NEW MEXICO—You’re a million miles from Vine and Sunset, and you walk into a hash house in an unassuming strip mall where the main menu is entitled The Script and the special Southwest breakfast menu is Sequel. It’s a kick in the head. Like a Corleone seeking to escape the long arm of the mafia, here I am in this sleepy Southwestern city unsuccessfully escaping the longer arm of Hollywood.
The creation of Janice Williams, a former drama major at the College of Santa Fe State, Break an Egg is a movie-themed restaurant that pursues its theme with a vengeance. The walls are plastered with posters from “Lawrence of Arabia,” “An American in Paris,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “My Fair Lady,” not to mention a nightmarish painting of animated popcorn tubs, hot dogs, soft drinks dancing on painted legs, and of course, an egg. Here are Elvis from Jailhouse Rock and a fresh-faced Montgomery Clift and a lithe Ingrid Bergman. Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean in “Giant.”
Happily, the usual tragic icons are outnumbered by those resilient souls who devoted actuarially full lives to the movies. Lindsay Lohan is nowhere in sight; Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers are.
Be warned what to expect from a joint named, “Break an Egg.” If Homeland Security had a division devoted to containment of dangerous puns, they would send a swat team to this place. The menu is divided into five acts, begins with Act I “Egg-cademy Award Winners.” Each egg dish is named for a crew member, from The Director (eggs Benedict) to the Key Grip (two poached eggs with grilled sliced ham).
The cinematic theme extends beyond the menu. The men’s and women’s commodes have golden stars on the doors and are designated ‘dressing rooms.’ Inside the men’s dressing room are framed shots of a transmogrified Orson Welles directing “Touch of Evil,” in makeup for his role as the corrupt sheriff; in a neighboring photo a super young Audrey Hepburn models a swimsuit on a beach. While doing one’s business, men can behold John Wayne from “Green Berets” and the words below state, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” which takes on a whole new meaning in that context. Women in their ‘dressing room’ may spy an unrecognizably young and tender looking Humphrey Bogart or Yul Brynner in a straw hat.
“I worked very hard to find pictures nobody would recognize,” Janice Williams remarks, “Especially pictures of stars when they were just starting out. We like to go around and play a game.”
The object of the game is to identify who it is and, Williams says, most people are stumped.
Beneath a frieze of giant sprocketed movie film around tops of the walls, Williams’s clientele devour home fries and egg dishes. Above their heads dangle cardboard movie clappers, klieg lights and movie cameras fastened to tinsel ribbons. They seem oblivious to the heavy iconography and triglycerides. Meanwhile friendly waitresses, giddy to be a part of the show, keep the coffee cups filled to the brim.
Here in Southern New Mexico, where the purple etched Organ Mountains loom against unfenced sky and it’s pretty darn hard to get a cup of espresso, a former drama major has built her own noble shrine to the Dream Factory. As interim honorary Mayor of Hollywood I would like to decree this theme diner in Las Cruces, honorary Hollywood soil. After all, Hollywood is an imaginary mecca, and it exudes a magic that every citizen of the planet can plug into. Indeed, whoever itches to move on or yearns for a bit more pizzaz or romance in their workaday lives has felt its pull. Hollywood is a place on a map; it is also a place in all our dreams.