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My LA to Z: Fred Willard
The Emmy-nominated actor and improv guru shares his top spots for good comedy and the restaurant where he gets his favorite chocolate cake
Fred Willard came to L.A. in the 1970s after spending time with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. His daffy and loveable characters have made more than 80 appearances on TV shows and movies like WALL•E, The Simpsons and The Tonight Show. The Emmy-nominated actor lives in Encino with his playwright wife Mary.
Saddle Peak Lodge
For any kind of birthday or anniversary I go to Saddle Peak Lodge. It’s like a big hunting lodge, three or four stories, real nice and woodsy with moose heads hanging on the wall, and you can order buffalo, which I don’t. It’s a pretty meaty place. We took Dan Castellaneta from The Simpsons up there for a special occasion and afterward my wife found out he was a vegetarian. I was so embarrassed.
I love to go to Beachwood Canyon Drive and climb up the hills toward the Hollywood Sign. It’s like Wyoming or something. You can climb all the way up into the hills and get within shouting distance of the sign.
Musso and Frank Grill
In Hollywood one of our favorites is Musso and Frank’s. It’s just about the oldest restaurant in town. We always run into Tom LaBonge there. I love historic places and the food is wonderful. You really feel like you’re a part of old Hollywood.
For a small theater experience, the Bang Theater on Fairfax is great. We’ve been going there for years. It’s a little place you might go to see a one-man show. They do something called Fake Radio where they do old radio shows in costume from the 1940’s.
The Hollywood Bowl
A less intimate place is the Hollywood Bowl. We’ve got box seats and they put you in there with two strangers and by the end of the night you’re friends with them and the folks next to you. We sat next to Beau Bridges and Eric Idle came and talked to us. It’s like a little family. We like Wednesdays and Fridays more than others. We’ve had it for 10 or 12 years. You keep moving up and finally get really good seats.
I like to go to Castle Park on Sepulveda. I’m currently batting close to 400 in the batting cages. Its got this little amusement area with miniature golf which I don’t do, but there’s about ten cages that go from softball up to 80 mph. The fastest I get into is 60 mph and I’m more comfortable with 40 mph.
It’s a little 99-seat theater where the seating is shaped like a horseshoe. When I moved out here there were only like five of these theaters and there’s something charming about a place that has not been completely redone. There’s always a surprisingly interesting play.
The World Famous Improv
You never know what you’re getting into. Every once in a while the big stars will pop in and do something, like Jay Leno or Albert Brooks. We used to see Andy Kaufmann there. You walk in and there’s a bar on the left and you can sit and eat. When I first came out here it was called the Ash Grove. They had a couple of fires and Budd Friedman took it over and he had his own fire and we all roasted marshmallows.
Mann Plant 16
During the week I like to drive to the Plant 16 movie cineplex. It’s usually not crowded and it has got high spacious theaters and I sit in the front row. I’m a big horror film fan and I’ll go down and put on my hat and sit down. It’s kind of an edgy neighborhood. You pull into the back and there’s police station right there and that gives you some comfort, but the police station has been robbed three times and the sergeant was mugged. I got that one from Rodney Dangerfield.
If you want to stop for a snack, I like Paty’s on Riverside Drive. The desserts are great. I highly recommend the chocolate cake. Coming home from The Tonight Show I would always stop and get a piece of that chocolate cake to go.
The Comedy and Magic Club
The Comedy and Magic Club is in Hermosa Beach. It’s kind of a schlep so you have to pick out who you want to see. They treat you very nicely and serve you dinner and they keep the comedy kind of family friendly. It’s not like a pirate rebellion.
Bob’s Big Boy
If we go to the Falcon Theater, Bob’s Big Boy is a must. We always eat there and it’s historic so you can justify having a nice cheeseburger and a milkshake and top it off with a slice of apple pie.
Sam Lynn Ballpark
Once a year I drive out to see the Bakersfield Blaze. They have an old-fashioned ballpark and it’s Class A, which is about 2 years out of college and 2 years away from the big leagues. The park is old and kinda run down, which I love. You can picture Ty Cobb playing there. There’s about a hundred people in the stands and you can sit behind the dugout or behind home plate and nobody bothers you. It’s very high quality baseball and it’s very low key.
Images courtesy (in order): (1) Flickr/kristih, (2) Flickr/fredcamino, (3) Flickr/vlup2us65, (4) bangstudio.com, (5) Yennaedo Balloo, (6) laparks.org, (8) Flickr/dcwriterdawn, (10) patysrestaurant.com, (11) comedyandmagicclub.com, (12) Flickr/jesswebb, (13) bakersfieldblaze.com