Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook

It's that time of the year again. Awards, Fashion and Food! It's Oscar night! Confession: I'm not much of a movie goer, although I do have a Netflix account. I'm certainly no fashionista like my daughter-in-law Kyla and quite frankly, I'm not much of an eater, either. I do, however collect cookbooks. Today, I would like to share a few recipes from a cookbook titled The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook. Now, you might just be asking yourself, who is Myra Breckinridge and why is there a cookbook named in her honor? I'll admit, when I purchased this book for a mere fifty cents at a garage sale some years ago, I had no idea who Myra Breckinridge was. "You don't judge a book by its cover" they say and I for one could never be guilty of such a thing. Besides the title containing the word cookbook, and the pittance price, there was one more important factor that lead me to buying this cookbook; Charlie Chaplin.

Now, now, before you think I'm a creature of the silent screen era, you can stop right there. I'm old, but I'm not that old, yet:) My father was a huge Charlie Chaplin fan which in itself is quite unusual, for my father that is. Sometimes, it's easy to forget just how much he enjoyed the "Little Tramp" movies. Bogie yes, the Duke; yes, Marlon Brando, yes, yes, but, Charlie Chaplin? There are those who would be surprised to learn such trivia. Actually, they may have paid to know it at one time. I however, know it, remember it, and treasure it. So, needless to say, Charlie Chaplin darning the first few pages of The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook was the deciding factor of purchase.

Who Was Myra Breckinridge?

From what I can unravel simply, Myra Breckinridge was a figment of Gore Vidal's imagination. That's really putting it simple. I do know of Gore Vidal. I have actually read a few of his historical novels, although, I have never read Myra Breckinridge which was published in 1968. Hey, I was just entering double digits around that time:) I plan on posting about Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr., in October. Let's get back to Myra. Myra Breckinridge was a "highly flavored" character in a best-selling book titled with the same name. Some may call it a "satirical novel" which was written in the form of a diary and made into a movie in 1970. Not one to "judge a book by its cover" or reviews for that matter, I'm not really going to get into the gist of the book or the movie, which by the way was directed by Michael Sarne. The star-studded cast included one time cocktail waitress Raquel Welch, Mae West who came out of hiding after 26 years to participate, Farrah Fawcett, John Huston, John Carradine, and other future stars to be:) I will say, this book review will give you a glimpse and since the DVD was released in 2004, you can also read a review on the movie. Let me warn you, the movie was quite controversial and rated X when it was released in 1968.

There is also a website devoted to the phenomenon of Myra Breckinridge, a blog and another review at Channel 4 that you might want to visit. Remember, the movie was rated X, eventually changed to R. According to Hackett's 80 Years of Best Sellers, there were 2,180,000 copies sold as of 1977. The book was also in print as of February, 2000.

...it is clear from numerous sources that both the novel and its subject matter have become more acceptable in recent years...The back cover of the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition of Myra Breckinridge sums up the turnaround in critical opinion: "When Myra Breckinridge first appeared in print in 1968, critics were baffled, delighted, and appalled by this extraordinary comedy of sex change. Time magazine was prompted to query: 'Has literary decency fallen so low?' Now readers may well ask, Has literature ever been so witty, so provoking, so intriguing? Thirty years later Myra has become literature's most famous transsexual-after all, this is her/his/their age."The back cover of the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition also describes the novel like this..."No one remains untouched by the luscious Myra Breckinridge's quest for Hollywood fame. Her job teaching Empathy and Posture at the Academy of Drama and Modeling gives her the perfect opportunity to vamp, scheme, and seduce her way into the undiscovered lives and passions of others-while trying to keep a few secrets of her own."source

Recipes a la Myra Breckinridge

In 1970, Little, Brown published The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook, by Howard Austen, long time partner of Gore Vidal and Beverly Pepper who also authored Potluck Cookery, See Rome and Eat and Glamour Magazine's After Five Cookbook. The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook was a likely spinoff since Myra was quite the film buff which is further explained in the book I am sharing today. Writer, producer, director and silent screen star Charlie Chaplin is not the only Hollywood film star encountered in the book. There are many recipes united with Hollywood films from the 1930's and 40s. It is thickly illustrated with vintage black and white photos and the recipes are arranged according to cinematic themes.

An adventuress food guide to the movies, Here is how the authors describe Myra "in her own words."

...The other feature was Cover Girl (ed note: a personal favorite of mine and Tabi's:) with Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly plus all time favorite Phil Silvers. Before breaking into that spectacular singing, dancing production number of "Make Way for Tomorrow," they had a marvelous oyster eating scence. Watching them, I cannot tell you what a craving I, too suddenly had for oysters. I ran home after the matinee, and crying on my mother's lap, pleaded for oysters or seafood. From that day, my goose was cooked; I just had to taste whatever I had just seen at the movies. Indeed, to this day I cannot emerge from a theater without feeling hungry...This began my double profession of film critic and cook. Since then, it's been from the balcony to the kitchen. If there happened to be an exceptionally good double feature, I would be so exhausted I wouldn't know which way to turn...Naturally, I cooked and cooked and cooked. I was now ready for my first dinner party. He was an importer from Brazil whose contribution to the dinner was some newly arrived nuts from the land of the coffee bean. We went from soup to nuts. Heady with success I ventured further into unknown territories. The Good Earth, Abie's Irish Rose, An American in Paris, Andy Hardy,--all produced exquisite menus...Who knows, after reading my book you, too may turn into a Brillat-Savarin, an Escoffier, an Alice B. Toklas...or even a Myra Breckinridge...It's all there, sitting, waiting to be taken home to be transformed into a treat, but it's up to you to turn the trick. So whether you're on Main Street or Broadway, put on your walking shoes, America and join the ranks of those who care to have the very best. And if you don't find that you're a healthier, happier person, then my name isn't Myra Breckinridge.

The chapters in this entertaining book are introduced in an alluring humorous tone; garnished with vintage black & white photos. Some of "her" descriptions are down right "naughty." "Myra Breckinridge is a dish, and never forget it" she proclaims. And that dear visitor is putting it mildly. The recipes are not as glamourous as one might expect. It is more in the interpretation of the named dish rather than in the ingredients. I wish I could share the entire book with you. The recipes, although stylish, are quite adaptable. Some of the photos, are priceless!

Vidal Gore and his partner Howard lived in Italy for many years. It is said Howard Austen was a wonderful cook who was also a relaxed and adorning host. He could "whip up" a wonderful "pasta-infested dinner" in their beautiful dining room while the music played and the wine glasses were sipped, effortlessly. Charlie Chaplin, I discovered, was more than happy to share his own recipes whenever they were requested for fund raisers or for a good cause. The boiled shoe Thanksgiving dinner in The Gold Rush, is quintessential Charlie Chaplin and one of my favorite scenes. There's a wonderful website dedicated to Charlie Chaplin which explores the importance of food in his life. It is called, Charlie Chaplin . . . Allez Cuisine!!!

...Inside the cabin meanwhile, hungry and desperate, the Tramp and Big Jim celebrate "Thanksgiving Dinner," in a famous, classic feast/meal scene. The Tramp and Big Jim are reduced to starvation, so the Tramp resorts to boiling and cooking a tasty dinner for them. He chooses one of his boots [actually black licorice] as the object of their Thanksgiving dinner, taking on airs as a gourmet at a feast. He watches it cooking on the stove until perfectly simmered. He then carves the boot (splitting and cutting it like a filet), and offers the upper part to Big Jim. He pours water over it like gravy. He chews on the lower sole part, treating it like a delicacy, and he twirls the laces like spaghetti. He daintily sucks the nails, like they were the bones of a game bird, or small fishbones... source

May I present the Gold Rush, Shoestring Spaghetti Dinner menu. Spaghetti with Clam Sauce (Shoestring Spaghetti), and Filets de Sole with Grapes (Shoe-Tender Sole), which I have scanned for your pleasure. Any idea who I would prefer to win tonight???

And for dessert, Oscar Worthy Baked Spicy Brownies from The Recipe Girl 


  1. Thanks Recipe Girl. And now, I've added dessert, thanks to you!

  2. I haven't seen this cookbook before and it sounds like it would be really fun to look at. Thanks for bringing it to our attention! I just looked at the Oscar nominations and realize that I haven't seen ANY of them. And I do watch movies. Guess I'm behind.

  3. Ha, ha ha ha ha! The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook!

    That really was a find, particularly for only fifty cents!!

    Fun post, Louise. :)

  4. How do you know all this cool stuff?

  5. You know so much about food, yet you dont eat much? Great Hollywood post. I ma gaiming a new found appreciation for Chaplain.

  6. Hi Kathy,
    The book was quite a find. I'm pretty sure I would have bought it even if it wasn't fifty cents. The star studded photographs are full page images like the Chaplin one. Some of the recipes are unusual also.

    Yes it was foodvox and educational too! Thanks for popping in!

    Hey duckie, writers like you provide the fodder for readers like me.

    I think it's a habit I acquired when I was elected to always to the cooking, Courtney. In those days, it was almost un-hostess like to actually sit down and eat with the guests. I'm working on my apetite and YOUR blog is a BIG help!

  7. Wow what a fascinating read! So many interesting facts!

    I never knew Chaplin was actually a good cook! I remember that hilarious scene where Chaplin and Big Jim ate one of Chaplin's shoes, and Chaplin even sucking the shoe nails like they were chicken bones hahaha! That's one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema!

  8. That's one of my favorite scenes also, Dennis...so funny:)


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise