An Oral History of Morton's: 'New Hollywood Needed to Be Cool and Eat Well'

 Andy Friedman

Five years after the fabled eatery closed, Michael Ovitz, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing and just about every other power broker tell tales about the countless deals, dish and gossip (way yummier than anything you could order) born from those 19 tables.

Schrader: I was there the night David Begelman [the producer who embezzled money from Columbia Pictures during the 1970s] showed up in the midst of his difficulties.

Thurman: A lot of nights you'd step back and go, "Wow, look who's here. This is unbelievable."

Stein: The only star I remember seeing there on a consistent basis was Stallone. Probably the most haunting memory of a famous person was one rainy horrible night when hardly anyone was there. Sinatra was sitting there with his wife and two bodyguards and not a single person [in his party] said a single word the whole night.

Jeff Wald, former manager: The thing that sticks out for me is producer Barry Josephson and Anna Nicole Smith having dinner, and the two of them making out at this very visible table. His tongue was so far down her throat. She was having fun, and Barry was the man. It made him a stud for a minute.

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Stein: People were extremely concerned about which tables they got. There was very much a hierarchy.

Wolper: People used to get hung up on, "Are you in the big booth up front?" Steve Ross [former Time Warner CEO] preferred a table in the back, which was sort of cool because when you've got that much power, you don't want to be in the first booth.

Weintraub: The best table was my table. It was strategically placed right in the middle of the restaurant. It had a plaque placed over it that read, "Jerry Weintraub's table." That plaque kept disappearing, and we kept making more and screwing them back onto the wall. There must have been 50 of them that we ultimately remade. Twenty-five years ago on my 50th birthday, I had a fantastic birthday party. My invitation said, "Don't come without a gift." So I got terrific presents including cars and Rolexes. The best present of all was from Frank Yablans, who was chairman of the board of Paramount. He gave me a huge box with a big ribbon. When I opened it, there were all the stolen plaques.

Wolper: Don Simpson's memorial was at Morton's on a Monday night. Jerry Bruckheimer had organized the whole thing. They had a list, as you would imagine, and it was like a club that night. If you weren't on the list, you didn't get in. This person wanted to get in, the sort of a girl who was a dilettante who wanted to get involved in the business. She actually snuck in through the kitchen. She crashed his memorial, and somehow I think he would have approved of it. Don was a guy from Alaska, and he had to do whatever it took to make it in Hollywood. She was obsessed to get into that service to network. That's Morton's.

Jackie Collins, author: The problem with memorials in this town, everyone wants to be seen at them.

Alan Ladd Jr., producer: You always knew where you stood, and they were always up to the minute. One night, Frank Yablans had the hot table, and the next Monday night, I was given the hot table, and they put Frank in Siberia. It could get pretty scary.

Thurman: We read The Hollywood Reporter and Variety every day. We got it delivered to our doorstep and read it cover to cover.

Freeman: I remember a waiter once congratulated me on a deal -- before I told my wife I made it. My wife was at the table.

Barbara Boyle, producer: Pam Morton, Peter's sister, was the crucial element. She was a guard and goddess, polite to everyone. She brought a kind of tranquility when you walked in. No pushing and shoving with Pam.

Collins: Peter was more behind the scenes. People would love it when he did stop by their table. Maybe he would come over, maybe he wouldn't.

Lansing: Certain restaurants, part of the trick is to make you feel small. Certain maitre d's do that. Not Pam. Not at Morton's.

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