Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fun Finds: Now We're Cooking!

It's been a little while since I posted about one of my Fun Finds, but this one leapt out at me from a crowded shelf of old books as if there were roaming klieg lights originating from its jacket! It's a hardbound celebrity cookbook, a 1978 fund-raiser for a rehabilitation center in Hawaii called Habilitat!

The center had previously published a (slender by comparison) book of recipes submitted by primarily Hawaiian-based personalities, but this time (Volume II) had opened it up to include stars from the Continental United States.

No harm to her in the slightest, but any book that would choose to place Anne Francis' photo on the all-important spine (the part that we see when the book is placed between others) was something I just had to pick up! Anne Francis over Ann-Margret or Mary Tyler Moore? Other show business luminaries, some to be named later, didn't make the jacket at all. I hope you find this as hooty as I did and, who knows, maybe you'll even be compelled to try out one or more of the recipes!

Habilitat was (and is) a youth-oriented drug rehabilitation facility, set in a stunning locale with a variety of services and athletic-oriented programs and amenities. In order to compile this book, a number of celebrities were approached to provide their own favorite recipes along with, presumably, a head shot. In some cases, a brief congratulatory quote might also have been provided from the star. In other cases, the compiler might editorialize, always favorably about the dish. Some of the stars who promised to visit Habilitat if they were ever in the area really did do so, including Carroll O'Connor, Marie Windsor and Bob Newhart. The captions on the head shots provided me with several big smiles as I leafed through!

The Shangri-La-esque building that housed the organization from 1971 on...
...was later added on to and re-faced with a brighter, cleaner (if a touch blander) look. The organization is still in full operation as we speak (I don't believe we've seen a drop in the need for help in drug rehabilitation in this country lately!)
Sadly, I couldn't begin to scan in all of the recipes from all of the celebs. This is a sizable cookbook! I had to make some decisions along the way and do my best. They aren't in any order other than how the items are arranged in the book (appetizers, meats, salads, and so on.) What struck me about this first recipe more than anything was that the author decided to describe Cher Bono (not just Cher!) as “willowy.” Is that the first adjective that comes to your mind??
I love the way Carol Burnett chose to word some of her recipe's instructions. (Thank goodness she admonishes us to wash our hands... I never would have thought of that before diving into a big ol' raw meatloaf!)
What would a book supporting drug rehabilitation be without Valley of the Dolls' Neely O'Hara herself, Patty Duke? At the time, she was wed to John Astin and going by the name Patty Duke Astin. I hope you can somehow follow this intensely complicated recipe.
Another excruciatingly difficult recipe to follow comes from Richard Anderson of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, among many other movies and TV shows. Mr. Anderson smoked like a train, worshipped the sun to an almost ridiculous extent and ate red meat for dinner practically every night, yet he's still kicking today at age eighty-six!
June Lockhart (of Lassie and Lost in Space) provides a Yorkshire pudding recipe. I had no clue that this was how this item was made, though I only had it once when I was about eleven!
Famed Hollywood Squares panelist Paul Lynde had a lifelong struggle with food (among other things, bless his heart.) He supplied two recipes to the cookbook, including this one (which I suspect could be done in a large crock pot, too.) But does it sound “diet” to anybody?? Not sure...
Mr. Burt Reynolds also has a beef stew recipe. I guess compared to this one, Paul Lynde's recipe was lower calorie! (Frying floured beef chuck in bacon grease?!)
Tastes change over the years. I cannot imagine anyone I know preparing beef tongue for themselves or a guest. Monty “Let's Make a Deal” Hall's recipe is reprinted (one of very few like this) from another source. I would not touch this with a ten-foot pole, but I am a very finicky eater anyway and also don't like very many ingredients in my food. (One of the three cookbooks in my home is one called “Five Ingredients or Less!”)
Here we have former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. I wonder if she used to whip some of this stuff up for L.B. Johnson when he was in the White House?
Note that at the time of this book, Barbara Walters was still appearing with Harry Reasoner as co-host of ABC Evening News, a partnership that was riddled with difficulty and enmity. This same year, she departed the broadcast and later went on to 20/20 and The View.
If Anne Meara cooked dishes like this very often, it's a wonder her husband Jerry Stiller is still alive (and that son Ben Stiller wasn't a total tub!) The sad thing is, I sorta want to make this!
Country-fried comedienne Judy Canova (mother of Soap's Diana Canova) supplied several recipes for this cookbook. The one shown below made me chuckle because of her remark in the final sentence of the paragraph!
Hmmm... I don't know about this recipe of Miss Phyllis Diller's. Sounds really tacky! But maybe, like a lot of other things, it congeals into something wonderful during the baking process. I recall my stepmother once making a stunning pork roast in a slow-cooker, so tender and flavorful, and when I asked her what she did to it, she said "every condiment bottle in the door of the fridge that had hardly anything left in it I emptied onto the roast."  !!!  Love the choice of photo, though.
When you think of Gunsmoke's Festus (and I know you think of him frequently!), does salmon spring quickly to mind? Ha! Corn pone would probably be my first guess for a recipe from him, but, no, we have salmon loaf (which would never pass my lips even if I were on Survivor!)
It might have been fun for Tippi Hedren to have supplied a bird recipe like quail or pigeon! Hee hee! Instead, she gives us one for seafood delight. This photo of the Tipster looks more like Melanie Griffith than most of the other ones I can recall seeing (perhaps due to the pale makeup and the hairstyle?) Melanie probably would have benefited from a stay at this rehab center!
Former-President Jimmy Carter shocked me by not submitting a peanut recipe, but the one he chose does include “nuts.” Perhaps it's up to the cook to decide which kind?
Barnaby Jones/Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies Buddy Ebson has an egg recipe that is another item I wouldn't go near. I do like omelets, but don't consume any eggs that aren't “done.” If you're into runny yolks, this might be a good recipe to try, perhaps with toast.

The name of this dish made me smile. I presume Jeff and Beau Bridges were treated to their fair share of this concoction growing up!
You know I love me some Dick Gautier and this head shot of him is dreamy. “A neat dish...” indeed!
I can't help chuckling at some of the “recipes” with scintillating titles like “Cloris Leachman's Baked Potato,” though it must be added that she does indeed put a spin on it. It's not just a potato pricked with a fork, rolled in salt and tossed in the oven.
This was another head shot that amused me. With apologies in advance to her fans, I have never been able to warm up to Gretchen Wyler and have always found to come off as very self-congratulatory and unnecessarily self-important.
My grandmother would have considered Miss Olivia Newton-John's chicken soup recipe to be the height of tackiness! But, hey, it's “easy, cheap and nutritious...”

It's interesting to me that in the caption for Judy Lewis, there is no mention at all of her being Loretta Young's daughter. Even though I have since discovered that she had a (primarily daytime soap opera) acting career all her own, I really only ever knew of her as just that... Loretta Young's daughter!
NOTHING would get me to try Miss Bea Arthur's dish (and I had to investigate what madrilene even was – never heard of it before!), but I worship the way she looked at this stage of her career. That face and attitude. Love it!
I'm sure they didn't mean it in a derisive way, but there's something so amusing about the terminology used to describe Samantha Eggar's part in The Collector (1965) for her caption.
I wonder if this tuna salad recipe of Natalie Schafer's is something she developed while stranded on Gilligan's Island for all those years!
Good gravy, this seems like a tremendous amount of work for some pancakes! How interesting, too, the use of bacon fat in the recipe. You wouldn't be likely to see that much these days. Incidentally, David Janssen dropped dead from a heart attack at only age forty-eight! (He had also been a very heavy smoker.)
We next come to desserts and a battle of the pecan pies. Which one would you make? Dear Abby's seems to be very simple. (And could they have selected/sent a more diminutive photograph?!?!)
George Peppard's recipe seems slightly more complex (befitting the man, who was quite complex, too!)
I didn't even realize who Suzanne Hunt was until I read her caption. I thought she was generally better known as Suzy Hunt. She was married to Richard Burton directly after his second divorce from Elizabeth Taylor in 1976 and they remained wed until 1982.
I liked the final word of Sharon Gless' recipe. Without her advice, I would have missed out. Ha! Her caption is fun, too, though it must be said that in her heyday she really was a vibrant, confident, capable and appealing “type” in most of her roles.
At this juncture, Nancy Reagan was billed in her caption not as a former actress, but as the former first lady of California. In just a few years, she would graduate to First Lady of the United States for eight years (and, perhaps, serve Ronnie these Vienna bars in the White House? No, I doubt it!)
The final recipe comes from Mr. George Burns and doesn't involve food at all. Perhaps his laid-back, undemanding approach to food (and life?) is one of the things that helped him live to the remarkable age of one-hundred (and most of it with considerably good health!) I wish the same to you. Take care until next time!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hold On Tight! It's the TV-Movie Time Tunnel!

Well, ever since I did that recent profile of the 1977 TV-movie It Happened at Lakewood Manor, I've been caught in a whirlpool of vintage television nostalgia. I tend to eschew most modern-day fare anyway, but in researching Manor, I stumbled onto a channel filled with complete TV-movies from the late-1960s and the 1970s and dove in head first. I've hardly come up for air except to come to work!
The compact format (about an hour and fifteen minutes apiece) and the combinations of stars make these “must see TV” for me and at that length, most of them go down like butter. Today, I'm going to point out which ones I have indulged in thus far and give capsule reviews of them as well. You can click on the telefilm's name in order to be taken to it in its entirety.

The first one I watched was 1975's Satan's Triangle. In it, Doug McClure plays a coast guard rescuer who boards a disabled sailboat (within the Bermuda Triangle) that has several dead men scattered about and one very frightened Kim Novak!

In flashback, we learn what has transpired on the boat, the other passengers including Jim Davis (soon to become Dallas' Jock Ewing), Ed Lauter and the recently rescued Alejandro Rey (of The Flying Nun) as a beleaguered priest. Meanwhile, randy McClure finds himself sexually drawn to (the still-alluring) Novak. I appreciated that this movie wasn't afraid to focus on some darker elements (some older TV-movies shy away from serious violence and graphic death), including a not-so-happy ending.

Next up was 1970's Night Slaves. This was a must-see thanks to having hunky James Franciscus and the one-of-a-kind Lee Grant as its stars. (I could, quite honestly, watch five straight minutes of Grant from this era – hungry to prove herself again after being blacklisted – merely thumbing through a phone directory and occasionally uttering a name, if I had to!) It begins as something of a precursor to Tom Berenger's 1991 film Shattered, with Franciscus enduring a severe auto accident and then waking up with partial amnesia. He is unaware that Grant was on the verge of leaving him for his best friend Scott Marlowe.
In a tenuous moment of concern for him, she accompanies Franciscus on a “relaxing” getaway to a small town only to get there and find that every single night, the townspeople get up from their beds and board cattle trucks which take them away for four hours at a stretch! What's worse is that Grant becomes one of them and doesn't even realize it. I've spoiled precious little as this is only the beginning of the story. Also in the cast are Leslie Nielsen as the sheriff, Andrew Prine as the village idiot and Tisha Sterling (Ann Sothern's daughter) as a flirty, childlike resident of the town.

Now this next one quickly became a favorite, even though some people dislike it as too close a copy of the 1961 Hammer film Scream of Fear, written by the same man. He even admitted that he plagiarized himself, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the movie because it stars Barbara Stanwyck, still radiant in the wake of her four-year stint on The Big Valley. The movie was 1971's A Taste of Evil.

How can anyone resist the notion of Stanwyck playing the mother of another Barbara, Barbara Parkins (of Valley of the Dolls fame), on a beautiful estate where someone is trying to drive Parkins out of her mind?! Parkins (despite having played in Dolls four years prior and having starred on Peyton Place for years as a married woman) is supposed to be nineteen!!! It seems that she was sexually assaulted on the grounds of the mansion several years before, but can't recall who did it. Now she's back and is confronted with a sloppy, drunken stepfather (William Windom) and a new doctor (Roddy McDowall) hired by her mother. Her only real ally, apart from Stanwyck, is the doddering gardener Arthur O'Connell.

Stanwyck, decked out in an array of Nolan Miller ensembles, looks dazzling and gives a really meaty performance. Anyone who enjoyed her on Valley ought to get a kick out of this as it's from basically the same era. Everyone else in the movie does well, too, though. Rip-off or not, I found this to be quite memorable.

Disaster fanatic that I am, I next segued into that arena for a three-film mini-marathon. First up was 1969's Seven in Darkness. This one comes with a fairly irresistible premise. A small airplane carrying about fifteen or so passengers (all but maybe a handful are blind!) crashes into treacherous mountain terrain, leaving no survivors except for eight sightless people. How in the world can they escape and find their way to safety?!

The passengers include handsome Sean Garrison, a snarly Milton Berle, Dina Merrill, Barry Nelson (a pilot the following year in Airport), Arthur O'Connell & Alejandro Rey (both disaster club members thanks to The Poseidon Adventure and The Swarm, respectively), Tippy Walker and, Cinderella herself, Lesley Ann Warren. As the title suggests, at least one of these folks isn't able to make the entire trip.
I love the look of this movie (the clean, vivid, richly saturated type of film stock used), but was let down by certain aspects of the script and by some of the acting. Fascinating as it all sounds, I wound up losing interest about halfway through it because it seemed implausible and the acting somewhat unnatural. Nelson is, to my mind, excruciating in his performance and Garrison very wooden. Berle is occasionally unintentionally funny. Warren sings a song in the beginning and I was startled that it was actually not too awful as most of them tend to be in these cases. I wanted to love it, but it counted as a miss for me in the end.

The second disaster flick was one I'd heard much about over the years, 1972's A Short Walk to Daylight. (I've linked to a part one of a "multi" on this one, due to the poor quality of the full movie version.) This gritty movie concerned a small clatch of New Yorkers who are riding a subway late at night when an earthquake hits. They find themselves trapped underground and have to rely on a street cop (James Brolin) in order to make it to safety. Among the survivors are Ironside's Don Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln, Brooke Bundy (annoying in an almost supernatural way!) and Laurette Spang (later of Battlestar Galactica) making her debut.
Most of the people who make up the survivors are hard to like, but somehow over the course of the movie, the better part of them manage to ingratiate themselves with the viewing audience, at least to some degree. Brolin does pretty well and Mitchell isn't bad. Lincoln probably wins the acting honors of the piece. It's a fairly harrowing scenario and generally well-handled. If it sounds at all familiar, the concept was ramped up and expanded into the Sylvester Stallone action film Daylight in 1996.

Rounding out the trio is 1975's The Last Survivors, a remake of 1959's Abandon Ship!, which had starred Tyrone Power. This one has Martin Sheen as second purser aboard a cruise ship who is forced into a leadership position when the vessel sinks and he is placed in charge of a terribly overcrowded lifeboat. With a storm threatening to send the lifeboat into the depths as well, he has to make the gut-wrenching decision as to who can stay aboard and who will have to depart and drown.

The copy of this particular TV-movie is so dark that I practically had to guess who I was listening to in some cases (and the cast list is pretty deep with now-known names in tiny parts.) Among the stars are Diane Baker, Tom Bosley, Bruce Davison, Anne Francis, Christopher George, Philip Baker Hall, Andrew Stevens and a very young Leif Garrett.

Based upon a true story (but updated from its original 1800s time frame), it really is a horrifying situation. To its credit, the telefilm doesn't shy away from the agonizing process placed upon Sheen (which also makes this a less traditionally “entertaining” sort of movie, unlike, say, cheese like Cave-In!, Fire!, Flood! or the like.) It winds up doing a pretty decent job of examining human nature, too, particularly in its court room finale.

By now starved for more 1970s Barbara Stanwyck, I next turned to The House That Would Not Die, a 1970 ghost story that has her moving into an inherited home that had belonged to a relative of hers. This time out, she has a niece in tow (played by The Exorcist's Kitty Winn) and becomes close to a male neighbor Richard Egan. Young Michael Anderson Jr provides the love interest for Winn.

The mid-18th century era house seems haunted. Not only do doors open and shut and can voices be heard (not to mention plenty of wind!), but sometimes the occupants begin to act outside their normal scope (such as when Egan plants a very forward and physical kiss on Babs in the kitchen!) It all starts to turn dangerous after a while, though I didn't wind up enjoying this half as much as A Taste of Evil. One definite plus are the two scenes involving psychic Doreen Lang (famous for playing the distraught diner patron in The Birds who verbally assaults Tippi Hedren and screams dementedly.) She really gives it her all in this rather tiresome tale.

Now this next one was intriguing... 1971's Revenge starred Miss Shelley Winters as an off-center San Francisco mother who captures businessman Bradford Dillman in an attempt to punish and perhaps even kill him because of his alleged affair with her daughter. The incident has led to the girl's demise and Winters is determined to seek, well, revenge!

In a parallel storyline, Dillman's wife Carol Rossen is desperate to figure out what's happened to him and eventually heeds Leslie Charleson's advice and turns to hotshot psychic Stuart Whitman. Thing is, he's not really very interested in helping her and she finds herself developing her own heretofore recessed psychic instincts as a result!

At only 74 minutes, this is tight. It could have used even more development between Winters and Dillman (and if you're a Shelley fan as I am, you begin to resent some of the time devoted to Rossen when the same could be going to Miss Method herself!) Still, it's a remarkably suspenseful little flick that leaves some of the questions unanswered, forcing the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions about some parts of the story.

Next was a candy box of a thriller called Death Cruise from 1974. This is like The Love Boat meets Ten Little Indians, with three couples winning all expense paid trips on a luxury liner only to find that they're being bumped off one at a time! Richard Long (of The Big Valley and Nanny and the Professor) and Polly Bergen play one couple. An older duo consists of Tom Bosley and Celeste Holm while a younger pairing is Edward Albert and Kate Jackson (who were a true-life couple at the time.)
Newly-hired ship's doctor Michael Constantine finds himself trying to unravel the mystery as stoic captain Cesare Danova looks on. The combination of personalities involved is rather fascinating to behold. Long, sadly, dropped dead of a heart attack not long after filming this. Bergen shows off a very fit and sexy body in a series of midriff-baring ensembles. Jackson (then known more for Dark Shadows and The Rookies) seems impossibly young. I saw through the major plot twist, but still enjoyed another one at the finale. Perfect unchallenging entertainment!

1973's Outrage was far more serious. Allegedly based on a true story, it has affluent Robert Culp and his wife Marlyn Mason facing the wrath of a quintet of restless, delinquent youths who take pleasure in vandalizing and terrorizing an upscale community. The ruffians (one of them played by Nicholas Hammond of The Sound of Music!) pour garbage into swimming pools, drag race down the streets, throw paint on homes and generally cause an unending nuisance. When Culp tries to stop them, he finds out how truly horrible they are capable of being.

What's worse is that none of the parents seem to care and the police are impotent regarding the situation. One of the few people to take a stand is Culp's feisty black maid Beah Richards, who hysterically takes after the gang with a garden hose (but it works!) This movie, which predates Death Wish by a year, is disturbing enough, but then it goes down that road I really loathe about many 1970s and '80s movies... it uses harm to an animal to tug at the heartstrings and this instance was tough to take.

By the time Culp opens up a can of whoop ass (actually on the boys' property rather than them, much to my regret), we're all pretty much on board with him! Urban (and suburban) revenge flicks saw a zenith in the '70s as folks began to tire of the increasing crime and disrespect shown by a new wave of thugs. This movie became somewhat oppressive to endure because of the helplessness (and, yes, was often unintentionally amusing, especially where Mason is concerned), but was worth seeing.

The latest telefilm that I've watched was one of the most enjoyable of all. From 1971, Death Takes a Holiday was an update of a 1934 Fredric March film (which had been a play before that.) In it, Yvette Mimieux is a gorgeous young lady who is saved from drowning by a mysterious stranger (Monte Markham) who has appeared on her family's private island getaway. Charmed by him, she invites him back to their compound where they are in the midst of an annual vacation, deliberately shut off from the outside world and its news.

The family, an obvious nod to The Kennedys, includes wheelchair-bound Melvyn Douglas, Myrna Loy, Kerwin Matthews, Priscilla Pointer, Colby Chester, Bert Convy and this young lady. Recognize her at all? Then thirty years old, it is one of less than ten on-screen acting performances that she gave before turning her attentions elsewhere.

Her parents were both actors (and her half-siblings gave the field a couple of unsuccessful stabs, too!) The daughter of Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan, this is Maureen Reagan!

I admit that I prefer elegant settings and clothes in a movie above the gritty, so I really enjoyed this beautiful (filmed on location), glossy TV-movie, loaded with familiar faces, some of them handsome. Regardless of that and its considerable tweaking from the original, though, this is still a very thought-provoking and philosophical little movie. It examines a subject that even now is disturbing to many people – death.

Another thing I loved about this (and many of the other films I've touched on today) is how it offers discarded cinema stars the chance to show the world that they still had plenty to share. Douglas and Loy both are positively wonderful here. Mimieux, still very much a viable big-screen leading lady then, was able to use TV-movies to escape the popcorn fare like Skyjacked (1972) and The Neptune Factor (1973) which paid the bills and show off some acting chops.

This might be one of Markham's best roles ever (The Golden Girls fans will recall him as Blanche's gay brother in two episodes.) Even Convy does well, though, like most of the rest of the family members, he is given very little to do. And what a thrill to see the dead-sexy Chester in a larger part then he often received (and in some nicely-snug trousers!)

These movies of the week may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for me they have been a wondrous trip back in time and a terrific opportunity to see actors and actresses whose clout at the box office might have dimmed, but who could still adroitly command a screen.

And, though I didn't point out every last one (there are at least sixteen just in this sampling), they also heavily feature those stars who worked in the 1970s disaster movies I'm always blathering on about. This makes revisiting these little flicks extra fun for me.

True, to a contemporary viewer unfamiliar with them, they may seem quaint, slow, simplistic and in some cases cheap (and due to the rarity and lack of availability, sometimes the picture quality is terrible), but to those who were youngsters when they first aired, they create an instant sense of nostalgia.  Many people who've seen a particular movie of the week can recall vivid images and, more importantly, deep feelings from the project decades later. I'm not done watching these movies and may return in the future with another batch.