Jackie Cooper’s Halloween Party

While I am no expert chef, fabulous cook or food blogger, I enjoy finding recipes supposedly connected to classic film stars. I love magazines articles and ads touting Richard Dix’s favorite chili recipe or Cary Grant’s oyster stew. I even collect compilation books or pamphlets featuring top stars and their recipes.

Even the child stars were getting in the act with culinary activities.

In the October 1931 issue of Photoplay, 9-year-old Jackie Cooper shares his favorite recipes that he will be preparing for an upcoming Halloween party.

“There is going to be a Halloween party at Jackie Cooper’s house. There will probably be lots of stunts – weird, flapping ghosts and strange creepy noises everywhere, but when everyone is hungry, there will be plenty of goodies close by. That rascal Jackie will have more than a hand in the pranks played on his guests, but not many of them will guess that he had a hand in the cooking too!”

With the holiday tie in, I decided to try these recipes for the Halloween season.

The article shares recipes that Jackie jotted down for us readers. I gave them a try, and while I’m no expert baker, I think they all turned out fairly well. That said – I wasn’t familiar with some of the older cooking terms that differ from our contemporary stoves, ovens and cooking methods. For example, I had to research the temperature of a hot oven or moderate oven. Here are the outcomes of Jackie’s pumpkin pie, chocolate caramels and peanut cookies:

Pumpkin Pie:

Unfortunately the scanned article does cut off the right side – this wasn’t a scan error.

The outcome of the pie.

My review:
The end product of this pumpkin pie was really delicious, but the good outcome was a surprise. Everything was mixing fairly well, though getting a bit soupy. The last step of the recipe is to mix in melted butter. Since my butter was still warm, it reacted poorly when hitting the other, cooler ingredients. Instead of mixing smoothly, the butter congealed. When poured in the pie shell, the butter rose to the top. Because of the soupy nature of the mixture, the pie ended up baking for 2 hours.

If I made this again, I would mix the melted butter in earlier with the dry ingredients. The mixture also made more than the deep dish pie shell would hold, so I would also consider using mini pie tarts in order to use the whole mixture.

Otherwise, this pumpkin pie was one of the best I have eaten. I really liked the cinnamon that was included.

Substitutes: I used canned pumpkin and a frozen Pillsbury pie shell.

Chocolate Caramels:

My review: While none of the recipes were particularly difficult to make, the caramels may have been the easiest. Making this is similar to fudge – it is all on the stove, like any other candy making. Though I would describe the finished product more like hard candy (or Werther’s Originals) than caramel. Once the candy cooled and hardened, it was VERY hard.

I had to chisel these with a knife and a baking hammer to cut them into small squares. And boy were they hard to eat! Be careful if you have any fillings! However, after a day or two, they softened to a flakey consistency and melted in your mouth! I actually think this candy tasted better a day or two after making it.

In making these, the only difficulty was determining if the baking chocolate I bought was correct and enough. The packaging of Baker’s chocolate changed, making it a little confusing. Also, I chopped the chocolate with a knife, rather than grating.

Peanut Cookies

My review: I’m not a huge fan of nuts (pecans, almonds, etc) in my desserts, but these peanut cookies are very tasty! They were also the easiest to make. I wasn’t sure if the peanut-to-dough ratio was going to work out, but it mixed perfectly. These were tasty! Of course, if you have any tree nut allergies, do not attempt to make or eat these.

You can find the full recipe as it was printed in Photoplay here. I absolutely believe that Jackie Cooper made these, don’t you? Just kidding – but whether he did or not, it was a fun way to spend a weekend.

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Christmas review: The Gathering (1977)

The holidays are usually thought to be about family. But what if some families no longer get along.

The made-for-TV special “The Gathering,” which aired on Dec. 4, 1977, on ABC, takes a look at a man who wants to spend the holiday with his family, fully knowing they may not want to see him.

Ed Asner plays Adam Thornton, a man successful at business but not successful in his personal life. He and his wife are separated, and he hasn’t seen most of his children in several years — and they don’t want to see him either.

He also just found out that he’s dying and running out of time.

Maureen Stapleton plays Kate, his estranged wife, who sets aside her hurt feelings to arrange a homecoming so Adam can have one last Christmas with his family.

Since their parents separated, many of the children don’t want anything to do with their stalwart, business-focused father. They all live across the country and haven’t seen Adam in some time:

  • Tom (Lawrence Pressman) and his wife (Veronica Hamel) live a lavish metropolitan life in New York. Tom, who is hardheaded like his father, tries to be the opposite of him. For example, he insists on a white Christmas tree, because Adam always insisted on green.
  • Peggy (Gail Strickland) is a successful reporter in Washington, DC, whose work drives her life.
  • Julie (Rebecca Balding) is married to George (Bruce Davison), who has been unemployed for several months. Julie loves her parents, but George is bitter towards Adam. He feels that Adam will mock him for his failures and chide him for not joining the family business. Julie has the only two grandchildren, Tiffany and Joey (Maureen and Ronald Readinger).
  • Bud (Gregory Harrison) and Adam had a fight years ago, because Bud disapproved of the Vietnam War. Since then, Bud lives in Canada under various assumed names while he dodges the draft.

Many of the children aren’t interested in coming home for the holidays but also hope that their parents have reconciled. They change their plans and head to the Thornton family home to support their mother.

Maureen Stapleton and Ed Asner in “The Gathering”

Before renting “The Gathering” from DVD Netflix, I heard my parents talk about the film. They recalled watching it on TV when they were first married, and it was a Christmas tradition to watch it for the first few years of their marriage. Once they had children, they drifted away from the film, so it was special to get to watch this film with them. It was the first time either of my parents had revisited the movie in nearly 40 years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of “The Gathering.” Since I knew the premise was about a dying man wanting to spend one last Christmas with his family, I was worried it would be overly maudlin, or feature lots of shouting and fights (like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “All in the Family.”)

However,  was pleasantly surprised. The movie is certainly sad, but also rather heartwarming.

There are a few shouting matches, but nothing is overly dramatic. The story focuses more on realizing what’s important. Ed Asner’s character realizes he was a foolish stubborn bull. All of his children, who had also been so bitter and angry about their family for so many years, remembered how much they enjoy being together.

While you know Adam’s time is brief, you also know that everyone found piece and comfort. Only one child understands that he is losing a father, and it’s never spoken to the family.

Thankfully, the end of the story isn’t this abrupt, pie-in-the-sky ending. The cracks in the relationships are still there, but the holiday brought everyone closer and helped them relive old times. It shows that the holidays can be hard, but there is a way to make peace and enjoy your time together, especially when time is running out.

While the film has a somber tone, it also feels cozy and homey. As Adam and Kate set aside their differences and prepare the home for a holiday reunion, it reminded me of Christmases gone-by —maybe had by myself as a child or what my parents experienced growing up.

Adam rewires the electricity of an old dollhouse for a grandchild and repaints an old toy train. He hammers together a Christmas tree stand and puzzles over tree lights that won’t work. Kate goes through old ornaments, and the separated couple decorates the evergreen tree together.

Their cheerful and nostalgic Christmas preparation scenes also serve as a stark contrast to how their children live now. The scenes almost serve as a “now vs. then” way of storytelling: Adam and Kate preparing to relive their homespun holidays of the past, and their four children muddling through their chaotic and complicated adult lives.

To add to the homey setting, “The Gathering” was filmed in Chagrin Falls and Hudson, Ohio in February 1977. The film opens showing the town decorated for the holidays with colored lights, bright store windows and the streets and houses coated with snow.

Composer John Barry, known for his James Bond themes, scored “The Gathering” with both a lilting but somber sound. The score is filled with harpsicords, flutes, strings and piano.

Randal Kleiser, who also directed the made-for-TV film “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” (1976) and “Grease” (1978), directed the film. “The Gathering” was also one of the few live-action films produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, known for their cartoons like “Yogi Bear.”

Where some made-for-TV shows and films of this era sometimes try to sucker punch you with hard emotion, “The Gathering” is subtle. This is probably largely due to Asner and Stapleton in the lead roles, who are fantastic actors and make the setting and relationships feel believable.

Disclaimer: I subscribe to DVD Netflix and earn rewards from DVD Nation.

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Franksgiving: A tale of two Thanksgivings

The year 1939 is filled with notable dates in history.

World War II was declared in Europe on Sept. 3, 1939. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians recorded “Auld Lang Syne” for the first time on March 7, 1939. Lou Gehrig retired from the Yankees on June 21, 1939. Considered Hollywood’s greatest year, films like “Gone with the Wind” and “Wizard of Oz” were released.

And there were two Thanksgivings that November.

On Aug. 15, 1939, newspapers announced that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was going to move Thanksgiving up a week to the third week of November, rather than the fourth. In 1939, that made Thanksgiving Day Nov. 23 rather than Nov. 30.

The move was to help boost holiday sales after the president received complaints that the last Thursday in November was too late for Thanksgiving. The date was too close to Christmas and cut down on Christmas shopping, according to an Aug. 15, 1939, Associated Press (AP) article, “Thanksgiving Moved Up A Week.”

President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt at Thanksgiving dinner in 1939 in Warm Springs, GA.

The change met some praise but mostly criticism.

Not only did the change affect when families gathered for a large meal, it also threw a wrench into calendars like academic schedules and the football industry.

“The precedent-shattering change … promised to upset the nation’s multi-million dollar Turkey day football industry,” according to the AP article. “Some of the season’s biggest and oldest grid games are scheduled for Nov. 30, which the schedule makers thought would be Thanksgiving Day. Moving the games back to Dec. 2 or up to Nov. 23 will be impossible in some cases.”

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The Christmas Tree (1969)

I’m on a constant quest for new-to-me Christmas movies. I search for them like I have a job in it with benefits.

And that’s how I found Terence Young’s “A Christmas Tree” (1969), also titled “L’arbre de Noël” and “When Wolves Cry.”

Starring William Holden, Virna Lisi, Bourvil and Brook Fuller, Laurent (Holen) is a widower who goes on summer vacation with his son Pascal (Fuller). Pascal wants to do something new and go camping on a remote island in Corsica.

While camping and swimming, Laurent and Pascal witness a plane carrying crash into the ocean and explode, and Laurent learns that the plane was carrying a nuclear device.

Pascal starts to have strange symptoms, like blue spots appearing and disappearing on his skin. He’s diagnosed as having an incurable disease due to nuclear exposure and is only giving a few months to live.

Not telling his son his diagnosis, Laurent pulls Pascal out of school, and they leave Paris and head to a chateau in the countryside of France. Laurent and the groundskeeper Verdun (Bourvil) let Pascal have whatever he wants — including a tractor to ride around the property and stealing wolves from the zoo.

The wolves are vicious creatures, but Pascal tames them with his gentle nature.

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Musical Monday: Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)– Musical #597

Studio:
NBC

Director:
Abe Levitow

Starring:
Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam, Jack Cassidy, Royal Dano, Paul Frees, Joan Gardner, Les Tremayne, John Hart, Jane Kean, Marie Matthews, Laura Olsher

Plot:
Mr. Magoo (Backus) is on Broadway playing Ebenezer Scrooge in a stage version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge is visited three ghosts and take him on a journey of self-exploration of his past, present and future.

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Watching 1939: Miracle on Main Street (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Miracle on Main Street (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 19, 1939

Cast:  Margo, Walter Abel, Jane Darwell, Lyle Talbot, William Collier Sr., Veda Ann Borg, Wynne Gibson, Jean Brooks (billed as Jeanne Kelly), Pat Flaherty, George Humbert

Studio:  Columbia Pictures Corporation

Director:  Steve Sekely

Plot:
On Christmas Eve in the Spanish quarter of Los Angeles, Maria (Margo) is performing as a hoochie coochie in her husband Dick’s (Talbot) show. When one of the attendees is a police officer, the couple run from the police, but Dick says they should separate so they aren’t caught. Maria hides in a church where she finds an abandoned baby. While her husband remains absent for a year, Maria’s life is changed for the better by the baby and a new man she meets, Jim (Abel).

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Musical Monday: Shirley Temple’s Storybook “Babes in Toyland” (1960)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Shirley Temple’s Storybook” presents “Babes in Toyland” (1960) – Musical No. 596

Shirley Temple Black introducing the Dec. 25, 1960 episode of “Shirley Temple’s Storybook” with her children Charles Jr, Lori and Linda Susan
(Screen Cap by Jessica P.)

Studio:
NBC Studios

Director:
Bob Henry

Starring:
Shirley Temple, Jonathan Winters, Angela Cartwright, Jerry Colonna, Carl Ballantine, Joe Besser, Charles Black Jr., Lori Black, Bob Jellison, Ray Kellogg, Michel Petit, Hanley Stafford

Plot:
Alan (Petit) and Jane (Cartwright) live with their cantankerous and stingy Barnaby (Winters). The children’s parents left them a great deal of money for when they grow up, so Barnaby hires three cutthroats (Colonna, Ballantine, Besser) to kill the children so he can get all the money. The children escape being drowned and journey through a gypsy camp, Spider Forest, Meantown and finally to Toyland.

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“Holiday Affair” (1949) and interview with Gordon Gebert

After Robert Mitchum was released from jail for marijuana possession, his studio was looking to clean up his image. The answer was a romantic holiday comedy, “Holiday Affair” (1949).

“At this time Robert Mitchum was operating under the cloud. The head of the studio was eager to clean up his image with this film,” said former child actor Gordon Gebert at a recent screening of the film in Yadkinville, NC.

The film “Holiday Affair” (1949) revolves around war widow Connie, played by Janet Leigh, who lives with her son Timmy, played by Gebert. Connie has dated her boyfriend Carl, played by Wendell Corey, for two years. Carl is secure, reliable and has a steady job, but while Connie likes him, she ducks the discussion of marriage.

Then Connie meets a stranger, Steve, played by Robert Mitchum, who is a store clerk she gets fired. While they never plan on it, the two continuously run into each other, making it hard to forget the other.

Outside of the romantic triangle, the film also focuses on what post-war widows most likely faced: How do you move on from your husband who was killed in war?

Connie hasn’t and tries to honor her husband’s memory every day. She lives a quiet life with her son who she calls the man of the house. Connie tells him frequently that he looks like his father and tries to part his hair in the same way that her husband wore his. She hasn’t allowed herself to fall in love again, because she doesn’t want to be unfaithful to the memory of her first marriage.

Robert Mitchum’s character forces Janet Leigh to face a truth she has been hiding from. Leigh’s character is flustered both by her feelings and by the harsh reality quoted to her by Mitchum.

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Review: Horror stars keep us in “Suspense”

Complete with creepy organ music straight from a radio serial, “Suspense” was a live television program that aired from 1949 to 1954. The show followed a radio program of the same name, which is obvious from the narration and music.

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For better or worse: Long Hollywood marriages

Please see Part 1 of this series, which features multiple acting couples. 

The joke in pop culture is that all marriages in Hollywood are brief and frequent.

For Valentine’s Day in 2013, I created a list of 56 actors and actresses who had long, successful marriages. The list was overwhelming, and I promised a follow-up post including more long marriages.

Well five years later, I have a follow-up. This time I created a list that included nearly 60 actors. It was so long that I am only sharing 30 couples and will share more next year.

You can read the first 2013 post “In sickness and in health: Successful Hollywood marriages” here, which includes actors like Eva Marie Saint, Shirley Temple, James Stewart, Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward, and Joel McCrea/Francis Dee. 

My definition of a successful Hollywood marriage is longer than 20 years and no divorce:

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (Married 1948 until his death in 2005) Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee met in 1945 when they both starred in the play “Jeb.” Throughout their marriage, the two performed together in 11 plays and five films. Outside of their art, they were activists together. Dee and Davis celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 by releasing the book “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together,” where they were discussed their support of open marriages and that “lies, not infidelity” ruin a marriage. The two had three children: Guy Davis, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad.

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