Bette Davis’ Frozen Macaroni

Christina Crawford published an autobiography about what it was like to grow up with her film star mother Joan Crawford in 1978, one year after her mother passed away. B.D. Hyman published her book about being the daughter of film star Bette Davis in 1985, while Bette was still alive (sample sentence: “While mother was at Paramount doing Pocketful of Miracles, having almost walked off the picture because Glenn Ford insisted that Hope Lange have the dressing room next to his (the one Mother wanted), I found a new distraction”). Of particular interest are her descriptions of Bette’s domestic skills, like her preparation of Stouffer’s frozen Macaroni and Cheese– Hyman added that “the directions on the box said: ‘Place in oven, uncovered and still frozen, for 35 minutes at 375° and serve.”

“Here are Mother’s directions, based on the way she did it that morning:

Cover a counter with several layers of paper towels and place frozen casseroles thereon; remove covers and allow to thaw.

Cover another counter with several layers of paper towels, slice a large tomato and leave slices on towels.

Sit on stool, smoke nervously and sip from drink hidden behind flour canister while you watch casseroles thaw. WARNING–Do not take eyes off casseroles or they will fail to thaw properly.

When casseroles are fully thawed, get large casserole dish and tip thawed casseroles into it. Thoroughly mush around with forefinger until satisfied.

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and arrange tomato slices around edge.

Hold lengthy debate with interested parties as to exact time dish is to be served. WARNING–Macaroni and cheese is very tricky and must be done just right.

Preheat oven for 45 minutes at 375°, meanwhile moving casserole dish around counter and to different counters to facilitate blending.

Place casserole dish in oven for 35 minutes. Announce lunch loudly and serve, chewing bottom lip in concentration.

Fidget until praised for efforts, then remind diners that macaroni and cheese is tricky and requires some little work.”

B.D. Hyman, My Mother’s Keeper, William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1985.

Emile Zola Presages Facebook

The Intermediate Period

Zola by ManetExcerpt from Emila Zola’s La Curée (The Kill), published in 1872

‘…Maxime also brought these ladies photographs. He had actresses’ photographs in all his pockets, and even in his cigar-case. From time to time he cleared them out and placed these ladies in the album that lay about on the furniture in the drawing-room, and that already contained the photographs of Renée’s friends. There were men’s photographs there too, M. de Rozan, Mr. Simpson, MM. de Chibray, de Mussy, as well as actors, writers, deputies, who had come to swell the collection nobody knew how. A strangely mixed society, a symbol of the jumble of persons and ideas that crossed Renée’s and Maxime’s lives. Whenever it rained or they felt bored, this album was the great subject of conversation. It always ended by falling under one’s hand. Renée opened it with a yawn, for the hundredth time perhaps…

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Ivana Trump Designs Maternity Wear

Algorithms are a cruel mistress. Fake Olympian, novelistrecording artist and entrepreneur, Ivana Trump’s name now elicits Google’s most cutting query: ‘Did you mean: ivanka trump.’ The woman who was once so famous she appeared as herself in a commercial for Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust deserves better. As the president and CEO of Trump Castle Hotel & Casino, not a single detail escaped her exacting, gimlet eyes. 

‘There was the episode of the pregnant cocktail waitress. Not long after the opening of the casino, one of the cocktail waitresses seemed to be having trouble getting into her uniform– which was a lovely, form-fitting, and modern cut– designed by Ivana Trump.
The waitress had an out-of-work husband and a child at home, and wanted to continue working as long as she could into her pregnancy. Hearing about the problem, Ivana reassigned the waitress to a more relaxing job in a lounge on the fringes of the casino.
And in the meantime, Ivana redesigned the uniform. What she came up with was a kind of modified clown suit– a court jester getup– that became the required uniform for all pregnant cocktail waitresses.”

Norma King, Ivana Trump: A Very Unauthorized Biography, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York, 1990.

Nixon and Kennedy on the Capitol Limited

File:Kennedy Nixon Debat (1960).jpgThere is a cornucopia of Nixonian delights in ‘The Richard Nixon Library Edition’ of his memoirs RN. He complained in the introduction about how he was forced to focus on Watergate and leave out the good stuff. JFK’s letter of congratulations after Eisenhower put him on the ticket is in the photo section, and he wrote quite movingly about the time as freshmen congressmen they shared a sleeper train from Chicago. 

“We took the Capitol Limited back to Washington… We drew straws for the lower berth, and– this time– I won. We sat up late, talking far more about foreign policy than domestic issues. Kennedy and I were too different in background, outlook, and temperament to become close friends, but we were thrown together throughout our early careers, and we never had less than an amicable relationship. We were both Navy veterans, we both came to the House the same year; and we were both committed to devoting enormous energy to our work. Our exchanges in committee meetings and our discussions in the cloakrooms were never tinged with the personal acerbity that can make political differences uncomfortable. In those early years we saw ourselves as political opponents but not political rivals. We shared one quality which distinguished us from most of our fellow congressmen: neither of us was a backslapper, and we were both uncomfortable with boisterous displays of superficial camaraderie. He was shy, and that sometimes made him appear aloof. But it was shyness born of an instinct that guarded privacy and concealed emotions. I understood these qualities because I shared them.”

RN The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, 1978.

Thomas Mann Writes to Agnes E. Meyer

The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham had a complicated relationship with her mother, Agnes Meyer. When confronted with a line at the movies, Graham wrote, her mother would go up to the box office and announce: “I am Mrs. Eugene Meyer of The Washington Postso she could jump the queue. “As the years went on, my mother seemed to have a more and more difficult time emotionally. She became increasingly engrossed in her friendships with the series of men in her life… ” One of Meyer’s most intense relationships was with Thomas Mann, who later wrote to his biographer Donald Prater that he felt, “an almost uncontrollable desire to give this woman tyrannizing me a piece of my mind.” In 1943, he did:

“I, who am agitated by everything, who need peace and quiet as I do my daily bread,  who can neither accomplish anything nor even merely live in the midst of bickering and quarrels, but instantly go to pieces–I must suffer for it, and on account of something I have had nothing to do with. I must see the shattering of a friendship which was dear to me.

It was dear to me. I understood how much I, the foreigner, possessed in having it, and I served it faithfully and with care. Serving is the very word. For years I have devoted to it more though, nervous energy, work at the desk, than to any other relationship in the world. I have let you participate as well as I know how in my inner and outer life. On your visits I have read aloud to you for hours from new work no one else has seen. I have shown the most sincere admiration for you patriotic and social activities. But nothing was right, nothing enough. In my letters there was ‘no trace’–I no longer know of what, probably of humanity. You always wanted me different from the way I am. You did not have the humor, or the respect, or the discretion, to take as I am. You wanted to educate, dominate, improve, redeem me. In vain I warned you, with all kindness and delicacy, that at the age of nearly seventy my life was too thoroughly formed and fixed. I cannot but feel that your outbreak of wrath over such a letter as my next to last is merely the eruption of profounder disappointment and embitterment taking an almost insignificant pretext to express itself.

I had wished so much– I cannot say how strongly–to give this relationship of ours a quality of balance and serenity, of calm, invulnerable cordiality. But now it has reached the crisis which probably threatened it from the first moment. Let us grant it and ourselves the tranquility which alone can restore our psychological equilibrium….

Full of good wishes for you and yours, I bid you a heartfelt farewell.”

Letters of Thomas Mann, 1889–1955 , Selected and Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, University of California Press, 1970.

Biblical Illustrations in The Watchtower


There is a specific aesthetic quality to the illustrations in the book of Bible stories the Jehovah’s Witnesses distribute, best described as ‘MGM epic.’ A Gerber-baby Moses is discovered by Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra; grizzly bears frolic with elephants and lions in the Garden of Eden. Jezebel would fit right in at Toulouse-Lautrec’s Salon at the Rue des Moulins (or the papier-mâché mural at Toronto’s original Pickle Barrel restaurant). A photograph of Sean Young appears to have served as the model for one of Lot’s daughters.

Samson and Delilah


The Garden of Eden

Baby Moses

Adam and Eve: “One Millions Years BC”

Eve: barefoot and pregnant

Lot and his daughters


Donald Trump Dates Kim Richards

Among the many strings in the bow of businessman, author, and reality starcum president Donald J. Trump is that he can claim the acquaintance of fifteen cast-members of the heroic poem of our age. During the intermediary period between Trump’s first and second wives he dated Kim Richards, a solid member of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills seasons 1 through 5 (the Cain to her sister Kyle’s Abel).  The story of their courtship in Jerry Oppenheimer’s House of Hilton has echoes of Kim’s Season 1 set-up with Martin Genis, (who was later a bystander to her explosive limousine row with Kyle and identified in a title as “Kim’s Onetime Date,” a new potential nickname for 45.).

“After the Davis’ divorced, big and little Katy set up Kim with other big shots with money… Kathy Hilton sought out wealthy men who ran in her Manhattan social circles. One was a Revlon cosmetics honcho. Another was Donald Trump, who once viciously declared that Kathy’s father-in-law Barron Hilton was ‘a member of the lucky sperm club’– a snarky dig that Conrad, not Barron, started the Hilton fortune. (But in March 2006, when Trump’s model wife Melania gave birth to a boy, The Donald named him William Barron in honor of the Hilton bossman). Rick and Kathy socialized with Trump, and Kathy figured he and Kim might be a match made in heaven.

‘Kathy couldn’t run around anymore because she was married, so she lived vicariously through Kim, just like big Kathy lived vicariously through little Kathy, observes Sylvia Richards. ‘Kim told me that Kathy kept setting her up with Trump, and Trump would call–I was there when he telephoned–and wanted her to come to New York. He would give her the money and she would go. But I don’t think Kim was really too keen on him.'”

House of Hilton: From Conrad to Paris: A Drama of Wealth, Power, and Privilege, Jerry Oppenheimer, Crown Publishers, 2006.

Betty Friedan’s Sigmund Freud Footnotes

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpgThe footnotes in Betty Friedan’s seminal 1963 classic The Feminine Mystique are as good as the text:

“During the years Freud was germinating his sexual theory, before his own heroic self-analysis freed him from a passionate dependence on a series of men, his emotions were focused on a flamboyant nose-and-throat doctor named Fliess. This is one coincidence of history that was quite fateful for women. For Fliess had proposed, and obtained, Freud’s lifelong allegiance to, a fantastic ‘scientific theory’ which reduced all phenomena of life and death to ‘bisexuality,’ expressed in mathematical terms through a periodic table based on the number 28, the female menstrual cycle. Freud looked forward to meetings with Fliess ‘as for satisfying hunger and thirst’. He wrote to him: ‘No one can replace the intercourse with a friend that a particular, perhaps feminine side of me, demands.’ Even after his own self-analysis, Freud expected to die on the day predicted by Fliess’ periodic table, in which everything could be figured out in terms of the female number 28, or the male number 23, which was derived from the end of one female menstrual period to the beginning of the next.”

Footnote 20, for Chapter 5 The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, 1963.

Photograph: Max Halberstadt, 1921.

Ronald Reagan Warns the Growers of Topanga

Patti Davis’ The Way I See It is obviously a much better read than Ivanka Trump’s Women Who Work or Chelsea Clinton’s It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, and Get Going!. For instance, Patti wrote about growing 8 foot-tall marijuana plants in the ‘rich, black soil’ of the old chicken coop at her secluded bungalow in Topanga Canyon. She aired out her house before her parents came for dinner in 1977. “It was early November,” she recalled, “And what was left of my marijuana crop was in plastic Baggies, hidden under my bed, waiting to be sold.”

“When we moved into the the living room after dinner, my father started talking about  helicopters flying over the canyons, looking for marijuana plants and people to bust.

‘This is the time of year when the plants are harvested,’ he said, settling into an old oak rocker that had cost me about ten dollars at a garage sale. ‘Thank God I harvested mine early,’ I thought… ‘But does he know? Is that why he’s saying this?’ I will never know the answer, but I suspect he was trying to warn me. It wouldn’t look good if his daughter was busted.

‘I have information because of my years as governor,’ he was continuing, ‘and Topanga is one area they’re going to be concentrating on because a lot of people break the law around here and grow drugs. I don’t know if any of your friends…’ His sentence trailed off, and I abruptly changed the subject.

But after they left that night I called several other growers I knew and passed along the information that had been leaked to me– that narcotics agents would soon be circling Topanga in helicopters.

‘Your father told you this?’ one of them said. ‘Sort of like a double agent kind of thing? I mean, he’s giving us tips about when the narcs are coming?’

‘Something like that, I guess. I’m not really sure what his reasons were…’

‘Well, do you think he’d know exactly when the helicopters are coming? Maybe he has the schedule or something.’

My father was very popular in Topanga for the next few weeks. People were camouflaging their marijuana plants because they’d gotten tipped off by the former governor of California that Topanga was a big target area for busts that year. I didn’t hear about anyone getting caught.”

The Way I See It: An Autobiography, Patti Davis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992.