From 1941 to 1948, Breneman hosted a live, impromptu show that doled out charm and fab prizes. Much of the show was structured around Breneman wandering through his adoring female audience, seated at tables post-breakfast. He asked them questions, such as:
Breneman: (to audience member) What time did you get up [to be here]?
Woman: Four o’clock.
Breneman: (cheerfully) Sucker.
The show was so successful – 10 million listeners, according to Wikipedia – that it aired on three networks and spawned something of a Media Empire, e.g. a magazine and a restaurant on Sunset and Vine.
Breneman made a movie about his show, too, called (what else?) Breakfast in Hollywood (1945), in which he stars as himself.
Now, we can’t say what Breneman was like Off Air, but in the film he demonstrates megawatt charisma. You can’t help but be fascinated by him; he’s engaging and, at times, very witty.
This movie practically deifies Breneman, but who cares? It’s so much fun that if we (yours truly) were in Los Angeles in the 1940s, we’d camp on the sidewalk for tickets to his show.
Breakfast in Hollywood, the film, doesn’t look like much On Paper.
The film spans a single day in Breneman’s Hollywood, as seen from different points of view. For example, a girl from the midwest (Bonita Granville) is given a ticket to the show by an employee at the bus station.
A middle-aged woman (Billie Burke) takes a Day Off from her unhappy marriage to listen to a man who makes her laugh.
Eighty-three year-old Hollywood resident (Beulah Bondi) is hit by a vehicle on her way to the broadcast, yet she refuses to go to the hospital. She’s been looking forward to the show for weeks and won’t let a crash waylay her.
Meanwhile, a discharged sailor (Edward Ryan) thumbs a ride into Hollywood and is given a ride by Breneman himself, who just happens to have an extra ticket.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the film is ZaSu Pitt’s character, a woman determined to get Brenneman to notice her hat.
This she’s been trying to do for seven months.
According to the movie, one of the more popular features of Breneman’s program is the selection of the most outrageous hat.
Audience members attend the show wearing outlandish hats and Breneman selects the one he thinks is the most bizarre.
Pitt’s Dr-Seuss-esque hat (above photo) appears to be the most flamboyant in the room. Breneman sees it and makes A Beeline for her. Pitts is ecstatic: Here he comes, finally, after seven months and countless hats, this, at last, is her Moment.
Just as he approaches her table, Breneman spots his pal, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, wearing a hat with a goldfish bowl.
(Hedda Hopper was almost as famous for her hats as for her column. According to Wikipedia, “Part of Hopper’s public image was her fondness for wearing extravagant hats, for which the Internal Revenue Service gave her a $5,000 annual tax credit as a work expense.”¹)
As for Pitts, she’s upset, really upset. Bondi tries to cheer her up. “Don’t you worry, dearie,” she says. “I think your hat is much worse than hers.” But Pitts won’t be patronized.
Later, she approaches Breneman with news of another new hat. But he’s too busy Helping Others in the movie, and he suggests visiting his restaurant that evening. Alas! In a careless moment, she rests her new hat on a bench where Hopper accidentally sits on it.
We can all identify with Pitts, no? Even though her passion is silly and, no doubt, expensive, we see how much this means to her. We dislike seeing her hamstrung by a celebrity who already has Everything.
That’s the power of Pitts’s performance. She’s funny and determined, yet vulnerable. She shows us the importance of a ridiculous hat to a lonely woman craving a little attention.
We think you’ll like Breakfast in Hollywood. It offers a glimpse of Tinseltown in the 1940s, while weaving together several storylines with good performances – especially the one from ZaSu Pitts.
Breakfast in Hollywood: starring Tom Breneman, Bonita Granville, Beulah Bondi. Directed by Harold Schuster. Written by Earl Baldwin. Golden Pictures, 1946, B&W, 90 mins.