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Windy City West bash blows into West Coast as Chicagoans in Hollywood celebrate their town
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) ' A hungry Chris O'Donnell arrived straight from the set of "NCIS: Los Angeles" and polished off a piece of pizza. Joe Mantegna, Dennis Farina and Roger Ebert's wife were craving their favorite Chicago foods, too.
Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts felt right at home, with "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks resting on a stool and Harry Carey's widow Dutchie standing at the bar.
There was a Midwest feeling in the air Monday night, even if everyone was almost 2,000 miles from the Second City. It was the 25th Windy City West bash, bringing together expatriate Chicagoans from film, television and sports for a taste of home on the West Coast.
"It's unlike any other Hollywood party. People are actually looking each other in the eye and talking," said O'Donnell, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka. "There's nobody looking over anyone's shoulder. That's the difference. It feels a little more normal to me."
Marilu Henner, James Denton of "Desperate Housewives," and Willie Gault of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears joined Chaz Ebert, "Bold and Beautiful" executive producer Brad Bell, Joel Murray, brother of Bill, actor Richard Kind of HBO's "Luck" and a few hundred others jammed into M Street Kitchen and Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica to celebrate their roots.
Denton reminisced about how he waited tables at Harry Carey's restaurant while doing theater in Chicago before trying his luck in Hollywood.
"I lived there six years and I lived in five different places," the Nashville native said. "I didn't have any money at all so I just bounced around from apartment to apartment."
Comedian Jeff Garlin of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" stopped by before heading to his gig at a Hollywood club, as did actor Billy Zane, Olympic champion figure skater Evan Lysacek and Reggie Brown, who makes a living impersonating President Barack Obama. Ricketts received the Man of the Year award for his contributions to Chicago sports.
"It's like going to your high school reunion after 20 years and realizing you know everybody," said Mantegna, who stars on "Criminal Minds."
"Every time I look up I'm seeing someone I know," he said.
At that, he and Farina, a former Chicago cop, embraced.
"It's a kick to see everybody," Farina said.
Unlike at a lot of Hollywood parties, the guests weren't shy about eating. They chowed down on such Chicago culinary delights as deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches on crusty bread, cheesecake and popcorn imported from the city's favorite restaurants.
"There are certain foods that are just unique," said actor Adrian Zmed of "TJ Hooker" fame. "I wouldn't say they're healthy, but they taste really, really good."
Chaz Ebert, who came without her famous hubby, said, "I'm looking forward to one of those Vienna Beef hot dogs, a Chicago-style hot dog dragged through the garden, as they call it."
That includes such toppings as tomatoes, onions, a pickle and celery salt.
Gault, still as slim as when he played wide receiver for the Bears, faced a bit of a predicament.
"I'm a vegetarian so I don't eat beef," he said. "They make me a special pizza because I don't really eat cheese either. They always take care of me."
Bell, who recently hosted a fundraiser for Obama at his home, said, "As soon as you walk through the door, you know that you are among Chicagoans because you feel an arm on your back and you feel a warmth in the air."
Comedian Tom Dreesen served as informal host, as he's done every year since the party began in 1987 as a way for transplanted Chicagoans to swap stories and bond over a taste of home.
"We're hangout people, meaning no matter what we do after our job, after we shoot a scene, after we do our shows, we want to go someplace and hang out," he said. "Of all the shows I've done, nothing excites me more than getting together with all my Chicago family."