Cooking with the Stars: Gloria Stuart’s Cream Vermont
Happy October to all of my Hollywood-obsessed readers out there! As we ease into fall and get ourselves into the Halloween spirit, it’s time to break out the chilling old scary movies and pay tribute to the screen icons who made them possible. I’ve made it a personal tradition to highlight a star known for horror films in this column each October. In the past two years that I’ve been sharing the history and recipe of stars, I’ve saluted Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. These two articles specifically mean a lot to me because my write-up of Vincent was my first original Cooking with the Stars post, and my Boris tribute was the first installment of Cooking with the Stars as a monthly series.
This year I wanted to continue my horror-themed streak, but so far, I’ve only honored men during this month! I knew that this had to change in 2019, but at first, I wasn’t sure who to write about. My first choice was Elsa Lanchester, but I was unable to find any recipes associated with the original Bride of Frankenstein. Julie Adams, the leading lady from The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), was my second choice, but I had to nix that idea for the same reason. However, it didn’t take much more time to figure out exactly who my first Cooking with the Stars scream queen would be: none other than Gloria Stuart!
Gloria Stuart was born under the name Gloria Stewart on July 4, 1910, on her family’s dining room table in Santa Monica, California. Her mother, Alice Deidrick, was a third-generation Californian, and her maternal great-grandmother settled in the area during the gold rush after leaving Missouri in a covered wagon. Gloria’s father, Frank Stewart, was an attorney who originally practiced law in San Francisco.
Frank, unfortunately, passed when Gloria was only nine years old after he sustained injuries from a passing car. Around the same time, Gloria was expelled from school for kicking her teacher in the leg. (“To be honest, she deserved it,” Gloria claimed later.) These two events put a strain on Stewart’s mother, who struggled to make ends meet for herself, her daughter, and Gloria’s two younger brothers, so she soon remarried a businessman named Fred Finch.
When it was time for Gloria to return to school, she adopted her stepfather’s last name, and since she was never given a middle name, she decided to give herself one: Frances, the feminine form of her father’s name in his honor. Gloria excelled in the arts during her high school years as she improved on her writing and acting skills, ultimately winning the lead role in her school’s production of The Swan. Her stormy relationship with her stepfather led to her enrolling in UC Berkeley as soon as she graduated high school in order to leave her home situation.
During her time at Berkeley, Gloria continued to hone her artistic talents, majoring in theater and philosophy. Her liberal surroundings allowed her to sympathize with the plight of blue-collar workers, and at one point she even attempted to join the Young Communists League but was rejected due to her young age. It was also during this time that Gloria began signing her name as “Stuart”. During her junior year, she met her first husband, Blair Gordon Newell, a sculptor and an idealist like herself. The two began living in Carmel-by-the-Sea and adopted a bohemian lifestyle.
After settling into their new home, Gloria took on a variety of jobs, including performing at their local theater and working as a florist, seamstress, and a waitress. It was during one of her theater performances that she was chosen to fill a role at The Playbox Theater in Pasadena, which was attended by talent scouts from Universal and Paramount. The studios were both desperate to sign the blonde ingenue, and ultimately there was such a stalemate between them that they ended up flipping a coin. Universal won the toss, and Stuart was immediately signed.
Her career instantly skyrocketed when she was chosen alongside stars like Ginger Rogers and Mary Carlisle to become a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1932. For her first significant film role, she was chosen by esteemed director James Whale to star in The Old Dark House (1932), a thrilling work of suspense that still holds up today that paired Stuart with honored professionals like Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, and Melvyn Douglas.
While she was on set for The Old Dark House (1932), Melvyn Douglas, who had become an outcast during production along with Gloria, approached her and asked her if she would be willing to help form an actor’s union with him. She was delighted to do so, and their concept and hard work eventually formed into The Screen Actor’s Guild the following year. At the same time, she was cast in film after film, such as Air Mail (1932) with Pat O’Brien, Sweepings (1933) with Lionel Barrymore, and Secret of the Blue Room (1933) with Paul Lukas.
It was due to her positive mentions in reviews for these pictures that she was chosen to collaborate with James Whale once again in one of her most well-known pictures, and the primary reason why I chose to spotlight her this month: The Invisible Man (1933), in which Stuart portrays mad scientist Claude Rains‘ love interest. Her husband grew tired of their life in Hollywood while Gloria was at the height of her career, and the two amicably split during the production of The Invisible Man (1933).
It was on the set of her film that followed, Roman Scandals (1933), that Stuart met her second husband, screenwriter Arthur Sheekman. The pair wed in 1934 and Gloria continued making movies at a rapid speed, even during her first pregnancy in 1935, when she most notably starred as Dick Powell‘s love interest in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). However, she received some of her first negative reviews due to her lack of singing and dancing in the film due to her pregnancy.
While Gloria still maintained an array of devoted fans, the negative reviews did not end there. After leaving Universal in favor of Twentieth Century Fox, she starred in a series of B pictures. Afterwards, she began receiving supporting roles in films that starred child actresses, such as Shirley Temple in Poor Little Rich Girl (1937), where she received the following review: “Listing Temple’s supporting players hastily then, before we forget them entirely, we might mention Miss Faye and Gloria Stuart as having been permitted a scene or two while Miss Temple was out freshening her costume.” She also co-starred opposite Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and opposite child actress Jane Withers in Keep Smiling (1938).
Stuart made a multitude of pictures during the late 1930s, but unfortunately, the quality of these films declined, and in some reviews, Gloria never even received a mention for her work. It was after this sad streak that Fox decided not to renew her contract with the studio, though it was reported in the news at the time that Stuart left on her own free will.
After leaving Hollywood in 1939, Gloria traveled the world with her husband, wandering from Asia to Egypt, Italy, and eventually to France, right as Great Britain declared war on Germany. The coupled begged the American consul to remain in the country and join the war effort, with Stuart willing to work as a hospital volunteer and her husband wishing to be a war correspondent, but the offer was rejected and they were forced to travel back to New York.
Upon her return to America, Stuart had hopes of making it on Broadway, but it wasn’t long before she realized that her dream would not come to pass. As she later stated, “I wanted to be a theater actress, but I thought it would be easier to get to New York and the theater if I had a name than if I just walked the streets as a little girl from California. When I went back to New York with somewhat of a name, they didn’t want movie actresses.” Gloria was accepted in a variety of summer stock productions on the east coast, however, and also took singing and dancing lessons in order to tour the country as part of the USO.
Stuart took on a few more parts in minor films before effectively retiring from the screen in 1946. Not long after returning to New York, Gloria discovered the studio of a noted découpage artist and fell in love with the artistic medium, deciding to fill her time by opening a découpage shop on Los Angeles’s decorators’ row named Décor, Ltd. Most of her work comprised of various decorated furniture pieces, which became a hit in Hollywood circles — Judy Garland was a noted customer and fan of her work. It wasn’t long before her pieces were being sold across the country. Stuart was eventually forced to close her shop due to the expense and time needed in order to create découpage pieces, but she continued to create art using many mediums in the following decades, and her work is still owned and displayed around the world in locations like The Los Angeles Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Her most notable return to the screen following her retirement was as the older Rose in Titanic (1997), for which she was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and finally won a Screen Actors Guild Award, which I find ironic considering her role in the Guild’s establishment. On July 4th, 2010, the Academy threw a 100th birthday tribute and party for Stuart, the only time that the Academy had ever done so for a living person. She passed away nearly three months later of respiratory failure on September 26, 2010.
Gloria Stuart’s Cream Vermont
Before I go into this recipe, I also want to mention that Stuart was a skilled cook, hosting frequent dinner parties in Hollywood. She was close friends with food writer M.F.K. Fisher, and her daughter Sylvia Thompson later wrote of Stuart’s cooking style, “My mother has never made ‘Just Roast Beef’ in her life. It wouldn’t interest her. Her style is based on the intricacies of composition. It borders on the baroque. Everyone adores it.” After tasting one of Gloria’s dishes, writer Samuel Hoffenstein composed a poem which he said was inspired by “hearing the wings of all the poets brush through Gloria’s kitchen.”
While Gloria herself never authored a cookbook, her daughter Sylvia, with the help of Fisher, penned her own cookbook and included some of Gloria’s recipes. Here’s how to make her Cream Vermont, which was featured in a lovely cookbook from the 1930s promoting the Norge freezer!
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 8 egg yolks
- 2 cups whipped cream
- ½ chopped nutmeats (I used walnuts)
- Heat syrup in a double boiler until a slight coating forms on the surface.
- Beat yolks with rotary beater until thick and lemon-colored.
- Pour one-third of syrup over yolks, stirring constantly.
- Pour this mixture slowly over remaining syrup in the double boiler, stirring constantly until mixture coats a metal spoon.
- Place in freezer tray until frozen to a mush.
- Fold in whipped cream and nuts and return to freezer tray.
- Freeze without stirring. Serves 10.
One of the reasons why I chose to make this recipe, aside from my desire to honor Gloria Stuart and her work, was because I had never even heard of Cream Vermont before. Apparently, neither had the internet. Making something that had been seldom attempted before, if at all over the past few decades, was highly intriguing to me, and I felt like a Claude Rains-esque mad scientist myself as I prepared this dish in the kitchen.
For a dessert that contained only four ingredients, the actual preparation of this Cream Vermont was still complex and required a lot of technique and fast work. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I don’t usually struggle with the average recipe anymore and I can usually work with whatever’s thrown my way, but this time I couldn’t get the mixture to fully combine until it was frozen into a mush. Even the finished result still had a bit of a swirl to it as opposed to being one solid color.
My theory going into this recipe was that it would have some sort of an ice cream taste and consistency, and I wasn’t too far off. The flavor was really good, and while it felt like ice cream, it tasted purely like maple syrup and whipped cream. As you might imagine, the egg yolk and walnut were completely masked, and the finished product was WAY TOO SWEET. Just ONE spoonful gave me an instant headache and I worried that I’d go into a diabetic coma.
When my boyfriend heard my reaction, it made him instantly want to try it because he claimed that he could tolerate any sweetness level. He ended up eating about a quarter of a bowl and also woke up with a horrible headache the next morning. I can’t give this too low of a rating because the flavors were still nice and I didn’t hate this dish, but to me it’s essentially inedible, so I’ll go ahead and give it three out of five Vincents despite the fact that this is not for the faint of heart and I wouldn’t really recommend it.
–Samantha Ellis for Classic Movie Hub
Samantha resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the author of Musings of a Classic Film Addict, a blog that sheds light on Hollywood films and filmmakers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her favorite column that she pens for her blog is Cooking with the Stars, for which she tests and reviews the personal recipes of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Samantha also lends her voice and classic film knowledge as cohost of the Ticklish Business podcast alongside Kristen Lopez and Drea Clark, and proudly serves as President of TCM Backlot’s Philadelphia Chapter. You can catch up with her work by following her @classicfilmgeek on Twitter.