There's a new paperback out called The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen, by Frank DeCaro, longtime movie critic for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “I miss those days when celebrities still had mystery about them,” DeCaro told People magazine recently, explaining why he decided to write the book. “A glimpse inside their radar ranges seemed, for any fan, like a window into the world of glamour and excitement.”
Well, fair enough. But we've had a different dead celebrity cookbook in our clutches for a long time — a book called What Actors Eat When They Eat!, collected and compiled by Kenneth Harlan (a popular leading man in silent movies) and Rex Lease (a onetime cowboy star) and published in Los Angeles in 1939. How does this book compare with DeCaro's?
Well, The Dead Celebrity Cookbook includes some famous folk who weren't actors — Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, and Gene Roddenberry — while What Actors Eat When They Eat! includes only actual performers. Though there are a few crossover participants (among them Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, and Claudette Colbert) and one crossover recipe (Humphrey Bogart's Cocoanut Spanish Cream), overall the celebrities in DeCaro's book are of a more recent vintage. Beyond that, though, just as many would argue that the movies of the 1930s and '40s had more substance than the fluff that came later, the recipes in What Actors Eat seem somehow gutsier overall — Crawford's Charcoal Broiled Steak or Colbert's Raw Vegetable and Sour Cream Salad (Actors), say, vs. their Poached Salmon and Cheese and Olive Puffs (Dead), respectively.
Of course, if you're really interested in making Bea Arthur's Vegetarian Breakfast, Mae West's Fruit Compote, Alfred Hitchcock's Quiche Lorraine, or Liberace's, er, Sticky Buns, go for it if you want. But we're here to offer, in their place, Bette Davis's Finnan Haddie, W.C. Fields's Brandied Peaches, Cary Grant's Barbecued Chicken, and onetime Bedtime for Bonzo star Ronald Reagan's Corned Beef Hash in Bell Peppers. The choice is yours.
Here's Lucille Ball's recipe for fried chicken with a simple pan sauce...
“This is a dish that is mighty easy to fix whether you are in your home or just have an old fire out in the open...”
— Gary Cooper
“Every hunter should know how to prepare and cook his own birds and game...”
— Clark Gable
“A good cook is one of the necessities of life...”
— James Stewart
“The combination of ingredients in this dish gives it a rare flavor which is particularly tempting when one’s appetite needs a ‘lift’...”
— Bing Crosby