So prolific a boozer was Bing Crosby, friends nicknamed him “Binge Crosby.” Clara Bow routinely breakfasted on a full bottle of Champagne, passed out and had to be carried, inert, to the set. And when John Barrymore’s second wife dumped out every bottle of alcohol in the house—you’ll never guess what he did.
And you won’t need to. Just pick up a copy of Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History,written by Mark Bailey and illustrated by Edward Hemingway (Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers, 2012), an irresistible compendium of Hollywood inebriates. It’s one part history, one part cocktail recipe book, topped off with soulful black-and-white caricatures of soused stars from Fatty Arbuckle to Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.
“I do believe that the vast majority of the stories in this book are significantly based in truth. There may be some stories that already entered into mythology or folklore or tall tales and they get repeated by multiple sources, and I tried to kind of make that clear in the writing by saying ‘The story goes,’ or, ‘It’s been said,’ to kind of qualify it,” says Bailey, who consulted newspaper stories, memoirs, biographies, court records, hotel files and more to dig up the juiciest tales.
Therefore, we may never know for sure who held the knife in that altercation involving Dennis Hopper and Rip Torn at Peter Fonda’s townhouse—though the money’s on Torn. (“At that point in his life, Hopper was downing a half-gallon of rum, twenty-eight beers, and three grams of coke—a day,” Bailey writes.)
“Most great drinking stories you’ve got to take with a grain of salt around the margarita glass,” says Hemingway, whose caricatures capture another type of truth. Compared with the duo’s first book, which dealt with famous literary lushes, drawing the Hollywood set was a taller order.
“A lot of people don’t know what the writers look like, but I can’t screw up Humphrey Bogart or my credibility will be shot,” says Hemingway. “I wanted to take the caricatures to another level in this book—I wanted them to feel gin-soaked. Everything’s a little bit wonky, there’s a fluidity, and you get almost a little bit tipsy looking at it.”
Hemingway gives equal treatment to depicting the hotels and party places where actors and screenwriters overlapped while they lapped at stiff drinks, from Chateau Marmont (still open!) to the Garden of Allah Hotel. (“The Garden of Allah was the original Melrose Place, except its residents were great writers and actors instead of knuckleheads,” Bailey writes.) Drawings of their preferred potions accompany recipes like Robert Mitchum’s Eye-Opener: 2 oz. bourbon, 3 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 oz. honey and 1 raw egg. (“Robert Mitchum was by and large a vodka man. He would hide it around the set—in tall glasses, neat, so that it looked like water. ... But in the morning it was bourbon,” Bailey writes.)
For the record, Bailey is a Manhattan man; Hemingway prefers mojitos. Had they the opportunity to travel back in time for a night of carousing with any of their subjects, their tastes once again diverge.
“I’d go with [Hollywood gossip columnist] Louella Parsons. We could do anything we wanted, and it wouldn’t get written about in the paper. She’d make sure that it was kept under wraps,” Hemingway says.
“Hm, she seems a little bit like she might have been—I don’t know how jolly she was. She scares me,” Bailey says.
“That’s why I want her in my corner.”
“I would say Bogart or Sinatra—really tearing it up with them would be fun.”
They both agree on one thing: not Dennis Hopper.
Whatever your preferences or level of party, your knowledge of Hollywood or mixology, Of All the Gin Joints has something for everyone.
“By the end, almost without knowing it, you’ll have absorbed a lot of interesting information about the history of film, this town and the people who made it,” Bailey says. “It surprises me when people look at the book and say, ‘Who’s John Barrymore? Who’s Mabel Normand?’—and it’s my hope that a lot of the folks readers learn about will find a new audience.”
Like Barrymore, the dashing leading man who launched an acting dynasty: “When Barrymore’s second wife broke every bottle in their house, he drank all of her perfume,” Bailey writes.
Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.