LOU GRANT "Hollywood" (aired December 17, 1979)
Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff
Written by Michele Gallery
Series Regulars: Ed Asner, Mason Adams, Nancy Marchand, Robert Walden, Linda Kelsey, Jack Bannon, Daryl Anderson
Guest stars: George Chandler, Laraine Day, Howard Duff, Nina Foch, Margaret Hamilton, John Larch, Paul Stewart, Dave Willock, Marie Windsor
Writer Michele Gallery spun this charming hommage to film noir and post-WWII Los Angeles out of the contemporary (late 70s) news story about the mysterious Spanish Kitchen, a Hollywood eatery that had been closed for more than twenty years, with all of its period furnishings intact but covered in layers of decades-old dust.
In "Hollywood" it becomes Baby Duarte's Cantina, an eatery owned by the mysterious Mrs. Polk (Nina Foch), whose husband had thrown in with Filipino welterweight Baby Duarte to create a restaurant that catered to the Hollywood "in crowd" even though its Mexican food was, according to L.A. Tribune publisher Margaret Pynchon (Nancy Marchand), only "comme si comme sa."
Spicier than the food was Mrs. Pynchon's recollection that Baby Duarte had been murdered in the wee hours one night at his cantina thirty years earlier (1949), with the crime left unsolved. From there, the intrepid team of Tribune reporters (Robert Walden as Rossi, Linda Kelsey as Billie Newman) try to pick up the cold trail of events, with variable results. It turns out that Tribune photographer Dennis "Animal" Price (Daryl Anderson) gains traction with the mysterious Mrs. Polk, and it's his investigative trail that bears the most fruit with regard to the long-ago murder.
Along the way, though, Billie--thanks to some help from crusty former City Editor Thea Taft (a marvelously irascible Margaret Hamilton)--tracks down Laura Sinclair, a long-lost starlet (Laraine Day) who was part of the picture on the night Baby Duarte was killed. Billie achieves this by working her way through a bizarre smokescreen put up by a protective friend (Marie Windsor, playing it with her usual panache). Rossi has an inconclusive but amusing interview with another person of interest, director "Wild Man" Moran (Howard Duff, who has an amusing bit about how TV shows had declined into talk-fests: "yak-yak-yak!")--and even Lou Grant (Ed Asner) gets involved, chatting up the starlet's surviving agent (Paul Stewart) to check on Moran's alibi.
The show overdoes its musical "rehash" of film noir soundtracks from time to time, but the hommage is both loving and tongue-in-cheek, with Animal the shutterbug aceing out the Tribune's reporters thanks to a visit to the cemetery where Baby Duarte's remains were housed (in a columbarium, with an as-yet unused companion "slot"), information relayed to him by a crusty cemetery caretaker (George Chandler, in his final screen credit in a career than numbered an incredible 470 appearances).
Ed Asner, whose passing prompted this write-up, handles the obligatory voice-over duties with low-key aplomb, demonstrating that the more blowhard-y personality of Lou Grant (often on display in the series) was just one more of his actorly impersonations. All in all, a somewhat slight but highly satisfying change of pace for a show better known for its socially-conscious material.
A sub-par but still watchable transfer of the episode can be found here on YouTube: