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.


Anonymous said…
Donna, this is great! It's interesting to find out the origins of food/condiments that we eat today. I look forward to many more, and even trying some of these recipes out.
Tinky said…
What a delicious post in so many ways, Donna. I'm excited that you're doing this series, and I MUST try this dressing. I may even cross post it soon if you don't mind (and refer people to your wonderful blog). Thanks for the kind words about my blog; I, too, am very glad that we have "met."
Anonymous said…
Wonderful reading this early morning. And, as always, the info on Arliss too was delicious.
Tinky said…
I made the dressing (sans tarragon since it was hard to find; I used basil) and it was a huge hit with my family. I've never been a huge George Arliss fan, but I'm beginning to like him better!
Jeffrey Roberts said…
Wonderful! I grew up loving the romantic sounding name of "Green Goddess" dressing, but had no clue about the origins beyond that it was a creation of the Palace Hotel. Thanks for the enlightenment!
jeruni said…
Excellent post,
I am really impressed for it. Movies simply combine moving images and sounds but they have become an essential ingredient of our lives.
Hollywood Props said…
Very well described the glory of nick studios.Rather Hollywood theme parties are becoming extremely popular these days as more and more people are deciding on putting a twist to their normal run of the mill house party.

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