Picture yourself in 1950s Hollywood, working at a coffee shop called Googies. At one of the tables in the back is a quiet young man wearing black-rimmed glasses, a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He looks, smiles and calls you over to his table after recognizing you. The two of you spend countless hours talking about old times. You even survive some harrowing car rides through Laurel Canyon in his Porsche Speedster. Then one day, he’s suddenly gone, and you are left to deal with the tragic loss of a rising star named James Dean. Dean is just one of many people that author Steve Hayes discusses in his two-volume memoir titled Googies: Coffeeshop to the Stars. Like so many hopefuls, Hayes traveled to California to become a star. As he waited for his big break, he held several jobs: bellhop, movie-theatre usher, parking attendant, and even a mortician’s assistant. Working his way around Los Angeles, he became friends with Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Dean, and Robert Middleton, who would remain Hayes’ best friend until Middleton’s death in 1977. Hayes provides vivid details of the hot spots frequented by many stars in the 1950s, like Ciro’s and the Mocambo. But it was his four years as the night manager at Googies that recall some of the fondest memories for Hayes.
Googies was right next door to the infamous Schwab’s Pharmacy, and was considered an architectural nightmare. But it was the atmosphere inside Googies that attracted the people. It was a place where the stars could go and be themselves; where ordinary people who visited the Strip could walk in and be seated at a table by Jayne Mansfield, or be handed a take-out order by Natalie Wood. No one received preferential treatment because of their status. Hayes tells the following story about actress Zsa Zsa Gabor and her husband at Googies one night: the line of people stretched out the door, and there was a waiting list to be seated. Everyone knew the rules and waited patiently, except for Zsa Zsa. She walked through the crowd of people, past the hostess (Hayes’ wife Janet) and sat down at a table. Needless to say, Zsa Zsa’s disregard for the rules was not ignored. Hayes’ idol growing up was Errol Flynn. He became friends with Flynn, even living in his house for a few weeks. The reader is introduced to the real Flynn, the Flynn away from the cameras: he was quiet and reflective, funny and charming. He was also a caring man who took care of his friends while struggling with his alcoholism. Hayes also talks about his friendship with Marilyn, and reveals the private innocence that the public never saw: she was very smart and shrewd, nothing like the “dumb blonde” she often portrayed. She could also play guitar! As you read the book, you are placed on the Strip in the 1950s through Hayes’ descriptive recollections. He relates everything as it actually happened, pulls no punches, and makes no excuses for the stars’ behavior or his own. The foreword in the book is an essay titled “I Remember Googie’s” written by actor John Saxon, who was a struggling actor in the 1950s. If you are ready to see what it was like as the Golden Age of Hollywood slowly faded to black, you couldn’t find a better tour guide than Steve Hayes.