Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cooking with Count Yorga

Halloween is almost upon us once more! Time to try for at least one scary post. This year, the Siren thinks she has a pretty hot entry.

It's Count Yorga's cookbook.

Or rather, the cookbook of the late Robert Quarry, the handsome star who played Count Yorga so well in two movies that the Siren saw as late shows on long-ago insomniac nights. Years ago the Siren acquired this off the freebie table in her apartment building. It has a price stamp of $5.95, and the Siren doesn't know how it was originally distributed, although the oddball punctuation and "Bulk Mail" address label on the back give her something of an idea.

Here's Quarry's presumably self-penned biography from the 1988 "Simply Wonderful Recipes for Wonderfully Simple Foods". This excellent, touching essay about Quarry at Cinefantastique depicts him as a wonderful raconteur with a great deal of charm, and that does show in the book.

Robert Quarry was born and raised in Santa Rosa, Calif., where, he says, his early culinary influences were a marvelous mixture of Italian, French, Spanish and Chinese cooking; influences that led his avocation as a chef.

His vocation, however, is as an actor, a career of some forty years. He began his career in radio during World War II appearing on many of the top shows of the time, including Lux Radio Theater where he was a member of that famed show's stock company.

After serving in the Army for two years he moved to New York and began a successful career during the early days of television, appearing on such memorable shows as Studio One, Philco Playhouse, Kraft Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame and Playhouse 90.

He made his Broadway debut co-starring with Katharine Hepburn in "As You Like It," and after several successful plays was brought to Hollywood to appear with Joanne Woodward in "A Kiss Before Dying."

He has guest-starred on most of the top-rated dramatic series on television, but is probably best remembered for a series of horror films made while under contract to American International Pictures, most notably the "Count Yorga, Vampire" films and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again," co-starring with Vincent Price.

His cookbook, "You Can't Barbecue a Taco", will be published in the fall of '89.

Try as she might, the Siren has found no trace of "You Can't Barbecue a Taco." And try she has, mightily. However, she does have a theory as to why the bigger book never happened.

These "Simply Wonderful Recipes"? Are terrible.

Worse than Katharine Hepburn's brownies, worse than Bette Davis' baked chicken that involves a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and crumbled Saltine crackers.

This cookbook came into the Siren's life when she was single and trying to learn to cook, and...put it this way, to this day the Siren's family is neither starving nor constantly pleading for take-out, but even the Siren's best friend would admit that her prose outranks her dinners. But she does all right these days.

Even back then, the Siren was not completely clueless. She knew enough to steer clear of anything called "Ham Croquettes" or "Avocado Mold With Crab Dressing," which begins with "1 6-oz. package lime gelatin" and ends with a crab dressing made with a full cup of sour cream, on top of the half-cup of sour cream that's already in the avocado mold.

Still, many other entries seemed pleasingly retro, the kind of thing that would make a lady seem like a Siren who could be dazzlingly domestic any old time she felt like it. The Siren loved the idea of cooking the recipes of Count Yorga, delightfully--no, wonderfully simple concoctions that would make men her neck-nuzzling slaves.

Yeah, OK, maybe the Siren should give her retro fetish a rest every once in a while. But looky here, look at the preface:

I realize that most people never read prefaces to books, but I hope you will give just a few seconds to reading this one.

Not that you will find deathless prose in the next few paragraphs. It is only that I feel compelled to explain my reasoning in putting this cookbook together.

You will not find anything resembling "Haute Cuisine", "Nouvelle Cuisine" or any other "Cuisine of the moment" recipes in this little book. A stew will be called a stew, not a "Ragout." A pork roast will not masquerade as "Roti du Porc", nor will eggs be referred to as "Oeufs."

There will be no mention of Quiche, Sushi or Thai recipes requiring Lemon Grass.

I had originally planned to title this book "The Little Bit of Difference Cookbook" because it seemed to say exactly what the content (and intent) would be.

The recipes presented here will, I hope, not be too mind-boggling. They do have different degrees of difficulty; but I think I have laid them out in clear and easy steps. They are, basically, recipes for foods we all know, but ones that with a few adjustments, take on a more intriguing "attitude".

So much for the Preface.

Bon Appetit (OOPS!)…I mean eat and enjoy!

Robert Quarry
Los Angeles -- 1988

He wasn't using fancy foreign terms! These were familiar recipes with intriguing "attitude"!

So here's a couple that the Siren tried. Maybe you're going to pop up and chirp that these seem perfectly all right to you. Maybe, you say, the little bit of difference was that Quarry was cooking this stuff, and not the Siren.

Fair enough. All the Siren can say is that she followed these to the letter, and with "Simply Wonderful Recipes," that's not such a hot idea.

Behold "Hawaiian Pork Stew."

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons oil
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice
1/3 cup bottled teriyaki sauce
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, cut into eighths

Step 1: Cut pork into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Combine flour and ginger and use to coat pork. Reserve 2 tablespoons flour mixture.
Step 2: Brown pork on all side in hot oil in Dutch oven.
Step 3: Drain pineapple and reserve juice. Add reserved juice, teriyaki sauce and 1 cup water to pork. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Step 4: Cut sweet potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Add to pork and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Stir in onion and simmer, covered, 20 minutes longer or until pork and yams are tender.
Step 5: Meanwhile combine reserved flour mixture and 3/4 cup water. Stir into pork mixture and cook until slightly thickened. Stir in pineapple and heat through.

This produces a big old gummy mass of sweetness, and the Siren learned the hard way, via the Irish writer she was trying to entertain, that the old canard about Irish culinary standards is just that. She wonders what became of him.

Disaster followed disaster. What Quarry assured readers was Burt Lancaster's favorite Lemon Cheesecake must have been a recipe the Bird Man picked up at Alcatraz. The bran muffins were leaden, the "Chicken Louisette" was a gooey mess, the Irish stew (which the Siren wisely did not serve to the Irishman) involved pickling spices that were hard to find for reasons that became crystal-clear once the stew was served.

Clearly the Siren should have cut her losses, but she is a stubborn little mortal.

So with a new, non-Irish dinner guest, against all common sense, she decided to tackle "Luxembourg Stew." Here's how Quarry lured her in:

Good veal is so expensive these days I'm giving you only one recipe…but it is terrific! The veal must be white, but the cut less expensive than other cuts, and I promise you a real lip-smacker! [Yeah, like that still up above, Count Yorga. -T.S.]

I found this recipe when I was in Luxembourg several years ago. There isn't a more gracious country in Europe (or, I should say 'Duchy') so it's no wonder that this stew is practically their national's as wonderful as the country and the people who live there.

The Siren has some in-laws who've lived in Luxembourg for many years, by the by, and when she ran a rough description of this dish past them they denied all knowledge of it. But maybe they've just been lucky. Here 'tis.

2 lbs. veal shoulder
3 tbsp butter
1 large onion, sliced
3 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 bay leaf
5 whole cloves
Pinch each of thyme and marjoram
Dash of cayenne
2 1/2 cups light beer
5 gingersnaps
Juice of half a lemon

Step 1: Cut veal into 1-inch cubes, roll them in flour and saute lightly in butter. Remove from pan and put aside for a moment.
Step 2: Saute sliced onion in same butter until golden.
Step 3: Put the meat and onion in a stewpan, add tomatoes (quartered) and all the seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 4: Add light beer, cover the pan tightly, and cook very slowly for 1 1/2 hours.
Step 5: Moisten gingersnaps (I add two more than the recipe calls for) with water, crush into paste and add to the contents of the pan. Put the lid back on and continue cooking slowly for 30 minutes more.
Step 6: Just before serving add the lemon juice. Serve with mashed potatoes.

The stew, as you may or may not be able to tell from the instructions, was a calamity, but here Count Yorga showed some mercy in the form of the beer. It tasted terrible in the dish, but the Siren and her guest drank the rest of the six-pack and along with the mashed potatoes it kept the man reasonably content.

Thus endeth the Siren's attempt to cook with Count Yorga. Whatever gourmet secrets the Count was keeping (ground wolf bone? the blood of a virgin bat?) were never vouchsafed to the Siren.

But in fairness, and because she remains kindly disposed toward Quarry despite all he did to her, the Siren is including what he claims is Vincent Price's recipe for bread pudding. If anyone is feeling adventurous and wants to try this (Tinky? you game?) do report back. Only, if you are single and trying for a romantic evening, take the Siren's advice and order Chinese as a backup.

This recipe was given to me by Vincent Price, but, in keeping with his evil movie persona, he left out one very important step in the cooking process. Fortunately I figured out how to beat the fiend at his devilish game.


1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 slices bread (I prefer egg bread, but it isn't the least necessary)
2 tbsp softened butter
1 scant cup raisins or currants (the amount is optional--I prefer a little less)
3 eggs
2 cups milk
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Step 1: Loosely pack brown sugar in top of double boiler.
Step 2: Butter three slices of bread with softened butter, and then dice bread. Sprinkle over brown sugar. Add raisins or currants, scattering them over the bread.
Step 3: Beat eggs, milk, salt, vanilla and white sugar together.
Step 4: Pour egg mixture over bread cubes but DO NOT STIR.
Step 5: Place over simmering water, cover (that's the part Vincent neglected to tell me) and cook 1 hour.
Serve cold or at room temperature. Turn out onto serving plate (preferably one with raised sides to catch the sauce). The brown sugar has by this time developed into the most delicious sauce.

According to Cinemafantastique, Price and Quarry didn't get along during Dr. Phibes, largely due to machinations by the producer, which is a shame. Price himself was a famous gourmet chef.

We'll close with one more quote from Quarry (the boldface is his):

And now we come to the more difficult part of dinner: THE MAIN COURSE!! This is the time that one does a lot of praying in the kitchen, comes to the table and waits for the first guest to say "Marvelous". If no one says anything, pretend to have a fainting spell and ask to be taken to the nearest emergency hospital. This will generate a lot of sympathy, and everything that went wrong can be blamed on poor health.

If the Siren ever cooks another "Simply Wonderful" recipe, she may have to give that suggestion a whirl.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ernst Lubitsch's The Loves of Pharaoh, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Another alert for the Siren's patient New York readers: On Oct. 18 through Oct. 20, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is presenting the great Ernst Lubitsch's 1922 silent, The Loves of Pharaoh. Lost for many years, then thought to exist only in fragments, the movie has been painstakingly stitched back into close to its original form, and will be the inaugural screening for the BAM Harvey Theater's Steinberg Screen.

This is what you call a major film-preservation event.

The Loves of Pharaoh, says BAM, is being shown as part of its Next Wave festival, and will be accompanied "by the world premiere of a new score by Brooklyn-based composer Joseph C. Phillips be performed live by his acclaimed 18-piece new music ensemble, Numinous."

The Siren has been told that The Loves of Pharaoh is not typical Lubitsch; instead it's a splendid eyeful of an epic. Any chance to see a large-scale silent movie on a big screen, accompanied by live musicians and a full score, is to be seized at all costs. So the Siren is attending tonight's performance; Comrade Lou Lumenick of the New York Post plans to attend later this weekend. The Siren urges her patient readers to turn out for this event as well.

Morning-after update: Since cherished commenter Rozsaphile brought up the score, and in case anyone is on the fence, the Siren thought she'd add a few off-the-cuff thoughts. Indeed this is not what you think of as Lubitsch, although there is plenty of panting sexual desire. It's magnificent-looking, though, particularly on the big screen in the beautiful Harvey Theater, which has been updated with its crumbling atmosphere intact.

The restoration is superb. Missing footage is replaced, when possible, with stills, and this works much better for the silent Loves of Pharaoh--they're a bit like pictorial intertitles--than it does for, say, Cukor's A Star Is Born, where the sudden intrusion of stills throws the Siren out of the movie, every time. According to Dave Kehr, the German unemployment situation in 1922 basically meant they could have all the extras they wanted, and the crowd scenes will blow your mind. Lubitsch could, like Griffith and DeMille, show the teeming sweep of an army or a mob while still giving a sense of the individuals within. Certain scenes--such as one set in the inner chambers of Pharaoh's treasury--are heart-stoppingly beautiful. The tinting is exquisite.

The Siren loves how Kehr describes the way things worked out, in terms of film history: "After “Pharaoh,” DeMille folded his style into Lubitsch’s for his first version of “The Ten Commandments,” while Lubitsch, in one of film history’s tidier paradoxes, turned away from costume pictures to DeMille-style sex comedies on his arrival in Hollywood." Loves is no comedy. Plot elements include torture, violence, child murder, maimings, and a downbeat ending. There are maybe two or three laughs that the Siren would characterize as intentional jokes. Otherwise the laughter in the audience was mostly at instances of actorly excess, and some unfortunate (to modern eyes) choices like the wig on Ramphis (Harry Liedtke). Emil Jannings gives his side-eye technique quite a workout, and also gets to do the Great-Man-Brought-to-Depths-of-Degradation scenes that the guy must have had written into his contract somehow. (The Siren's not a huge Jannings fan.)

This is where the new score comes in. It's strikingly modern, not a type of music the Korngold-loving Siren would have necessarily chosen. She thought it worked extremely well, however. Composer Joseph C. Phillips clearly took Loves of Pharaoh seriously and gave it music that played the emotions of the scenes straight, not campy. The score kept the audience focused, kept nervous titters to a minimum and complemented the emotions. You can't ask much more than that.

So you don't want to miss this, if at all possible. For those who can't make it to BAM, Loves of Pharaoh is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

To Save and Project: MOMA Screens Wild Girl (1932) and Call Her Savage (1932)

On Thursday, Oct. 11 (that's tomorrow) the Museum of Modern Art in New York kicks off its 10th edition of To Save and Project, their annual series of screenings dedicated to film preservation. The Siren need hardly tell her patient readers how this very notion makes her eyes light up. The series runs until Nov. 12, with multiple screenings of most films. It includes such rarities as the silent Dumb Girl of Portici, starring Anna Pavlova in her one film role; Jacques Demy's Lola, starring Anouk Aimee; and George Cukor's seldom-seen Justine, a film that (correct me if I'm wrong, David) David Ehrenstein has mentioned favorably around here. The latter two will be introduced by the grandly beautiful Ms Aimee herself.

And, to top it all off, the vast majority of the films will be screened in glorious 35-millimeter, the way God and Orson Welles (a tautology?) intended. (You can read more about that topic in Dave Kehr's excellent full roundup at the New York Times.)

Opening day brings two restored pre-Codes: Call Her Savage from 1932, and from the same year, the out-of-sight-for-eons Wild Girl, directed by Raoul Walsh. The Siren got a chance to see both when they were screened for the press.

Wild Girl, starring Joan Bennett in her lissome blonde phase, is based on "Salomy Jane's Kiss," a story by Bret Harte. Salomy Jane (Bennett) isn't really wild, she's just in tune with nature, a girl-woman roaming the forest and playing with the local children.

Walsh has the magnificent ability to mash up genres and keep control of the tone and pacing. Here we have a Western, complete with a stagecoach, a corrupt and lascivious businessman with designs on Salomy Jane, and a handsome stranger (Charles Farrell) who rides into town on a mission of revenge. Except, it's also something of a fairy tale. The movie was filmed in the Sequoia National Forest, and the enormous trees give Walsh ample opportunity to film Bennett among the enormous roots and trunks like a tiny woodland sprite. Even Eugene Pallette, as a lovably cowardly stagecoach driver, looks like a doll in such a setting.

And it's also a comedy, with Pallette showing how many ways he can imitate a horse's whinny. It's a pre-Code, with Bennett bathing naked in a pond, only to be surprised by a man in mid-splash. (Where there's a woman bathing naked outdoors, there is always a man; this is an immutable Hollywood law of any era.) It's a romance, as of course Salomy and the stranger will find each other and fall in love. It's a social drama--a lynching scene mid-movie includes a haunting, blurry camera effect and is genuinely harrowing. Pierre Rissient, who knew Walsh, was in attendance, and told some writers gathered afterward that the movie drew on a lynching that Walsh himself witnessed as a boy.

The characters are introduced as though leafing through the pages of a book, and the fadeout between scenes is made to resemble a page turning, both emphasizing the literary origin. Except that the volume's cover, shown at the beginning and end of the movie, is labeled "Album," causing the Siren's pal Glenn Kenny to guffaw, "Wanna see some pictures from that summer the stagecoach got robbed and there was a lynching? Fun times!"

As for Call Her Savage, for years the Siren had been told that the film was a lulu, even by the freewheeling standards of the early 1930s. Not only is the film as gratifyingly insane as its reputation, its craziness looks wonderful thanks to the restoration.

It was Clara Bow's comeback vehicle, tailored by Fox to reassert her stardom after a bad period that included sex-tinged scandals as well a lawsuit brought by a former employee named Daisy DeVoe. On top of that, the insecure and emotionally fragile Bow had a bad case of what they called mike fright.

Well, you won't see it in this movie (and like John Gilbert, Bow sounds fine). What you will see is Bow engaging in scenes so pointedly lurid that even the jaded folks in the MOMA screening room were agog. Bow first appears riding a horse--bareback, what else. A snake causes her horse to throw her, she whips the snake (uh-huh) and her temper fit gets her laughed at by childhood pal Moonglow (Gilbert Roland, so sexily male that silly name doesn't matter). So naturally, she beats him around the head and shoulders with her riding crop.

But even that can't prepare you for the sight of Clara Bow, nipples erect under the sheer blouse that's already torn from the earlier scene, rolling around on the floor with an enormous and clearly un-neutered Great Dane. It was a vulgar reference to an old rumor about Bow's supposedly insatiable appetites, but now it just plays Let the Siren put it this way--in 2012, which big-time actress would play a lewd scene opposite a dog?

It's all supposed to be part of her nature, you see, as the title signals. Nasa thinks she's the daughter of an unscrupulous tycoon, but in fact she's the daughter of an Indian chief who impregnated her mother while Father Was Away on Business. And when you mix Noble Savage with Sexually Frustrated White Woman, according to this movie what you get is bipolar behavior that would flummox Freud. One minute, she's taking a ranch worker's guitar and smashing it over his head when he won't stop crooning (which is drastic, but it does earn her the audience's gratitude). And the poor slob hasn't even had time to pick the splinters out of his eyebrows before Nasa turns to Moonglow and gurgles "Oh Moonglow, I'm going to love Chicago." The idea that anything can explain Nasa, let alone an accident of birth, is ludicrous on its face, but she's one of the most enthralling women in all of pre-Code cinema--hell, cinema period.

The breakneck plot defies summary, logic and medical probability, and it's every bit as fun as that sounds. Via director John Francis Dillon, it looks good, too, from the nightclubs and dives of Chicago, New York and New Orleans, to the the Indian attack on a covered wagon that opens the film. (The Siren walked in a minute after the movie started and had to whisper "what is this?" to a fellow critic to make sure she hadn't accidentally stumbled into a Tom Mix screening.) There's a wonderfully done montage of Nasa's free-spending ways, showing clubs and shopping and bills; you find out that an Elizabeth Arden facial set you back $25 in 1932. In this film at least, Dillon had a fascination for mirrors to rival Douglas Sirk; they're a recurring motif, the camera often observing Bow's reflection, emphasizing her dual nature. Toward the end, there's a terrific montage of all the many ways that men have screwed Nasa, ending with Bow shrieking "MEN!" and shattering a mirror with one blow. If there's a merciful deity up there, somebody will one day put that bit on Youtube--maybe for Valentine's Day.

The cast includes Monroe Owsley, lip curled and cigarette pinched between thumb and forefinger, as the dirty cad who marries Nasa, only to desert her for former love Thelma Todd. The Siren hadn't seen Todd outside of her sidekick work for the Marx Brothers, and it was sad to discover that had she not been murdered at age 29, she could have done well in bitchy other-woman roles, too. Roland's part is absolutely nothing--a loyal, supportive "half-breed" (this movie's flagrant racism is a given, alas). But he gives Moonglow warmth and gentleness; combined with his stellar work in the 1950s, including The Bad and the Beautiful, The Furies and The Bullfighter and the Lady, the Siren has become a big Roland fan.

The main attraction, no question, is Bow. She spends a lot of time in barely-there costumes, she looks ravishing, and Dillon's camera ogles her breasts so often--the cleavage when she's bending over, the profile, the view from below, the 45-degree side angle--that after seeing Call Her Savage you can piece it together and truthfully say you've seen Clara Bow topless. Her dress strap slips and the Siren thinks, "Eat your heart out, Marilyn." Despite that rather degrading scene with the Great Dane this is, in many ways, an ideal vehicle for Bow because it requires simmering physicality and the nerve to go all-out in nearly every scene. When Owsley rises from the bed where he's been confined by a slight case of tertiary syphilis and tries to rape Bow, she really fights, like a cornered animal fights. A brawl in a Greenwich Village dive shows that she could really throw a punch. And a mid-movie tragedy, and her scenes with Roland, also show that grief and tenderness were very much part of Bow's range.

Bow's comeback, for the record, worked; Call Her Savage was a hit. She wouldn't make many more movies, however. She married cowboy star Rex Bell and retired in 1933 to become a wife and mother. Biographer David Stenn (whose Runnin' Wild the Siren recommends) concludes that Bow was schizophrenic, and that, ironically, retiring was the worst thing she could have done. Without the outlet and identity that film work provided, there was no place to escape the demons.

As entertaining as Call Her Savage is, it takes on a sad tinge for those who remember that one of Clara Bow's first great loves was Gilbert Roland. Toward the end of her life, after she'd spent years in and out of institutions, Stenn says Roland was one of the few people Clara Bow still wanted to see: "Still handsome, and still my favorite actor," she would say after his visits.

If you are in New York, go see these movies, OK?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Tay Garnett: Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights

The Siren has written before about director Tay Garnett: his marriage to actress Patsy Ruth Miller, and his script for and direction of One Way Passage, which the Siren would unhesitatingly cite as one of the best films of the 1930s. And since the 1930s was a great film decade, period, well, you do the math. The Siren has enormous regard for The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett on the set above, with the poor unphotogenic creatures who were his stars), thinks Trade Winds, where Joan Bennett went brunette, is a pip, and so is China Seas, thinks a large number of Garnett's many, many other films are subject for further research, as a great critic used to put it.

All this, and Garnett wrote a corking autobiography, called Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights, after the on-set directions he got as an extra in a historical epic. The Siren has, as we all know, read way too many Hollywood memoirs so believe her when she says that this is one of the liveliest, most enjoyable and original you will ever pick up. If you can pick it up, that is. It's out of print.

Now his daughter Tiela has embarked on a project to get the book back into circulation, and at the same time resurrect her father's memory with the public. The Siren hasn't pointed out Kickstarter campaigns before, and has no plans to make a habit of it, but she can't resist this one, because the book really is wonderful. (David Cairns thinks so too; he calls it "magnificent," not an adjective he slings around with abandon.) If Tiela gets sufficient funding, she plans to write a coda to her father's book. The Siren hopes it will fill out the story of his lifelong love for the mysterious Joan Marshfield, which forms such a romantic throughline that would have fit perfectly in one of Garnett's own movies.

The description of the project is here.