Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dining with the Stars #1

Food and movies are now ubiquitous. One goes to a movie, one stops at the concession for some popcorn, candy, soda, nachos, a hot dog or even a slice of pizza. Some modern venues have seat-side restaurant services, you place an order and you can dine on a wide variety of grub before the film begins. There are also theaters that have spendy restaurants and bars in the lounge areas of the multiplex. Or there are those with posh home theater set ups, complete with plush theater seating, movie posters on the walls, a curtained proscenium and a popcorn machine. Food and films, well, this has not always been the case.

In the good old days of the Nickelodeon theaters no concessions were sold in the nickelodeon theaters themselves; food or snacks were sold outside. Some nickelodeons allowed popcorn and peanut vendors who would walk up and down the aisles (much like the vendors at a baseball stadium). That was the early days and how annoying that must have been.

The Leader Theater in Washington, D.C. 1914 (Shorpy)

In the heyday of the motion picture palaces in the 1920s, no room was made for concession stands. Not with the plush seating, thick carpeting, marble floors and staff of ushers drilled with military precision. Going to see a film was an event, one which you ate before or after you saw the film. You dressed up smartly and it was quite an evening, especially for the bigger pictures at the $2 roadshow prices. That was a premium price in those days.

The Grand Lake, Oakland, CA (Tom Paiva)

With the Depression movie attendance waned and movie theater owners needed to continue to attract the patrons and to also make an extra buck. The lobby space soon made room for popcorn vendors. The programs got quite a bit longer for your nickel/quarter admission price; a feature, a short or two, a cartoon, a newsreel and sometimes a second feature. By the 1940s and well into the 1950s theater owners had wised up to the profits to be made and had installed popping machines and selling other items such as candy and bottles of Coca-Cola ® and Pepsi to the hungry and thirsty crowds and intermission shorts prompted patrons to indulge.

Here is a newer, specially created retro ad for a Phoenix Theater:

With the popularity of the drive-in theater in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the concession stand was a large smorgasbord of foods, burgers, fries, pizza, popcorn and a laundry list of candy and snacks. Just as the movie theaters, drive-in had pre-show and intermission ads to lure you in, "the lines moved fast and the bathrooms were just around the corner."

The drive-in was not new, the first drive-in opened in 1933. What could be better on a warm evening in the postwar burbs with the kids in tow? Food and drink in the comfort of your Chevrolet Impala with the speaker hanging off the window. My parents indulged in this as my sister
and I were growing up. I was the younger and was forced to go to the movies in my pj’s (how humiliating). They sat in the front seat imbibing cocktails from a thermos and I fell asleep in the back seat before the movie ended. Yes Virginia, it certainly was a different time then.

Here are some vintage Drive-In intermission films that will bring back memories to some of us out there:

This roundabout introduction and reminiscence of days gone by brings me to the point of this posting. Movies and food and movie stars and food. In the old fan magazines, you would sometimes see a question relating to what the stars ate or cooked. In 1927 the first movie star cookbook of a sort was published with further editions in 1929 and 1931 (that I have located so far). Dishes dedicated to artists, opera singers and stage stars were not new. Two opera singers come to mind, Dame Nellie Melba (Peach Melba), Luisa Tetrazzini (Turkey Tetrazzini), and ballet dancers such as Anna Pavlova (Pavlova) have had dishes created in their honor. The same was true of movie stars.

George Arliss circa 1931

The subject of today's offering was a stage and screen star. His stage career blossomed to full blown stardom after a long internship in 1908, he made his screen debut in 1921 and made the successful transition from silents to talkies. He documented more than one of his signature stage roles on screen, both as a silent and talkie. The star we are dining with today is George Arliss. I also get to indulge in a little bit of local pride since the recipe below originates from San Francisco.

George Arliss was born April 10, 1868 in London, England. His acting career began about 1887. Within a few years he was playing in London on the West End, a success. He joined Mrs Patrick Campbell in 1901 and toured the U.S. George Arliss became a bona fide star on the American stage in 1908. Initially intending to stay in the U.S a short while, he stayed for twenty years. His breakout hit vehicle was in 1908 in The Devil. In 1911, producer George Tyler commissioned Louis Napoleon Parker to write a play specifically tailored for Arliss and the actor toured in Disraeli for years, becoming closely identified with the 19th century British prime minister.

Newspaper ad for the 1923 Green Goddess

Arliss began his film career with The Devil (1921), followed by Disraeli and four other silent films. Today, only The Devil, $20 a Week and The Green Goddess (1923), based on Arliss's above-mentioned hit stage play are known to have survived. He remade Disraeli (1929) in sound (and won the Academy Award ® for Best Actor). He made the successful transition as a star of the legitimate theater, then silent films, to the talkies. The Green Goddess was remade in 1930, both versions also starred Alice Joyce as the object of the rajah's desire. . Arliss was remarkably restrained in his acting style and it worked beautifully on screen. TCM has some clips from the 1930 version (Thank you, Tinky!). Decidedly not PC these days in the depiction of the Indian/native people of this ersatz Indian state. Fun to check out and I still want to see the whole film, which I've missed anytime TCM has broadcast it. Arliss was adept at high drama, rich characterizations and was an absolute delight in light comedies such as one of my favorites, Millionaire.

London Theater Program
Arliss was appearing in The Green Goddess in San Francisco in 1923; during which time he stayed at the ritzy Palace Hotel on Market Street. It was at a banquet that the once ubiquitous and famed salad dressing, Green Goddess, was created for and inspired by Arliss and the play. The Executive Chef of the Palace, Philippe Roemer, created the new, original salad dressing comprising a variety of finely chopped herbs which evoked the name of the play. The dressing is particularly delicious with the seafood for which San Francisco is justly famous.

Green Goddess was the hotel's signature salad dressing and for decades was served in the Palace's Garden Court Restaurant. It is served with the Dungeness Crab Salad to this day.

Herald for the 1930 film

The Palace Hotel has this recipe posted on their website and are calling it the original. This recipe adds sour cream and is missing tarragon. Tarragon is the flavor profile and ingredient I have always associated with Green Godess dressing. So I'm going to go out on a limb and risk my reputation as a researcher and foodie and assume this is a more modern adaptation. Perhaps tarragon is no longer a popular herb?

I offer instead another recipe I found online that was also identified as the Roemer "original." Upon testing it out, this tasted very close to the Green Goddess Dressing I grew up with. Tastebuds do not lie! In a nod to being a little more health conscious, I modified the below recipe slightly to lighten it and the dressing was no less delicious on a halved heart of romaine.

Green Goddess Dressing

2 cups of mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic

4 anchovy fillets
1 scallion, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped chives
2 teaspoon cut, fresh tarragon
Juice of 1 lemon

salt & pepper to taste

Place the garlic and anchovy fillets in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until minced. Add in the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning. If you prefer the dressing to be less viscous, add a bit of water and grape seed oil to thin it. Adjust seasonings accordingly.
Serve over a classic iceberg wedge or split romaine heart. Garnish with a sprig of fresh tarragon. Enjoy!

I've got to give props to one of my new online friends and give credit to her delicious blog for partial inspiration for this series; Tinky Weisblat's In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens. Her posting Reflections of Iris Barry is very much worth reading. Iris Barry was a true pioneer among the preservationists. Food and movies are never far apart and having found Tinky's blog through the February Film Preservation Blogathon, I'm now an avid reader. I love movies and I love to cook, win-win for me.

Images of the George Arliss Green Goddess memorabilia are courtesy Robert M. Fells, author of George Arliss: The Man Who Played God.

Dining with the Stars will be an occassional series featuring some recipes of the stars of the golden era or recipes created for the stars. I'll test them out and report on them here. I can tell you in advance, some I will not try, on paper, they sound positively repulsive.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fifty Years and Fifty Films - Gretchen the Greenhorn (1916)

Gretchen the Greenhorn (Triangle 1916)

I've long had a desire to see more Dorothy Gish films. I've seen her in Orphans of the Storm, some of the Biograph shorts and also in The Bright Shawl. In my quest, I was hopeful to see some films not directed by D.W. Griffith. This is not to say that I do not like Griffith films. Lordy, I do, just not all Griffith. For the record there are plenty I do like and quite love.
My point for seeing non-Griffith directed films has everything to do with Dorothy being famous for comedy and D.W. Griffith was not. When Griffith was working with Triangle in 1916 his mind was elsewhere. Other films were farmed out to other directors and Griffith was a "supervisor." At the time Dorothy was filming Gretchen the Greenhorn, Griffith was fully engaged in the film that would become Intolerance. The directorial duties for Gretchen the Greenhorn were performed by the brothers Sidney A. and Chester M. Franklin.

Gretchen musing during the crossing

I've got to say that the pickings are mighty slim for the home viewer and fan of Dorothy Gish. Happily, The Film Preservation Foundation included the UCLA restored 1916 Triangle picture Gretchen the Greenhorn in the second DVD set More Treasures From American Archives. The film stars Dorothy Gish, Ralph Lewis, Frank Bennett and a very nearly svelte Eugene Pallette. A good number of the Biograph stock players fill out the cast.

Ralph Lewis as Papa Van Houck

The story begins with Dutch immigrant John Van Houck (Ralph Lewis) having saved enough to send for his daughter Gretchen (Dorothy Gish) to emigrate to the United States from Holland. Ralph Lewis does pretty well with warm and fuzzy here (very unlike his role as the greedy and nasty father to Alice Terry in The Conquering Power - in which he was wonderful and nasty).

Gretchen arrives in stereotypical Dutch wooden clogs and carrying a duck, of all things. No customs, no Ellis Island, wham, just walks off the boat. No TSA in sight. This was filmed in Southern California and the budget just did not cover a trip to Catalina to emulate Ellis Island. Gretchen wanders about the dock area looking for her Papa and Papa wanders about looking for his Gretchen. She tries to ask directions from the local cop, but the language barrier proves too much. Miming does not help. After a few tense moments, Gretchen and her adoring papa are reunited. Interestingly, the shots of the reunion begin with the two of them in medium closeup and as they run to one another, we are treated to a view of the intimate reunion from the distance of a rooftop rather far, far away.

Gretchen and her duck having a bit of a language problem
with the local cop on the beat.

Gretchen is introduced to the neighborhood and meets Pietro (Frank Bennett), you can almost see the sparks fly. She meets the Widow Garritty (the always wonderful Kate Bruce) and her brood of children. The neighborhood hosts a welcome party and much merriment is had by all.

Papa is an engraver by profession and Gretchen takes over the daughterly duties of cooking, cleaning and making friends with all the neighbors. She falls in love with Pietro who reciprocates the feelings, but they're both more than a little shy about it. Their brief flirting scenes are utterly charming.

Frank Bennett as the amiable hero Pietro.

Enter bad guy Rogers (Eugene Pallette) who has moved into the tenement to scope out the engraving skills of Papa. Poor papa desperately wants a contract with the U.S. Government and is duped. He soon is working hard creating an engraving a plate from which counterfeit money indistinguishable from the real thing can be made.

In the meantime, kindly widow Garrity dying asks Gretchen to watch over her brood of children.

A buff Elmo Lincoln and Eugene Pallette conspire.

Rogers retrieves the bogus plate and he and his cronies in crime print off a bunch of funny money. Not wanting to implicate himself testing out the phony cabbage, Rogers gives a hot bill to Gretchen to buy groceries, and hopefully return with the change. The ruse works and the phony baloney bill is accepted as genuine. When Gretchen and Papa realize how they have been used, they make plans to expose Rogers. He's a crafty devil and he finds out their plans and he drags them to his hideout and locks them in.

The Garritty children reappear and witness the abduction and so alert the amiable Pietro. With the help of the police, he captures Rogers and then frees his sweetheart and her beloved Papa. Not so soon afterward, Pietro and Gretchen tie the knot. Happy days!

The 35mm print was in very good shape with some original tints. I have to say, this film does whet my appetite to see more of Dorothy Gish. She was fun and much more subtle than the modern film fan might imagine. What would have been a much more fluttery heroine than under Griffith’s direction at this point, she shows spunk, considerable charm and none of the what I like to call "Ooh! A bunny!" heroine. Perhaps because her character came well prepared and armed with duck in hand. She played shy, slightly hoydenish very well, the scenes of shy embarassment were punctuated by the quick darting out of her tongue as she laughed nervously. Hard to describe, but the effect was cute and natural.

The direction of the Franklin brothers was pretty intimate. Kate Bruce’s death scene was handled beautifully. Dorothy Gish had some room to move about and create her character. It was enormous fun to see Eugene Pallette in such an early role, not quite padded out for his later turn in The Three Musketeers with Douglas Fairbanks (or the very portly Friar Tuck in the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood).

Dorothy Gish is so completely underappreciated and under-represented since so very few of her starring films survive. She was a gifted comedic talent, no question about it. One of the most sought after films is the single directing effort of her sister Lillian that starred Dorothy entitled Remodeling Her Husband. Lillian never made much to say over her own skill as a director, but she really praised Dorothy as an able comedienne. Nell Gwyn does survive, but I've missed all the screenings in the US, much to my regret. High on my wish list due to the Valentino connection is Out of Luck, only extant in stills. I'd also love to see Clothes Make the Pirate, not merely for Dorothy and Leon Errol, but for the chance to see Nita Naldi in a rare comedy.

I've also seen Dorothy as I mentioned above in The Bright Shawl. I enjoyed the film, but really feel that Dorothy was miscast and doing a Pola Negri Spanish Vamp impression. William Powell was excellent as the villain and Edward G. Robinson can be seen in a small character role, which was pretty neat. Romola is sister Lillian's film, but Dorothy and (again) William Powell totally steal the movie and have much better roles in this really dull as dishwater Henry King costume epic. I adore Ronald Colman, but not in this film, his regrettable wig has more life than he.

I have had the pleasure of hearing some interviews conducted with Dorothy in the 1960s and can only state she was a smart cookie, a delightful story teller and has a very musical and endearing laugh.

Our friends at the National Film Preservation Foundation are responsible for making this film available and they do such fine work. It's always a good thing to pass a little (legit) cabbage in their direction if you can afford it. The phrase "Nitrate Can't Wait" is entirely accurate and many a film or film fragment can be saved and preserved with your help. You can find a link to their wonderful DVDs on their website, another good way to support the efforts of film preservation. Must also give a shout out to our friends at UCLA who restored the film, thank you UCLA!

Fifty Years/Fifty Films is my non-time-critical journey through the first fifty years of films. I'll be watching films that I've never seen or will be revisiting some very old friends. My original goal was to do this for the last six months of 2009 and you can see how well that went.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gold in Them Thar Hills! - Photoplay and Vintage Film/Media Magazine Digitation Project

David Pierce (of The Silent Film Bookshelf) reported recently on Nitrateville the following exciting news:

I've been working on a project to digitize trade and fan magazines, and the first batch, from the collection of the Pacific Film Archive, is now on-line.

There are eight volumes (four years) of Photoplay, and one volume each of Motion Picture Classic (1920) and Moving Picture World (April-June 1913). Thanks to Nancy Goldman of the Pacific Film Archive for working with me on this group of materials. As always with the Internet Archive, you can download high-quality PDFs, embed their viewer on your webpage, and download the original full-quality scans. (the July-December 1925 volume of Photoplay is still in work; I can send the PDF to anyone who can't wait).

I have grant funding to do much more (it costs about 10c per page) and am working with several other libraries and archives to coordinate scanning of material from their collections. Leonard Maltin has given the effort a nice launch on his blog: and the project brochure is on-line here. If any Nitrateville readers have bound volumes that they would be willing to allow the project to scan (and be willing to cover shipping or transport to an Internet Archive scanning center) then let me know through PM. I hope to do another batch of materials in the next few months. Enjoy these volumes and let all of us know what you find! David Pierce

To say this is exciting news and an absolute GOLD MINE for cinema researchers, well that's a mighty large understatement. I'm thrilled and am hopefull that other libraries still holding the bound volumes of Moving Picture World and other trade magazines and studio house organs of the era will come forth and allow scanning. Thank you to David for the hard work and getting this fabulous project started.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rudolph Valentino Writes #1

In the silent era, many a film star had a newspaper column. Mary Pickford was one of the first and her column was ghostwritten by her good friend and famed screenwriter Frances Marion. Rudolph Valentino also penned a newspaper column. The first in an occasional series at Strctly Vintage Hollywood begins with the article below.

Friday, March 12, 2010