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When I Was At Morton’s

For nearly 30 years (but especially during the 1980s), Hollywood’s big, big money — its new, blockbuster money — converged, with era-defining consistency, on the corner of Robertson and Melrose at Morton’s, which Peter Morton opened in 1979 as a grown-up alternative to his Hard Rock Cafes. Come 7 p.m., nowhere else saw as much action: Power was spread out in Manhattan, but in Hollywood in those days, it resided in only one place. With all the deals discussed over those (only) 19 tables — including Eddie Murphy’s historic $15 million deal with Paramount in 1987 — it’s a wonder Morton didn’t hire a security guard and call his place an agency.

From being one of only three CAA-approved expense-account restaurants to the place where even the maitre d’ was a star (Rick Cicetti was cast by Larry Gordon and Joel Silver as a security guard in Die Hard), Morton’s pulled in an entire universe of movers and shakers — including Barry Diller, Ron Meyer, Alan Horn, Scott Rudin, former Columbia Pictures head Dawn Steel, former Time Warner CEO Steve Ross and former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis — as well as celebrities (even Jack Nicholson felt comfortable eating at the bar alone). Unassuming on the outside, it had the industry juice to be the signoff to Spy’s biting Hollywood columns by the pseudonymous Celia Brady (“See you Monday night at Morton’s”), a central location for Julia Phillips’ roman-a-bile You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (the writer was banned after it came out) and the subject of New Hollywood lore:  It is said that when a man suffered a heart attack and was carried out on a gurney, nobody noticed amid all the dealmaking.

In 1994, when it moved across the street to the intersection’s southeast corner, Morton’s transformed from commissary to the epicenter of glamour, becoming known as the site of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s Oscar party (see sidebar.) While the old guard bemoaned the less clubby feel, the music biz also moved in, rounding out the restaurant’s twilight years. Jennifer Lopez threw her engagement party (to Cris Judd) there in 2001, and in 2002, Sony held its post-Grammys bash at Morton’s, with Celine Dion, Tony Bennett and Destiny’s Child attending. By the time Morton’s closed in 2007, says actor-writer Ben Stein, “It had passed its time by five or six years at least.”

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