Friday, October 26, 2007

Vincent Price Cooks

In case you didn't know, yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of Vincent Price's death. I hope everyone took a little time out of their busy schedules to remember him. Since this post falls conveniently between his death day and Halloween, there is no other possible topic for discussion, as far as I am concerned.

As a poster child for classic American horror films, one might expect Vincent Price to have had more blood in his food than the other way around, but I assure you that is quite untrue. His father, Vincent Leonard Price, founded the National Candy Company, which did not, as I had previously thought, invent wax lips (that honor goes to the American Candy Company). I was crushed to learn that Mr. Price was not, in fact, a scion of the House of Wax Lips. I realize it's a horrible joke, but it's early and I'm just having my coffee.

Price was, however, the grandson of Dr. Vincent Clarence Price, creator of the first commercially manufactured baking powder in the United States, which must count for something.

Though most famous for his roles in horror films, Price was a well-known art collector and gourmet. A Yale graduate with a degree in Art History, he appeared on the $64,000 Question as an "expert" contestant in the same category (He won half that amount), and was an avid collector and promoter of art, founding the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College in 1958-- the first "teaching art collection" owned by a community college.

As a gourmet, Price made his rounds on the talk show circuit in the 1960's and 70's, once chatting up Johnny Carson while demonstrating how to poach a fish in a dishwasher. (Note: I gleaned that information from wikipedia, so I hope it's true. Please do not suggest I punch myself in the face again). If any one happens to own that clip, I'd give anything to see it. The man had an odd sense of humor.

On a slightly more serious food note, Price and his second wife Mary produced a small number of cookbooks, one of which, I have in my own collection.

I found Come into the Kitchen quite by accident as I spent a lazy afternoon browsing The Abandoned Planet Bookstore on Valencia Street with a friend. At the time, I had no idea Mr. Price was an avid cook. As a lover of kitsch cookbooks, I immediately bought it without much reading it, simply noting the rather odd style and choice of illustration, as seen below...

When I got it home, I found that this book-- which is as old as I am-- was filled with bits of odd information, like the facsimile of the "Public Dinner Given to the Honorable James K. Polk" at the St Louis Hotel dated March 22nd, 1849. Given the expanse of the eleven course dinner created in his honor, I am not at all surprised that, weakened by diarrhea and severe intestinal cramps, Polk succumbed to an outbreak of cholera a few weeks later. No. that is not mentioned in the book.

What is in the book, odd tidbits aside, is a collection of American recipes, collected at a time when American food was not fashionable among "foodies". Fish balls a la Mrs. Benjamin Harrison is a favorite and one I shall be making in honor of our next inauguration. Check it out, if you are so inclined. It's worth it.

That's it for this week. I leave you with a clip from the film Theater of Blood, which I think perfectly combines Price's status as a horror film icon, his love of food, and his famously dark sense of humor.

Warning: This clip, though amusing, is rather violent, but not in a blood-and-gut-spewing way. If you are the queasy sort, or can't stomach the thought of anyone hurting puppies, do not view.


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