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ART TO EAT BY: THE PALM

When the new Palm Restaurant in Los Angeles opened November 7 in Beverly Hills, its walls were bare. Still are. Mostly. They’re awaiting a fresh influx of caricatures of the Hollywood mighty. The Palm has its origins in New York on Second Avenue, where Pio Bozzi and his partner John Ganzi opened a restaurant in 1926 that became a speakeasy. Close to midtown syndicate and newspaper offices, the place became a hangout for journalists and cartoonists, and the latter started drawing their characters on the walls. Most of those pictures are still there: whenever the place needs a coat of paint, the management hires portrait painters who carefully outline and paint around the antique comic characters.

The PalmThe Palm became famous enough that a second edition opened across the street — Palm Two. Then in 1972, another Palm opened in Washington, D.C. After that, they sprouted up everywhere. And in every one, caricatures adorn the walls. (The Palm in San Diego applied copies of the original Palm pictures to its walls, using some ultra-modern method of duplication.)

In Washington, the caricatures are of politicians. In West Hollywood where the first L.A. Palm opened, the caricatures are of actors, actresses and movie moguls. But the new Palm has bare walls. “Glaringly portrait-free slates that have caused a ripple of anxiety in moviedom over revoked statuses and set up a subtle new immortalization competition,” saith Brooks Barnes at nytimes.com.

“The hand-wringing over the caricatures has taken years off my life,” said Bruce B. Bozzi Jr., great grandson of the co-founder and the executive vice president of the Palm Restaurant Group, which has 26 locations. “Do we move the old ones? That wasn’t possible. There were 2,300 of them. Do we pick 100 to move? The most powerful? No, I would be a dead man.”

So he decided to start over, even though he knew some traditionalists would be unhappy. Only one image, to his knowledge, had ever been removed from the West Hollywood location: O.J. Simpson. (The restaurant covered him up after somebody — following his 1995 murder trial — stuck a steak knife in his portrait forehead.)

Bozzi noted that none of the old West Hollywood caricatures were thrown in the trash. Instead, each picture was sawed off the wall and offered as a gift to the person who inspired it. Steven Spielberg and Brad Grey, Paramount’s current chairman, were among those who requested the images, Bozzi said.

In the end, he did move a few of the old caricatures to the new restaurant. Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, for instance, occupy a spot next to the front door. Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors, painted as a pair, also made the cut.

“I wanted to pay homage to the ’70s, when we first put down roots,” Bozzi said.

So far, Bozzi has authorized five new power portraits: Amy Pascal, a co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Sue Mengers, a talent agent who died in 2011; Sherry Lansing, the former chief executive of Paramount; Steven Tyler of Aerosmith; and the Bravo television personality Andy Cohen.

Why them? “Because they’re fabulous,” Mr. Bozzi said, flashing a smile. (And at least a couple are his friends, added Barnes.)

But none of them are characters from the comics. Beginning with Palm Two, that tradition was slowly eroded until, by Washington’s Palm, it was gone.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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