Licorice Pizza features several barely disguised real-life figures but uses real names for some of its least-flattering depictions. That includes producer Jon Peters, depicted as a rampaging monster, and Jerry Frick, owner of the Japanese restaurant the Mikado, portrayed as a business selling a carefully selected vision of Japanese cuisine (and Japan itself) designed not to scare off Western diners. It also portrays him as a man who boasts of his time spent in Japan yet speaks no Japanese and uses an exaggerated accent to convey the thoughts of his wife, whom he replaces mid-film, a gag that’s caused even viewers who otherwise admire the film to cringe.
Whether or not the film depicts Frick accurately, both he and the Mikado were real places. The Mikado opened in 1958 as the Brass Rail but changed its name and focus in 1964. Frick seems really to have spent time in and run a business in Japan. He told the Van Nuys Valley News he lived there for 15 years in a piece covering a “Far East Get Together” event in 1965. The Mikado does seem to have been careful about offering timid Valley diners baby steps into the world of Japanese food. The writer of a short 1974 profile of the restaurant, also in Valley News, informs readers the Mikado offers “American or Japanese spirits” and “[f]or the daring, sashimi (fresh raw fish in season).”
The Pinball Ban
Yes, Los Angeles really did ban pinball, an ordinance in effect for decades. Starting in 1939, Los Angelenos had to do without, per The Los Angeles Times, “Pin-ball games, marble boards, scoop claws and similar devices” which had been deemed dangerous due to “petty gambling, so widespread that the police are totally insufficient in number to enforce the law.” The California Supreme Court overruled the ordinance in 1974. Gary Goetzman, the film producer whose life and stories provided the inspiration for Licorice Pizza, really did run a waterbed business and pinball parlor out of an Encino storefront, too. It’s long gone, though the set dressing fooled some pinball enthusiasts into thinking it was a new operation last year. If it’s any consolation, a recreation of the original will be open in Westwood through December 18th.
The El Portal Theater
Not every place featured in Licorice Pizza has met the wrecking ball. One key moment takes place in front of the El Portal, a movie theater boasting its current hit attraction, the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. (In another sign of changing times, it’s the first to feature Roger Moore.) Opened in 1926 and located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd., the El Portal is still in business, though it’s undergone some changes over the years.
The El Portal began life as a vaudeville theater before becoming a single-screen movie house. The theater underwent a facelift in the late 1940s and was owned by the Mann chain in August of 1973 when it did play Live and Let Die, which alternated screenings with the Charles Bronson thriller The Mechanic. It suffered heavy damage in a 1994 earthquake but has since been repaired and now operates as a performing arts center. (You can currently catch Hair and ABBA Mania.) Declared a historical landmark by the City of Los Angeles, it will likely be standing for years to come. Maybe someone can even use it for a nostalgia trip back to 2021 decades from now.