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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mark Evanier writes a blog ( that I follow daily. One often finds absolutely brilliantly written posts by him . . . this is just one example, complete with accompanying video footage that confirms his observations.

I recently wrote about Farmers Market, a fixture of Los Angeles since 1934 and a part of my life as long as I can remember. It's a nice aggregation of merchants, a few of whom still sell fresh produce. In '34, most of them did and a few sold hot food. Over the years, the ratio reversed and you also got gift shops, souvenir shops, a toy store, a couple of jewelers, etc. The main attraction is that you go there, you get something to eat at one of the stalls and then you sit outdoors at a table and eat with your friends...or you can just watch all the interesting people pass by.

For those of you who don't know the Market: I'd recommend the chicken teriyaki at China Depot (yeah, I know Teriyaki is Japanese), the barbecue sandwiches at Bryan's Barbecue, the open face turkey sandwich and the corned beef sandwich at Magee's, anything fried at Tusquella's Seafood, the spaghetti at Patsy's Pizza, the donuts at Bob's and almost everything at the Pampas Grill but especially the chicken stroganoff. A lot of folks think The Gumbo Pot has the best cajun food in Los Angeles and that Loteria has superb Mexican chow but I don't know from those cuisines.

My parents probably took me there when I was an infant and my actual memories of the place begin around age 5 or 6. There was a pet store there that had a talking parrot and later a mynah bird on display outside its door. You would not believe how many tourists clustered around the current bird, whichever it was at the time, waiting for it to say something. Greatest crowd-attracter you've ever seen.

I also used to see celebrities there all the time, starting around age eight with Chuck Connors. I mean I was eight, not Chuck. I told him I always watched him on The Rifleman and he told me to go away because he was busy.

I have hundreds of stories about Farmers Market, above and beyond my infamous near-encounter with Mel Tormé. For a couple of years there, an actor named Chuck Mitchell was a fixture at the tables where folks sit and eat and lounge. Mr. Mitchell was famous for playing Porky in the Porky's movies. He actually had a pretty long, active career, usually playing rednecks and mobsters but no one knew him from those gigs. They knew him as Porky and for a few years there, he was always at the Market, signing autographs as Chuck "Porky" Mitchell and posing for photos and loving every minute of his late-arriving celebrity.

It seemed to me he got there early in the morning so he could grab a certain table where tourists were most likely to pass. At least, he was usually at that table, chatting with actor pals, making like it was an unexpected but tolerated inconvenience when some tourist approached to ask for an autograph and/or pic. Once in a while, he'd just "happen" to have a spare eight-by-ten glossy he would let them have because they seemed like real fans.

When I dined at the Market, I'd sometimes sit where I could watch him in action. He was great at making those who approached feel welcome, telling them little anecdotes about the business and giving them the chance to go back to Idaho and say they'd met someone from the movies. I recall parents shoving their children into place for a snapshot with "Porky" and it never seemed to matter to anyone that he was famous for playing a nasty whorehouse owner in a film the kids were too young to see. He was a star...and as far as I was concerned, a much bigger one than Chuck "I'm busy" Connors.

One time, I was at the barbecue stand waiting for a sandwich and I heard Mr. Mitchell, as he picked up his lunch, remind the counterguy of where he was sitting and that it was okay to tell tourists who he was and to send them his way. I got the feeling he'd told this to the lady at the donut stand, the man at the ice cream counter, the folks at the sushi place, etc. — and I didn't see anything wrong or unbecoming about it. It made him happy. It made visitors happy. If I'd been a manager at Farmers Market, I'd have paid him to sit there all day, drink Bob's Coffee and pass out signed pictures. When he passed away in 1992, his usual table was vacant for a while. Someone put a funeral bouquet on it and an eight-by-ten of Chuck as Porky and it all seemed very warm and appropriate.

Things like that happen at Farmers Market. Here's a little video that the operators of the place put up on YouTube. It's mostly recent footage but they intercut some scenes of the Market in, I'm guessing, the late fifties. It hasn't changed all that much, which is nice because most everything else has. You'll get some sense of what the place is like...though they somehow missed including any footage of the place that makes the great Hot Turkey Sandwiches. They're probably saving that for a Special Edition.

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