Falling In Love At Canter’s Deli

We’d first met in 1950. I was bumming around from one dead-end job to another, still using the war as an excuse for screwing up. She was a rich man’s daughter who had the good sense to know she’d been spoiled rotten. bobby-socksWe were both in Canter’s Deli at three in the morning one aimless Friday night. She was dressed in rolled-up jeans and bobby sox with a bunch of giggling girlfriends. I was on my lonesome, hunched over a cold coffee and a slice of apple pie covered in the gloop that was once a scoop of ice cream. She reached over to my booth and asked to borrow the sugar. I said something smart and she said something smarter. She joined me at my table. Her eyes were blue-green, her sun-kissed blonde hair was in a ponytail. An hour later I was in love.”

Canter’s -2Deli is a Hollywood landmark and has been serving traditional Jewish food and American diner fare 24 hours a day since it opened in Boyle Heights in 1931. In 1948 it followed a Jewish migration to West Hollywood and relocated to Fairfax Ave. In 1953 it moved again, up a block into larger premises, and looks pretty much the same today as it did back then. I visited the place many times during my first few trips to LA in the 1990s and often sat in a booth with friends after a night of clubbing or bar-hopping, and it was easy to imagine a scene in the old Canter’s where a couple could meet for the first time in the balmy small hours of a weekend morning…

She looked like a sleek, golden animal…

She relaxed half a notch. Even nervous, she was one of the most gorgeous women I’d ever laid eyes on. She had glossy red hair pulled into a pony-tail but it wasn’t the kind of red you see on white-skinned Irish girls. This was a tawny color that accented the pale honey tan of her skin. Her face was angular with full lips and almond-shaped eyes. She wore high heels, skin-tight Capri pants on long, long legs and a white blouse tied up at her slender waist. The skin of her belly was firm and tanned. She looked like the French actress Agnes Laurent. She looked like a sleek, golden animal. I wanted her.”

During the time I was starting to conjure up the character of the book’s femme fatale, Justine, I went to the PCC swap meet in Pasadena and picked up a dozen or so vintage Playboy Magazines from the late 1950s.

As luck would have it, one of them was dated July 1958 – the very month and year that “Ritual” takes place – and there was a pictorial on a beautiful French actress called Agnes Laurent.

Agnes Laurent, Playboy
Spread from Playboy, July 1958, featuring Agnes Laurent.

Ms. Laurent was one of a handful of French starlets who were briefly touted in magazines like Playboy as the “next Brigitte Bardot” – she may not have been that, but her photos would certainly have made an impression on a lot of American males at the time.