Inside a Meeting of the Los Angeles Breakfast Club
At a meeting of the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, you may be asked the mysterious and all-important question: F-V-N-E-X? Don’t Panic. “Yes, we have eggs,” members will assure. You may be asked F-V-N-E-M? Once again, lots will chime in to report on the ham situation and don’t be surprised if these in-the-know members of the club also happen to be actors, puppeteers, museum curators, retirees, end-of-life planners, or radio personalities.
Scan the room for clues about this eclectic group and you’ll find a crowd that is cast in equal parts from Golden Girls and Portlandia. And they know more than just a few anagrams about ham and eggs—they have a song (Ham an’ Eggs, played spunkily by resident accompanist Don Snyder), a pledge, a handshake that mimes fancy skillet work. All new initiates to the club must sit on a sawhorse named Ham and stick their right hand in a plate of eggs. But this, gooey hands aside, is no hazing affair. Members have called this place a "shrine to friendship" and "a democracy of ham and eggs" for nearly a century.
But you have to be into more than just breakfast staples to really vibe with the culture of the LA Breakfast Club—you have to want in on the kitch, the whimsy, and the history of Hollywood networking. The group has been convening over breakfast early each Wednesday morning since 1925. The Warner brothers were members as were Will Rogers, Sid Grauman, and Carl Laemmle. Presidents Coolidge and Reagan both swung by in the club’s lengthy heyday. Apart from a brief stint meeting in a Wilshire hotel bar during the Depression, the group has always met close to Griffith Park, near the horse stables where founding members first got acquainted during early morning rides. The Friendship Auditorium, which the group built in 1965 on city parkland, has seen the group through sea changes—the acceptance of women in 1978, a brief flirtation with closure in 2010, the club’s redemption by a young actress with a millennial approach. “All it takes is getting this on Facebook,” said Lily Holleman, now the group’s president. And she was right. The club is thriving.
When I arrive for my first Wednesday meeting, I gather a few morsels at the breakfast buffet and flounder for a moment, plate in hand as I scan the four long tables in the great hall. Somehow I get lucky and and settle at the head of the Roosters’ table. My neighbors there tell me the roosters are loud. Mandy, with two grey braids and tiny Route 66 road signs dangling from her ears, tells me that she is the first transgender rooster. She’s not making any serious claim about her gender identity, though—it’s just her sassy way of saying that most of the hecklers, the traditional role of the rooster table, are men.
I promise to heckle too, but Mandy’s neighbor, Rex, is a little hard of hearing, so misses the agreement. Rex, Mandy tells me, has been coming to the breakfast club since he was a kid—his father was an original Ranger, a group that everyone informs me is the more poised adversary to the Rooster table. I ask Mandy what brought her to the club. “Cecil B. DeMille,” she says. “When I heard that he’d been a member, that was all I needed to know.” She tells me about her childhood fixation on The Ten Commandments, the letters she wrote to Charlton Heston. “When DeMille died, it was the first time I cried for someone. Then Frank Lloyd Wright died later than year and when I found out that Anne Baxter was his granddaughter, I cried for him too.”
The breakfast club, like LA culture, has always been a bit of a who’s who. Each week the club hosts a speaker, addressing topics ranging from stars of Old Hollywood, to architecture and preservation, to local wildlife. And sometimes there are wild cards, like last month’s appearance of the creators of Glendale’s eccentric DIY bunny museum—23,000 bunny gewgaws and living bunnies too. This week, historic preservationist Erin Goer discusses the mid-century architecture of Paul Revere Williams. As she is announced, the Roosters refer to the notes they’ve scribbled on their placemats and in unison belt “Oh boy, this week will we you be taking us on a celebrity cruise of Paul Williams’ starchitecture?”
The images of houses on the speaker’s slideshow are a little fuzzy, but the talk is indeed a celebrity cruise. Among the details that get oohs and ahhs are: the ultra-mod “push button” lifestyle designed into Sinatra’s vacation pad, comedienne Zasu Pitts’ round kitchen, the simple mention of Barbara Stanwyck (despite the fact that her house was not, in fact, built by Williams), and an anecdote about Desi Arnaz winning the lot for his Palm Springs getaway in a poker game. The roosters are polite…or maybe there is no information here frivolous enough to heckle.
The meeting begins to break up, Snyder’s vaudeville interludes are over. I take a few pictures of the hall—great wooden beams across the ceiling, a imposing stone fireplace, wrought iron chandeliers embellished with horseshoes as a nod to the club’s equestrian beginnings. No one here is heading out for a ride though Griffith Park today, though, everyone is bound for cars, ready to drive into the brunt of rush hour traffic. Today’s new initiates accept a few congratulations and leave with the symbol of their membership in hand—not cards, not pins, not certificates—license plate holders to proclaim the Democracy of Ham and Eggs where it matters to an Angeleno—up and down the freeway.