

novel about Los Angeles, Ask the Dust.

Like many aspects of L.A.'s history, Ask the Dust

is not as well known as it should be, yet when unearthed it feels like a

startling gem. As the book gradually begins to appear on more college

reading lists, Schave does his part to dispel the myth that L.A. is a

city without history -- a notion largely perpetuated by sneering New

Yorkers, he says, who view the city through an East Coast lens rather

than accepting Los Angeles on its own unique terms.

Schave's

interest in -- or rather, obsession with -- L.A.'s backstory began in his

early teens. At 14, growing up in Rancho Park, he says, "I immediately

became interested in old Los Angeles, the lost downtown. I memorized the

Thomas Brothers map page 364, and I just became obsessed with asking

older friends to drive me downtown all the time. Everyone thought I was

crazy. I used to try to get into the burlesque houses on Main Street,

but they never let me because I was too young. I used to go to the

grindhouses on Broadway, back when there were grindhouses still on

Broadway, in the mid-'80s. I was just captivated by it. I remember

vividly when I was 16, as soon as I could drive, standing in front of

Torchy's bar, which is now a leather shop on Fifth Street in the

Alexandria Hotel, and being so captivated by this world."

Schave's

knowledge of Musso & Frank is encyclopedic. In his soft-spoken,

slightly nasal tone, Schave can hold forth at length about the action

Musso's has seen since its opening in 1919 -- which walls were knocked

out, who ordered the flannel cakes, what happened to the wallpaper in

the old backroom and which literary legends had their first date there

(that would be Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman).

Because of

its location near the Stanley Rose Bookshop and the Writers Guild, the

cocktail lounge at Musso & Frank became a West Coast version of the

Algonquin Round Table, where some of the most important people in

American letters spent their spare time and spare income on alcohol,

commiserating with each other about how much they hated working for the

motion picture studios. Writers would gather at Stanley Rose's bookshop

in the early part of the evening, but when 11 o'clock came around and

Rose kicked them all out, they'd head across the street to Musso's.

Rose himself, Schave says, was "a great guy, but he was not a great book dealer."

During

Prohibition, Rose padded his fortunes as a bootlegger, selling whiskey

to studio development execs in false-bottom book crates, under the

pretense that they'd optioned a book, so they needed 300 copies of it.

Rose's partner, Larry Edmunds, Schave explains, used to sleep with the

secretaries in the studio's development departments -- when a book was

optioned, he'd get wind of it and be well placed to fill the order.

Creating

this salon is just another milestone in Schave's quest to bring others

up to his level of awareness -- that L.A. is awash in living history that

we can see, touch and taste. Schave also expresses a burning desire to

re-experience his own past: specifically, the moment when his passion

was first ignited. "Every morning I wake up and pray that I'll have this

pristine moment, that I'll remember exactly what Main Street and

Broadway were like in 1984, because I was touching it right there and

didn't even know what to do with it because I was so young."

Schave's

life today, it seems, is just a continuation of the quest he began at

age 14: "As soon as I could be, I was downtown, trying to process that

world that's now lost, that we're forever looking for on our tours."

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