On this date in 1956, newspapers all across the country published a “Bugs Bunny” comic strip that leaves a minor Seal Beach historical mystery.
“Sam’s Seafood” in Surfside is now called “Don the Beachcomber,” but there were different versions of the “Sam’s Seafood” name over the decades it was in business. It was originally called Sam’s Seafood Cafe, most people remember the restaurant as simply as “Sam’s Seafood,” and local newspaper ads, reviews, and stories have used “Sam’s Seafood Restaurant,” “Sam’s Seafood Tavern,” and, perhaps most uniquely, “Sam’s Seafood Grotto.”
The restaurant name used in this 1956 comic strip might be a pure coincidence, but the odd specificity of it makes a coincidence unlikely.
It’s not unusual for a comic strip creator to include references to real life landmarks, people, and organizations. E. C. Segar, creator of Popeye, had a running gag of references to the “Santa Monica Rod and Reel Club,” of which he was an enthusiastic member.
The mention of “Sam’s Seafood Grotto” becomes even stranger when newspapers ran this two “Bugs Bunny” comic strips months apart in 1976.
So who made these references to Seal Beach’s local fish eatery twenty years apart? My theory is that the culprit is comic artist Ralph Heimdahl because he worked long term on the “Bugs Bunny” comic strip from the late forties to the late seventies. The writers assigned to the comic strip varied quite a bit, and the span between the 1956 strip and the 1976 strips points to someone who was worked on the strip for decades.
So was Ralph Heimdahl a regular “Sam’s Seafood” customer, or did he just eat there once and “Sam’s Seafood Grotto” struck him as a funny name? (And let’s face it, these comic strips needed as much funny as they could get.) Heimdahl lived in the San Gabriel Valley, so he was local. Or is this just a coincidence? Ralph Heimdahl passed away in 1981, so we’re never going to get a chance to ask him.
– Michael Dobkins