I have to admit it, I have an addiction. I love, love, love celebrity cookbooks from the good old days. Quirky, zany and often inedible, the recipes of the stars are an intriguing window into the early days of celebrity culture.
As you may already know, I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook with a few detours along the way. That slim volume started my obsession with all things celebrity and food-oriented.
Celebrity cookbooks were sometimes sold in the traditional manner but they were also sometimes used as publicity giveaways for everything from Norge refrigerators to Bisquick mix. The most frequent format was an anthology of recipes from assorted film folk but there were also a few stars like Zasu Pitts or Bebe Daniels who ventured into solo publication. He’s a little late for the silent era but I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Vincent Price as the gold standard for golden age celebrity cookbooking.
Let’s take a whirlwind tour of these fascinating time capsules and discover the secret of their appeal.
The most obvious appeal of these recipes is the sheer variety and insanity that they display. Victor McLaglen’s chili made with a cup of flour, Anna Sten’s teetering stacked sandwiches, there’s even a recipe for ice water. And poor Evelyn Brent clearly did not foresee any issues with the name of her pasta dish.
They are sometimes revealing
I don’t believe that these recipes were solely the inventions of the stars. In fact, I think the vast majority were invented by editing boards or at the very least contributed by domestic employees. In short, I do not happen to believe that Bing Crosby or his wife ever toiled over a plate of hot Bisquick.
However, some of the entries are charmingly frank. Take Clara Bow, for example.
Clara Bow made no claims on the title of domestic goddess and was perfectly happy to credit the person paid to do her cooking. Good for her!
They contain buried treasure
You know what’s really great? Sometimes, these celebrities (or their cooks) really know what they are doing and we moderns discover some delicious forgotten meal. I highly recommend William S. Hart’s summer squash, Anna May Wong’s savory pancakes and Carol Dempster’s highly buttered peas. Of course, to find these recipes, you have to make things like tomato aspic and Joan Crawford’s banana salad…
Obviously, these books have been out of print since before my parents were gleams in their parents’ eyes. You can get copies on eBay, in used bookshops and the usual sources for rare books. Happy hunting!
This post is part of the Classic Movie History Project. Be sure to read the other fab posts.