Exhibition preview: Chez Paulette on the Sunset Strip, Peninsula Arts Gallery, Plymouth, April 27 – May 31 2013
In a coffee house on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Anya Lewin’s father, Max, was responsible for a “bohemian hangout” populated by Jack Nicholson, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando and numerous writers, directors and flamenco guitarists.
Half a century on, it’s been recreated in a gallery complete with poetry readings, music, a working coffee machine and the Hollywood stardust of a café picked for the detective show 77 Sunset Strip, in which Lewin senior played the genial owner.
“My father was a great storyteller,” says his daughter, a Fine Art lecturer born after he closed his flame to the famous in 1964.
“While I grew up hearing about the Chez Paulette, you could never be sure about all the tales he told.
“My father said he first met Marlon Brando while working in the art department at Paramount Studios, and that Brando persuaded him to keep the café open.
“But it wasn’t until I saw it printed in a newspaper column of the time that I realised it was actually true.”
Lewin has leafed through newspaper cuttings, artefacts and photographs from the Warner Bros Archive, as well as holding chats with some of the clientele who once met the likes of James Dean and Bobby Darin there.
“Many of them were well into their 80s, but as soon as I said the words ‘Chez Paulette’ their eyes lit up,” she reflects.
“Many of them any had not spoken about it for almost 50 years.
“I met with John Gilmore, a former actor who later wrote biographies on many stars of the time, and he said they would all go at the end of the night and soak in the atmosphere.
“I also spoke to Will Hutchins, who starred in a number of films along Jack Nicholson and Elvis Presley. He told me great stories about the late night revelry.”
An émigré from post-war Berlin, Levin went on to open another restaurant noted for its celebrities – most notably John Travolta, who visited as Saturday Night Fever became a sensation. For five weeks in Devon, this will be a homage to the sort of moments cameraphones never captured.
- Open 10am-5pm. Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @PeninsulaArts.