Remember the famous Hamburger Hamlet restaurants? They became a Hollywood tradition as serving the best hamburger around, eventually spreading all the way to New York City with over 24 locations.
Actor Harry Lewis had the idea of opening a hamburger hangout for his movie star friends and wanted to name it Hamburger Hamlet, because he felt it was every actor’s dream to play Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That would become the theme of his restaurant and the décor would be red burgundy tufted booths and tables with high back wing chairs for intimacy as well as privacy and beautifully gold framed theater bills to add to the more theatrical ambiance.
On his first date with Marilyn Friedman they hit it off so well, he shared his dream. Marilyn loved his idea and immediately encouraged him. She began searching out locations and not knowing how to cook, she began working on a menu. She found a building space on the Sunset Strip at Hilldale Avenue and even though she had no money of her own she convinced Harry to invest $3,500 in the soon-to-be new hamburger bistro. When Hamburger Hamlet opened, Marilyn was waiting tables while Harry was busy at the grill cooking and his parents were washing the dishes.
It wasn’t long before they opened their second Hamburger Hamlet and I just happened to own the empty lot next door and Harry just happened to need a parking lot. He rang me up with the idea of renting my property and we agreed on a monthly amount. He loved the parking lot situation and I loved the money, because I was always broke. He would routinely strike up an argument with me to sell him my parking lot, and eventually the Harry Lewis charm won out. What fun we had playing our little cat and mouse routine over the parking lot. He always included me in the fabulous Hamburger Hamlet parties that were so glamorous, filled with Hollywood movie stars and naturally everyone had a hamburger.
A few weeks ago we attended a moving tribute to Harry Lewis, held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater. On hand were his wife Marilyn Friedman Lewis and their two sons Adam and David, along with many others who paid tribute to our dearly departed friend.
Frances Davis who became the first and only Hamlet ‘Matra Diva’ spoke of her admiration for Harry with a personal note from years past he had given to her in gratification. Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss shared their memories as did Kelly Lange. The most touching moments were from sons Adam and David sharing their childhood memories.
Ruta Lee surprised us all when she presented the Thalian Award on behalf of Debbie Reynolds and the Thalian Association to Harry and Marilyn Lewis. Marilyn graciously accepted the award for Harry and along with son Adam they shared in the reading of the original oath Marilyn had written over six decades prior. Contained in the oath was their promise to provide the very best hamburger along with top quality service to all their customers.
Want to know the secret for a perfect juicy hamburger? Just add some ice in the center before you put it on the grill. It’s such a joy to sit down with a delicious hamburger and watch Key Largo and remember our dear friend Harry Lewis.