Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Norma Talmadge’s Vegetable Salad

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the biggest silent stars whose career has been almost forgotten.

When silent movie fans discuss Norma Talmadge, there is often a feeling of confusion. She was huge, one of the biggest stars of the era, and yet she is all but unknown outside of classic film circles. In her day, her name was mentioned alongside Pickford and Gish. Greta Garbo was hired in part because Louis B. Mayer felt that she had the same emotional depth as Talmadge.

So, what happened? Search me. I have seen several of her films and have yet to find a eureka moment that makes me a fan. To be quite honest, many of her films are studies in unintentional hilarity. (Heart of Wetona, anyone?)  I read once (forgive me, I don’t recall where) that Talmadge’s vehicles were designed so perfectly for audiences of her time that they are incomprehensible to modern viewers. I’m not sure I quite buy that as fans of silent film are adept at putting themselves in a mental time warp.

Norma couldn't find a bigger chair.
Norma couldn’t find a bigger chair.

Of course, it’s not helpful that so many of her films are either lost or held in archives and private collections. Without a substantial body of work it is difficult to judge a star. But then again, she has about as many titles available as Ivan Mosjoukine and I have no trouble declaring my opinion and allegiance there.

I will have to do what any good student of history does and admit that I don’t know. I don’t really get Talmadge’s contemporary appeal but also do not understand why she seems to have been erased from motion picture history. It remains a source of puzzlement.

Her movie career may be on the rocks but how does Miss Talmadge fare as a cook? We are about to find out!


A salad! And it’s supposed to clear your skin. Oh my!

I am a big fan of Salade Niçoise so the inclusion of cooked potatoes pleased me. The recipe was pretty easy. It called for everything to be mixed together but I liked the look of the ingredients arranged artistically on the lettuce.

Please forgive me, I forgot the strips of pimento on top. I was planning to use French dressing from another star’s recipe but it turned out to be vile and I didn’t want to ruin Norma’s salad with terrible dressing so I opted for the mayonnaise option.






Taste Test Video:

My Rating: 3 out of 5. This salad ain’t half bad but it’s missing some high notes of flavor. The French dressing might have helped but what the thing is screaming for is some craisins, tangy cheese or other intense flavor. I mean, it’s not a bad salad, it’s just a bit bland. Pretty but bland. Kind of like Norma Talmadge. (Ooo, burn!)


  1. nitrateglow

    I think that theory about Talmadge being too much of her time was from Jeanine Basinger. I don’t buy it either, because the same thing could be said of Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, or Douglas Fairbanks, and they still have masses of fans.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, something else is going on with Talmadge. Not sure what but there is something. I could never warm to Norma or Constance. Ironically, I did rather enjoy Natalie in Our Hospitality. Go figure.

      1. nitrateglow

        Yeah, from her performance in OH, I never got why Natalie was considered the least pretty or even untalented in general. She just seemed nervous in front of the camera and probably couldn’t find a niche for herself. I actually like Constance from what little I have seen of her– and by little I mean her cameo in Seven Chances and her role as the feisty Mountain Girl in Intolerance, easily the best one in that movie.

      2. Fritzi Kramer

        Constance is an interesting one. She’s one of the few actresses who actually did BETTER under the direction of DWG. I thought her Mountain Girl was easily the highlight of an otherwise tedious film. My problem with her solo work is that she would stop everything to mug outrageously at the camera. She did this weird thing with her mouth that I can only describe as looking like a samurai battle mask.

  2. popegrutch

    I laughed out loud when I saw all the cooked veggies in a salad recipe, and then mayonnaise to boot! At this point in the series, though, I’m getting used to the taste preferences of the period. I actually love crunchy raw carrots, but gag if they’ve been even VERY slightly cooked before serving. It’s just my thing, and occasionally gets me odd looks from waiters when I’ve carefully removed all of the carrots from the chicken soup or whatever. In general, though, it’s a salad. At least there was no aspic involved. I’d probably eat it with Italian dressing or a tangy vinaigrette (after carefully removing all the cooked carrots).

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I’ve only seen cooked carrots on a salad at a Latin American fusion restaurant, not sure if they are common or if it was a house thing. I like cooked carrots myself but yeah, on a salad the crunchy raw ones are better. It seems that any veggie that is not lettuce is mistrusted and must be cooked into submission.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, that was the French dressing that I attempted deemed an utter failure. There were several versions of it in the cookbook and I apparently picked the dud. :-/ Not sure how a vinaigrette can go so wrong but… I will publish my analysis of that one later. 😉

  3. Donnie Ashworth

    Pretty healthful looking recipe, and adaptable. I followed the link to the Heart of Wetona review. What a masterpiece. 🙂 (The review, not the movie.) That’s the hardest I’ve laughed in a while.

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