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Some years ago, my Dad’s uncle, Art Berkell, passed away, leaving behind a lifetime of clutter for us to deal with. I grabbed what I thought I could use; filing cabinets, a desk, lots of Kodachrome slides. I trucked it off to storage and figured, like everyone else who rents a space to keep crap, that I’d bring it all home when I had the room.
Many years went by, and I finally decided to either donate the stuff or chuck it. Filing cabinets just don’t hold the same fascination for me in the computer-age world that they once did; they’re just big steel boxes that take up room, so they were the first items on the chopping block. There was still some stuff in the drawers, though, so I emptied it into a box and brought it home to parse through, just in case there was anything important in there. Most of it was garbage—travel receipts, tax snippets, business cards, forms—but one thing caught my eye: a folder with a name scrawled on it in Uncle Art’s handwriting: Joe Flynn.
I know “Flynn” is a fairly common Irish name, but there was an actor named Joe Flynn who did a lot of television and Disney movies in the 60s and 70s, so my curiosity was piqued. To my surprise, the folder indeed contained clippings of the actor, and correspondence and old legal papers indicating that Uncle Art had been a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Mr. Flynn. There was also a pack of matches labeled “Joe Flynn’s Personal Eggs,” featuring a caricature of the actor, as well as a snapshot of a delivery truck painted in a similar fashion, and other related clippings. I’m thinking, what the hell was this? My family has been here in L.A. for 90 years, we’ve crossed paths with lots of interesting people, but of all the stories I’ve heard, I never remembered anyone referencing Joe Flynn. I picked up the phone and called my Dad, and asked if he remembered any kind of connection between his uncle and the actor.
He immediately replied, “Oh, that’s that goddamn egg thing.”
He went on to tell me what he remembered about “Joe Flynn Personal Eggs.” Apparently, Flynn, an Ohio native, had a few chickens in his backyard. On Sunday mornings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he would go out to the henhouse and personally select a giant basket of fresh eggs for breakfast. His neighbors and actor friends would crowd around the table for omelettes and scrambles, which Joe gleefully served with a flourish. It was a fun, invitation-only affair, like an exclusive poker circle, and a great way to recover from a long night of partying.
Unfortunately, everything changed when actor Wally Cox slipped up and told his friend Marlon Brando about the breakfasts. Brando immediately called Flynn and demanded to be included. Soon, Sunday mornings weren’t enough; he started showing up at Flynn’s door at all hours, demanding his “personal” eggs. In desperation, Flynn offered to always have a bowl of freshly scrambled eggs on hand, ready to be delivered, by driver, whenever Marlon was hungry… if only Marlon would stop haunting his kitchen in the middle of the night. This arrangement worked for a short time, but Brando soon insisted that Flynn cater to his friends as well, as a premium for his “continued best-friendship.”
By this time, Flynn was spending a good portion of his week cracking and freezing tupperware bowls full of eggs, and he finally announced that he would start charging people for his “personal egg” services. As my Dad remembers it, Flynn figured people would stop pestering him for eggs if he put a price on them, but because he priced them so reasonably, the plan backfired. Flynn was forced to lease a separate property in Van Nuys in order to raise enough chickens and eggs to keep up with the increasing demand—which is where dear old Uncle Art enters the narrative; with his older brother Al, he held the deed to the vacant lot on Orion Avenue where Flynn moved his operation.
Legal correspondence regarding the Orion Ave. property sent to my great uncle, Art Berkell, found in the filing cabinet. Click here to read larger image.
Facing rising costs (and apparently prodded by Brando), Flynn decided to sell his eggs, pre-scrambled and frozen, to the general public. He bought ad space, had his promotional materials printed, and built a small cinder-block warehouse curbside on the Orion Avenue lot. The public wasn’t buying, though, and after struggling along for several years, a tired and disgusted Flynn was on the verge of shuttering the whole operation when everything changed in the spring of 1962. Producer Ed Montagne (The Phil Silvers Show) contacted Flynn and offered him a significant part on the new sitcom McHale’s Navy as Captain Binghamton, the role for which he is probably best remembered. The show was a moderate hit, and Flynn quickly realized his egg endeavors could benefit from his newfound notoriety.
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This is where the story gets a little strange and spotty; I’ve had to fill in some blanks with conjecture. Apparently, not content to simply deliver eggs to his customers, Flynn envisioned installing a strange, compressed nitrogen-powered “personal egg tank” in people’s houses, which would be topped off weekly (or even daily) with liquid eggs from his own fleet of delivery trucks. He invested a large chunk of his acting salary into inventing such a system, and by the mid-to-late 1960s had actually installed it in a number of homes around the Valley. From what I can gather, most of the people who bought into the service were other celebrities, not surprising considering the price of installation was equivalent to building a new swimming pool. Brando himself had a “deluxe” tank with a dedicated faucet installed in the kitchen of his Mulholland Drive home that dispensed not just eggs, but also a pre-mixed egg-flour batter for baking.
As the returns diminished from their friendship, Flynn, in a brazen attempt to exploit their association, published a bizarre, full-page ad featuring Brando’s likeness and apparent endorsement—without Brando’s permission. The copy I obtained was printed in a business monthly published by a local Chamber of Commerce, but I was told that it popped up in a number of Los Angeles area publications and circulated for roughly a year before Brando found out, and he was livid. Legend has it that Brando ordered his handyman to fill his “personal egg tank” with cement so that it could never be used again. According to a long-time realtor who knows the property well (and for obvious reasons shall remain anonymous), the apparatus was still embedded in the wall of Brando’s former home as recently as 2009.
Threats, attorneys, lawsuits and more threats followed, and Flynn’s erstwhile egg empire cracked. By this time, sadly, Flynn had grown obsessed with eggs. He refused to give up on the idea of installing egg tanks and selling liquid eggs, often referencing “my contribution to science” and “ending world hunger via eggs” as reasons to push ahead with his dream. In complete denial about his crumbling business, he continued to implore his famous friends to install his dangerously unstable delivery system, to uniformly disastrous results. This, I’ve gathered because of the numerous cancellation requests and angry demands for refunds scattered amongst the other papers, mostly dated around the same time my family was suing to evict him (and his chickens) from their property. Dad says Uncle Art (Uncle Al had died in 1969) was particularly pissed because Flynn never obtained the proper permits to raise livestock in what was a mostly residential neighborhood, and as the property owner, he was forced to deal with numerous fines and complaints from various city agencies. He ultimately won the court case, but Flynn dragged the eviction out long enough where Art was unable to make plans for the property, and he just dumped it on the market it in disgust. I’m pretty sure it’s all apartments now.
A coy letter from Jayne Meadows cancelling “personal eggs” for herself and husband Steve Allen. Click here to read larger image.
After weeks of further research, and asking my poor father an awful lot of questions, I was unable to find any trace of “Personal Eggs” after 1972, where the trail ends deep in the Los Angeles court system microfiche. Sadly, there is no reference to it on Flynn’s Wikipedia or IMDB page. As for Flynn himself, in the summer of ‘74 he was found naked and dead at the bottom of his swimming pool—some say under mysterious circumstances—at the age of 49, and his dream of pre-scrambled eggs for the hungry masses apparently died with him. There is no record of Marlon Brando attending the funeral.
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An angry letter from actor Bobby Troup. Click here to read larger image.