Bellingham by the Bay
By Bruce Bellingham
There were some muted conversations on a Monday late last month as Washington Square Bar & Grill regulars sauntered to the bar to express their condolences to Michael McCourt for the death of his brother, famed author Frank McCourt, who wrote his first book, Angela’s Ashes, at the age of 65, and quickly won a Pulitzer Prize. Frank died in New York on July 19. He was 78. Frank often visited the Washington Square where denizens always expressed their admiration and affection for him. He was the sweetest guy. Angela’s Ashes (named for the McCourts’ mum) is about growing up in gruesome poverty in Limerick, Ireland. “It was Calcutta with rain,” Frank once said. “At least Calcutta is warm.” The story is heartbreaking yet sometimes achingly funny.
Mike was at his post pouring drinks on Monday. He was at work partly because he wanted to talk about Frank. Mike recalled the time 60 Minutes sent all four McCourt brothers to Limerick to revisit their hometown. “We had a great time frolicking in an old cemetery, so old that the bones rise to the surface of the ground.” Some in Limerick still have a bone to pick with the McCourts; there’s resentment about Angela’s Ashes, how it exposed some shameful cruelty from the natives. In New York one time, a Limerickian cursed at me for speaking highly of Frank. Not everyone likes to be reminded of one’s humble beginnings, nor hear jokes about it. “Never try to be subtle in a developing nation,” Pete Hamill once said.
Valerie Pinkert was always charmed by the McCourt humor. Years ago, she told Mike she was going to New York. “Be sure to go to Angus McIndoe’s restaurant on West 42nd Street,” Michael said. “Frank’s often there.” Mike gave her a note and envelope to hand to Frank when she got there. She did. Frank opened the envelope, and burst out laughing. It read: “This is one fine lady, but count the silverware before she leaves.” ...
I picked up an old video copy of Hitchcock’s The Birds at a sidewalk sale on Nob Hill. It’s always fun to see movies that were shot in San Francisco. The Birds also made Bodega Bay famous. Stefano Cassolato, the energetic North Beach publicist, was visiting Bodega Bay not so long ago. To his surprise, Tippi Hedren was in a bookstore signing some photos from The Birds (that was her first film). “It was amazing to see how people just flocked to her,” Stefano quipped.
Tippi played Melanie Daniels in the Hitchcock classic, and yes, she’s the mother of Melanie Griffith. The birds may have been pretty tough on Melanie Daniels, but Tippi found it in her heart to found the Shambala Preserve in SoCal in 1983. She still keeps about 70 beasts there, mostly too big and way too dangerous to keep around anybody’s house. Tippi took in Anton LaVey’s lion, Togar, after the SFPD told the founder of the Church of Satan that the cat had to go. The neighbors were nervous. Tippi also provides a home for two of Michael Jackson’s tigers. ... Years ago I was told by someone in Hollywood who worked for producer-director Roland Emmerich that Michael Jackson constantly pestered Emmerich to cast him in a movie about King Tut, the boy king. It seems Michael was already living the part. ...
Hitchcock was King of the Blondes – Tippi … Kim Novak … Eva Marie Saint … Grace Kelly. But Jenevieve Randall reports that there’s another King of the Blondes on Geary Street. He’s stylist Keith James. “We blondes who like to stay blonde swear by him,” says Jenevieve. … Hitchcock loved San Francisco. Carole Vernier recalls the time in the 1940s when Hitch and Louis Lurie sat in Jack’s restaurant on Sacto Street, trying to concoct a cure for a hangover. They came up with the mimosa – champagne and orange juice. I know what you’re thinking: Why ruin perfectly good champagne with orange juice? S.F. seems to be a nursery for original drinks. For the past seven years, Jack’s has been Jeanty at Jack’s. But sadly, Phillipe Jeanty has closed the place. ... The Post Street Theatre is also dark now. ... You may want to know that the mimosas are good at The Crepe House on Polk and Washington. Saad Natsheh will take care of you. They’re also good at the Big 4 in the Huntington Hotel, too. What isn’t? Might be nice to have a mimosa in their newly restored Mulholland Suite, which costs $1,200 per night. Yes, it’s appointed with lots of leather by those legendary leather boys, the Mulholland Brothers ... More family matters: Morgan Hamm, who runs the deli at Nob Hill’s Le Beau market with partner Drew Stephenson, doesn’t look so worse for the wear. His business is in its infancy. So is his new daughter, born to Morgan and Jennifer on June 29. … David Kidd, who runs the You Say Tomato British food import shop on California Street, says the recession is having no real impact on him. “People need to buy food,” says David. “It’s necessary. This is not a wine bar.” You mean a wine bar is not necessary? … Peach and whisky chutney must be necessary. That’s what Alison McQuade has been making lately, working with volunteers to end world hunger. Check out feelgoodworld.org …
Father Floyd Lotito, the guiding force of St. Anthony Dining Room, died the other day. Not
only was he renowned for his humanity, but he was very funny,
too. Some people would be shocked by the priest’s gangsterisms, sounding more like The Sopranos than the sacristy. “I’m an Italian first,” Father Floyd would deadpan, “and a Catholic second.” …
Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay, and also writes for the Marina Times.