Old Hollywood Kitchen: Glenda Farrell

When I began my search for these vintage recipes, there was one star I had always hoped to find. Once I picked up a copy of What Actors Eat When They Eat, I was thrilled to see that Glenda Farrell was featured in the collection, having had no previous luck turning up one of her recipes. I plan to make that recipe sometime this winter as it's best suited for cold weather. What a pleasant surprise to chance upon another vintage cookbook, Famous Stars Favorite Foods, and flip to this page:

Glenda Farrell's Devil's Food Cake

3 squares chocolate, melted
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

I'm growing in confidence with my cooking, but baking is still largely a nerve-wracking affair. I halved the recipe for a two-layer cake, and it turned out fine though a bit on the dry side. I'm not sure what the recipe might need to add some moisture, but it's simple enough to lend itself to experimentation. I also substituted an oil and cocoa powder mixture for the chocolate since I don't keep baking chocolate around.

Topped with a simple buttercream frosting, it's just the way to satisfy that cake craving. I first baked this for Glenda's birthday back in June to complement a marathon of her films. If you haven't yet experienced her acting, any of her Warner Brothers features would be a good start, particularly the one that brought her Torchy Blane to acclaim: 1936's Smart Blonde. You can also tune in to TCM every Monday in November to celebrate her reign as Star of the Month. Long may she rule.


Old Hollywood Kitchen: Eleanor Powell

One of my goals in exploring these vintage recipes is to find successes that will become mainstays in my kitchen. I'm so enamored with today's recipe that I've already prepared it several times since my initial test...

Eleanor Powell's Beef and Beans (Cantonese Style)

1 lb. flank steak
2 1/2 lbs. string beans
3 large onions
1 bottle soy sauce
1/2 lb. lard or olive oil (olive oil is preferable here)
Salt and pepper to taste

The recipe as written yields 4 hearty portions, but I cut the recipe in half. It can take a while to trim down the green beans (in the full recipe I used about 2 lbs. of beans instead of 2 1/2), but you can save time by sauteing the beans and onions together; cooking them separately creates excess liquid and is an altogether unnecessary step. I also use garlic salt or garlic powder to season the beef, complementing the richness of the olive oil and soy sauce beautifully.

In Eleanor Powell's own words, "this dish is crisp and tender and served with steamed rice and tea makes a delicious and different dinner", and it certainly fits the bill of the "strength giving food" she she sought out. The green beans soak up the flavor nicely, and the steamed rice makes it lighter than your typical stir fry. Best of all, the leftovers are just as satisfying as when freshly cooked. Highly, highly recommended.

The only downside of this recipe is that it doesn't impart any of Powell's great dancing ability (oh, I wish!). However, you can't go wrong with any of her films if you want to see her skills on display. My pick this time around is Broadway Melody of 1940, her only collaboration (sadly) with Fred Astaire. Powell and Astaire are as perfectly matched as the beef and beans, a fine pairing for dinner and a movie.


Old Hollywood Kitchen: Helen Twelvetrees and Irene Delroy

I have a pair of recipe reports today! I usually pick up avocados when they're on sale, and when the craving for guacamole struck, it was time to test out this simplified version:

Helen Twelvetrees' Wakimoli Salad

2 avocados
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon salt (omitted)
Few grains pepper (omitted- I'm not a fan of black pepper)
Dash paprika
Head of lettuce (for presentation)
Crackers (tortilla chips are a better option here)

Guacamole was not as ubiquitous in the 1930s as it is today, and it's interesting to test one that functions more like a dip. Unfortunately, the full cup (!) of mayonnaise drowned out the velvety avocado and crisp onion, and left it too runny to be satisfying. It's worth another try, cutting back on the mayonnaise (and perhaps adding some diced tomato), but no substitute for the real deal.

The second recipe, however, was a success.

Irene Delroy's Heavenly Hash

2 cups hot milk
3 tablespoons uncooked rice
2 eggs, separated
Few grains salt (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup black walnut meats
1/2 cup whipping cream (topping)

As I don't have a double boiler, I just heated the milk and rice in a saucepan, which took only 40 minutes. I was worried that either the rice would be underdone or the milk would evaporate, but checking on the rice periodically ensures that everything cooks properly. I was also unable to locate black walnuts, which have a very strong flavor, so I used regular chopped walnuts. 

It isn't until you add the vanilla that the hash starts to feel like a dessert. Very hearty and satisfying, with the vanilla lending a subtle sweetness. Next time I'll have to toast the walnuts to bring out their flavor, as they do get lost in the mix. A fine dessert for the colder months.

Normally I recommend a film by the author of each recipe I test, but Irene Delroy has a brief filmography and I've yet to see any of her work; the only Helen Twelvetrees film I've seen is Millie, though my memory of that is faint at best. I have a few more recipe tests under my belt, to be shared soon. Stay tuned.


High Contrast: My Time at The 4th Nitrate Picture Show

A water-damaged nitrate print of F.W. Murnau's Sunrise.

I've had sufficient time (and sleep!) to absorb the proceedings of this year's Nitrate Picture Show at the George Eastman Museum's Dryden Theatre, which for me is a short drive away. The festival gathers a unique mix of industry professionals, film students and fans from places near and far, all for a program that is kept under wraps until the Friday morning of the Show. The Dryden Theatre has the distinction of being one of the few movie houses in the world with the capability to project nitrate film, a notoriously volatile medium. Nitrate film reels are also surprisingly durable and can last many years provided that they're stored in a tightly controlled environment to curb further deterioration. As a relative novice to classic film, the Nitrate Picture Show is a great opportunity for me to explore works both popular and obscure, most of which I've never heard of or seen.

My "initiation" to nitrate film was in 2017, three months before the 3rd Nitrate Picture Show. Another new-to-me film, 1937's A Star Is Born, boasted both strong lead performances and a soft, warm-toned Technicolor print. A long-term relationship came to an abrupt end that April, and I was ready to try something new. Having never been to a film festival, looking for a distraction, and realizing the NPS wasn't out of reach as I had previously thought, I secured my pass at the last minute. Unsure how to pace myself for an event like this, I attended two screenings on Saturday, with a lecture in between. Sunday was a one-screening day for me, but unforgettable: the traditional Blind Date with Nitrate that caps off each Show was a wild ride, Teuvo Tulio's Levoton veri (Restless Blood). Regina Linnanheimo took cues from Bette Davis' performance in Dark Victory and added a heaping helping of intensity; the film dragged in parts and was saddled with a loathsome love interest, but you couldn't pull away from Linnanheimo's Sylvi, slowly unfurling as her life descends into madness. I've seen dozens of movies since, but her performance sticks with me to this day.

Jump ahead to this year, and I knew what I was getting myself into. I blocked off a four-day weekend (you need at least one day to recover!), though I had to miss most of Friday's programming to attend an out-of-town memorial service. My first film of this year's festival was well worth the wait: a late screening of a rare sepia-toned print of 1938's Holiday, a charming, underrated Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant vehicle. It's the only film I had seen prior to the NPS, and not only was it great fun as expected, the nitrate print brought lush textures to the forefront: the sunlight streaming through the windows, the glow of a solitary reading lamp, the plush velvet of a settee, the sparkle and flash of a diamond necklace. I wished it were possible to wrap myself in their warmth; I expect they'll reappear on my next viewing, if only in memory.

Saturday: an early start with insufficient sleep to recover from the previous night, the struggle was compounded by a 2 1/2+ hour Somerset Maugham drama, The Razor's Edge. I wanted to sympathize with Larry Darrell's internal conflict and his search for fulfillment. Especially through tired eyes, Edge steeped too long in its own message, aiming for profundity that wasn't quite there, and at the cost of reasonable pacing and a truly believable Tyrone Power performance. To keep interest I waited anxiously for the next scene with Herbert Marshall's Maugham (a self-insert I can get behind) or for Clifton Webb's Elliott's next cutting remark, and wondered why the great Elsa Lanchester got so little screen time (as ever, she made the most of it). Would it have been less of a slog had it been programmed for midday?

The next feature, Mlhy na blatech (Mist Over The Moors) was a glimpse into rural life; it was an easier sit than fellow Czech film Sirena (The Strike) from last year's NPS, but should have taken more advantage of its stunning natural setting to elevate it above standard drama. The titular mist danced above gently rippling water and mingled with rays of sunlight streaming through the trees in a brief, dreamy sequence. Winchester '73 was my "skip" of the day so I could stop home for a catnap and dinner before the final program, The Red Shoes. Having seen only a few short clips, I was pleasantly surprised that it lived up to the hype, beautifully orchestrated with lush Technicolor to match. Moira Shearer lures you in with her subtlety off-stage, but is startlingly intense in her dance sequences. After drying my tears (that ending!), I headed to the after-party with every intention of being social. Fatigue and anxiety got the better of me, though, so it was back home until...

Sunday: Not as late a night as Friday, which allowed for more sleep, thankfully. The first film of the day was Robert Siodmak's Cry of the City. I was somewhat familiar with Siodmak from his 1931 production, Voruntersuchung (featuring blog favorite Edith Meinhard), but a film noir on nitrate is a must-see no matter who's in the director's chair. In stark contrast to The Razor's Edge, City was the perfect first program of the day! Solid acting all around (especially Shelley Winters, cracking wise in a fabulous leopard-print coat), and the best showcase of the "nitrate effect": deep black shadows and gleaming highlights working in tandem to enhance the angular cinematography. A great addition to my slowly-growing noir vocabulary. The craving for a bowl of Mama Rome's piping hot minestrone lingering through the lunch break, it was on to the penultimate film. Vesyolye rebyata (Moscow Laughs), my first Soviet cinematic experience, was an off-the-wall musical comedy. Interspersed with slapstick reminiscent of early Marx Brothers features, the highlight of the chaos was a mob of farm animals crashing an elegant dinner party. Rounding out the 4th Nitrate Picture Show, the Blind Date with Nitrate brought us to the Aran Islands west of Ireland, with 1934's Man of Aran. A quasi-documentary, the film depicted the islands' inhabitants enduring crashing waves and turbulent storms to subsist on and around the rocky soil. I took away a deeper appreciation for the labor of the farmers and fishers, even if the shark hunting sequence was fabricated for box office gains.

All in all, my first "full" Nitrate Picture Show was an experience to treasure. I made it to 7 out of 10 film programs, one lecture, a tour of the projection booth (the Monday after the festival), several demonstrations of nitrate film reels, and I got to rub elbows with interesting people from all corners of the globe. Admittedly, as a beginner to the film festival grind, I at first felt out of place. It can be difficult to navigate a situation where you're surrounded by professionals from several film archives, as well as colleagues or students from the Eastman Museum's Selznick School of Film Preservation, and you want to learn more about them and the work that they do without feeling like too much of an outsider; anxiety in any form makes the task that much more daunting. Persistence does pay off, as I was able to connect with another attendee (via Twitter) and we conversed for hours; with any luck we'll meet up again for next year's show.

If you're new to classic film and/or film festivals and considering attending the Nitrate Picture Show, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Getting out of my comfort zone has helped to build my confidence and better handle unfamiliar situations, in addition to seeing some beautiful prints and learning more about the history of nitrate film and the efforts towards its preservation. Even if I didn't love the films that were being projected, there's always something to appreciate in the process. I'm grateful to the George Eastman Museum and the numerous museums and film archives the world over for their continued collaboration, for the opportunity to experience a rare and fleeting beauty.


Old Hollywood Kitchen: Mary Carlisle

In my quest to build culinary skills via vintage recipes, I have found a new ally: What Actors Eat When They Eat, compiled by actors Rex Lease and Kenneth Harlan and published in 1939.

More substantial than Favorite Recipes of the Movie Stars, I've been overwhelmed when trying to pick out test recipes. Several hearty soups, chilis, sauces, and rice dishes up for contention. Thankfully I found relief in a simple beverage recipe from Mary Carlisle, who is still going strong at the age of 104(!).

Mary Carlisle's Cafe Froid (serves 2)

1 cup cold coffee
3 tablespoons ice cream (no flavor specified- I used French vanilla)
Ginger ale (one 7.5 oz. can was sufficient for two servings)

Mix the cold coffee and ice cream in a bowl (better if you let the ice cream soften a bit) using either a whisk or a hand mixer, which creates a frothier texture. Pour the mixture into glasses and top off with the ginger ale.

At first I was wary of the ginger ale/coffee combination; it's unusual but surprisingly refreshing. I'll give it another try in the warmer weather as a pick-me-up. 

Plenty of recipes to choose from for my next test, but until then, why not raise a Cafe Froid toast to Mary Carlisle and enjoy 1935's One Frightened Night, a fun "spooky house" film in the vein of the previously-recommended The Cat and the Canary. Mary is a highlight even among a solid supporting cast, and the film is readily available online as it is in the public domain. 


Ein autogramm?

A short time ago I acquired this lovely photo postcard of Edith Meinhard:

Advertised as an autographed photo, it was likely taken between 1937 and 1940 in the midst of some of her most prominent film roles. However, prolonged inspection of the "autograph" along the left margin reveals that it is anything but. The scale of the writing, the placement and the unusual penmanship (a cursive H written as an F?) just don't add up. Compare this to her actual autograph:

I purchased the photo knowing that it wasn't inscribed with an autograph, but it's still a great, rare image, and a fine addition to a slowly growing collection.

As a bonus, the Anny Ondra/Max Schmeling vehicle Knock Out- Ein junges M├Ądchen, ein junger Mann is now available to stream in full on Archive.org! Edith only appears in the first 25 minutes of the film, playing catty showgirl Melitta; though one of her many small roles, she makes it memorable.

She's got the look.


Old Hollywood Kitchen: Laura La Plante

One of my goals for the new year (and beyond) is to build my cooking and baking skills and be more confident in the kitchen. What better way to experiment than to bring in my love of classic film? There are many fine websites that explore celebrity recipes, but as a relatively inexperienced cook, intimidation has kept me from trying them out myself. Until now.

Perusing my stack of cookbooks, only one stood out: a well-preserved copy of Favorite Recipes of the Movie Stars, published by Tower Books in 1931. It's a slim volume, but varied in the types of recipes it offers, from light sandwiches to stews, breakfast to dessert. I figured the easiest way to take the plunge was to test a recipe with no actual cooking involved.

The charming Laura La Plante offers her Favorite Salad, an ambrosia-like creation that she recommends serving in lettuce cups along with crackers or cheese straws. The challenge with this recipe was determining the proper proportions of ingredients. How many ounces was a can of pineapple back then? A box of marshmallows? Is 1/2 pint of cream enough? Here is the recipe as I made it, with noted modifications:

Laura La Plante's Favorite Salad (updated)

1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 10 oz. bag mini marshmallows (I used about half of the bag)
1/2 pint whipping cream
Crisp lettuce leaves
Small crackers or cheese straws (optional)
Mayonnaise (I omitted- the heavy cream was sufficient)
Dash of paprika

Even with my changes I followed the recipe as written, and it turned out pretty well! I had hoped to find the fruit-flavored mini marshmallows to add more color, but no luck. The next time I make this recipe I might even incorporate more fruit, like maraschino cherries. As a thank-you to Ms. La Plante I'd like to recommend one of her films: the spooky, fun silent The Cat and the Canary, wonderfully restored by Kino Lorber.

(Edit: I have since made this salad with just the crushed pineapple, whipped cream and fruit-flavored marshmallows, to great success! Lighter than your standard ambrosia salad without cloying sweetness. It's like eating a pastel Art Deco cloud, if that makes any sense.)

Are you interested in making this or other film star recipes? Do you have a tried and true favorite? Feel free to share in the comments, and enjoy!