Michael Romanoff, aka Harry F. Gerguson and Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, born Hershel Geguzin, (February 20, 1890 – September 1, 1971) was a Hollywood restaurateur, conman, and actor born in Lithuania. He is perhaps best known as the owner of the now-defunct Romanoff's, a Beverly Hills restaurant popular with Hollywood stars in the 1940s and 1950s.
The New Yorker ran a series of five profiles, starting October 29, 1932, that traced Romanoff's history from birth until date of publication. He had been deported to France in May of that year to serve time for fraud.
His Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) biography states:
Mike Romanoff, the former Harry F. Gerguson, was a successful "professional impostor". He accumulated an enormous fount of knowledge in his numerous travels and occupations around the world (and he attended, however briefly, several leading universities). When Hollywood filmmakers needed a technical adviser for a movie set in Europe, Romanoff claimed to be an expert and drew a comfortable salary. The genial Romanoff was a popular figure among the movie colony, and he opened a restaurant that was frequented by many film stars. Romanoff made few screen appearances, but he can be seen in all his fraudulent glory in Sing While You're Able (1937). David Niven was a close friend, and in his book Bring on the Empty Horses he devotes a chapter to the colorful Romanoff.
IMDb.com also notes that Geguzin immigrated to New York City at age ten, changed his name to Harry F. Gerguson some time after 1900 and married Gloria Lister in 1948, and further explains that Romanoff "claimed to have been born Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, nephew of Tsar Nicholas II. Everyone in Hollywood knew he wasn't, but in a town full of pretenders, it hardly mattered, and 'Prince Michael' enjoyed great success as a restaurateur."
From 1941 to 1962, Romanoff's was located at 326 North Rodeo Drive, and had another location at 140 South Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. In 1951, it moved to a new location at 240 South Rodeo Drive.
KCET's Hadley Meares writes of the restaurant, which used an elegant monogram consisting of a crown sitting over two capital letter 'R's back to back: "The décor was masculine and clubby with comfortable booths, the dance floor well waxed, the cigarette girls lovely, and the waiters well-trained and Jeeves-like."
While Romanoff's featured a typical country club-style menu with items like Waldorf salad, tomatoes stuffed with crab, filet mignon, frog legs, eggs Benedict and sausages on toast, the restaurant became known for their chocolate soufflés, which were served to each guest in an individual portion. Although Romanoff's restaurant is also known for popularizing the "American version" of the famous dessert Strawberries Romanoff, it was actually created by Escoffier when he was the chef at the Carlton Hotel in London – where he had originally called it "Strawberries Americaine Style" - strawberries in Grand Marnier, blended into whipped cream and softened ice cream.
Noodles Romanoff originally appeared at Romanoff’s, back in the mid-1950s. It was later spun off at Stouffer’s Top of the Rock Restaurant in Chicago after Romanoff’s went out of business. After Stouffer’s closed that restaurant several years later, they brought their Noodles Romanoff to their newly formed frozen food grocery division.Origin of Noodles Romanoff
The restaurant closed its doors for good on New Year's Eve in 1962, however, the exterior of Romanoff's can be seen in the 1967 Fox film, A Guide for the Married Man. Romanoff himself also plays the maitre'd in a sequence in the film in a studio recreation of the restaurant's interior.
In popular culture
Romanoff is referenced in 1941's Hellzapoppin', the film version of the famous Broadway musical revue. In the film, Mischa Auer plays a "real Russian prince who is pretending to be a fake Russian prince." Although he is penniless, his deception gets him invited to high-society parties, where he can sponge off the guests and gorge himself on the food. He tells a fellow Russian expatriate, "Better that everyone should think I am a fake Russian prince. If they knew I was a real Russian prince, the novelty would wear off, and nobody would want me!"
At an early point in the original 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street, a doctor expresses the opinion that Kris Kringle is of no harm to anyone despite his insistence that he is Santa Claus. In a reference to Romanoff, the doctor compares Kringle to a well-known restaurant owner - whose name escapes him at the moment - who insists that he is a member of the Russian royal family, but is otherwise quite normal.
Romanoff was one of several guest stars on "The Jack Benny Program" radio show on 8 January 1950, titled "Drear Pooson Fluffrys Party And Is Stood Up By His Date". The episode featured Benny and other regular cast members attempting to solve a murder that had taken place at the Romanoff's in Beverly Hills. The episode is perhaps better known for having one of the longest laughs in the history of the series, based on a spoonerism of the name "Drew Pearson", and quick thinking by the writers to incorporate the flub later in the program without telling Benny.
Romanoff was the guest star on the December 8, 1950 "Selling the Tavern" episode of the Duffy's Tavern radio show. In typical Tavern style, his claims of royalty are roundly mocked and even his small stature is joked about. Romanoff can also be heard as a contestant on the 28 November 1951 radio edition of the Groucho Marx quiz, You Bet Your Life. The television broadcast took place the next day.
He is mentioned in the classical 1950 Billie Wilder movie Sunset Boulevard by the agent of Gillis: "once a talent like yours gets into that Mocambo-Romanoff rut, you're through. / GILLIS: Forget Romanoff's."
In addition to appearing in the above-mentioned A Guide for the Married Man as himself, Romanoff appeared in at least 20 other films and television shows playing either himself or acting in bit roles, such as a prince, maitre'd, nobleman, or some other type of sophisticated European gentleman.
- Michael Romanoff biography page – IMDb.com
- "Mike's Place". Time. 1950-11-06. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
- Meares, Hadley. "The Public Kitchen: "Recipes from Romanoffs, Supper Club to the Stars" by Hadley Meares. KCET.org February 15, 2012". Kcet.org. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Brachman, Wayne. "Strawberries Romanoff Recipe at". Epicurious.com. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- "Drear Pooson Fluffrys Party And Is Stood Up By His Date mp3". Retrieved 2013-02-26.
- "The Longest Laugh". Retrieved 2013-02-26.
- "Selling the Tavern mp3". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- "What's My Line?: Episode #358". TV.com. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
- "Michael Romanoff-What's My Line". YouTube. 1957-04-14. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Pejsa, Jane. Romanoff, Prince of Rogues Kenwood Publishing
- The New Yorker, October 29, 1932