Cooking with the Stars: Joan Crawford’s Meatloaf
When I first began my Cooking with the Stars column, I knew that there were two Old Hollywood icons who were destined to be a part of it. The first, Vincent Price, was featured in one of my first articles. The master of horror was nearly as acclaimed as a chef as he was as an actor, hosting his own cooking show in the UK called Cooking Price-Wise in 1971 and writing four bestselling cookbooks along with his wife, Mary.
Considering his success onscreen and in the kitchen, I honored Vincent by creating my Cooking with the Stars rating system in his likeness, but I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the other classic movie star who was just as skilled with a spatula as she was in front of a camera: Joan Crawford. From the 1930s on, Crawford’s dinner parties were considered the stuff of legend, and Crawford herself often prepared her own mouth-watering dishes for her guests. Food was such an important part of her life that she even included some of her recipes in her memoir and self-help book, My Way of Life, in 1971.
Unlike Vincent and many other stars who would follow, Joan never published an official cookbook, but fortunately, my dear friend and archivist Jenny Hammerton of Silver Screen Suppers compiled Joan’s recipes for the world to try and published Cooking with Joan Crawford in 2014. The recipe that I’ll be recreating today is from that compendium, and I strongly encourage everyone to give this book a read, as it contains a fascinating glimpse not only into the life of the legendary actress but also into vintage American cuisine.
All in all, I owe this month’s spotlight on Joan Crawford not only to Jenny but also to another close friend of mine, blogger Gabriela of Pale Writer. She’s one of Cooking with the Stars’ biggest fans and she simply adores Joan, so I knew that this was the time to properly honor not only such a prolific chef and movie star but also someone who supports this column so wholeheartedly! Thank you, Jenny and Gabriela, and if you’re a fan of Cooking with the Stars too, be sure to leave a comment with a star that you’d like to be honored next and you just might see them in a future edition!
Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23 in San Antonio, Texas, though her birth year continues to be a mystery — it ranges in biographies, various census lists and on her own tombstone from as early as 1904 to as late as 1908. Her parents, Thomas E. LeSueur and Anna Bell Johnson, separated only a few months prior to her birth, and Anna soon remarried Henry J. Cassin and relocated to Lawton, Oklahoma with Lucille and her siblings.
Lucille believed that her stepfather, who ran The Ramsey Opera House, was her biological father for most of her childhood. His association with stellar performers like ballerina Anna Pavlova motivated her interest in show business, though her first aspiration was to become a dancer. After a charge of embezzlement after which he was eventually acquitted, Crawford’s stepfather moved the family again to Kansas City, Missouri. While there, Lucille began attending St. Agnes Academy, but her lack of funds forced her to become a working student and spending so much time cooking and cleaning to earn her room and board meant that she was unable to find time for her own education.
In 1922, she attempted to enroll in Stephens College in the nearby town of Columbia but quickly realized that she was insufficiently prepared for university and left after mere months. Lucille began dancing as a chorus girl in various traveling productions and was soon spotted by producer Jacob J. Shubert, who cast her in a minor role in his 1924 Broadway show, Innocent Eyes. With the desire to add more work to her repertoire, Lucille contacted publicist Nils Granlund, who arranged for her screen test and sent it along to producer Harry Rapf. Still using her birth name, Lucille was cast in her first feature film, Lady of the Night (1925), as a body double for Norma Shearer. After watching the picture, MGM publicity head Pete Smith saw potential in the vivacious newcomer but loathed her name, so he opened a contest in Movie Weekly that encouraged fans to submit their own ideas for her new moniker. The winner was Joan Arden, but after the studio found another actress who shared the name, they settled on Joan Crawford (which Lucille detested, preferring to be called Billie when the cameras weren’t rolling).
Crawford took control over her own publicity far more than other aspiring stars of her day, making personal appearances in nightclubs and putting herself in the limelight by winning local dance contests. Little by little, Joan made a name for herself, garnering larger and larger parts and gaining even more exposure after being named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926 alongside other future icons like Janet Gaynor, Dolores del Río, and Fay Wray. She starred in the silent thriller The Unknown (1927) with Lon Chaney the following year, later claiming that she learned more about acting from Chaney than she did from anyone else she worked with in Hollywood.
Through the success of The Unknown (1927) and her other silent leading roles that followed in Across to Singapore (1928) and Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Joan established herself as one of the premier flappers of the late twenties. Her success continued through the introduction of sound features with Montana Moon (1930) and Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), her first of eight movies opposite Clark Gable.
By the time Joan Crawford was cast in Grand Hotel (1932), MGM’s first all-star production that also featured Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, she found herself ranking third in the first published list of Hollywood’s Top Money-Making Stars. The majority of the thirties proved to be a golden period for Crawford as she appeared in hit after hit, mostly with Clark Gable, in pictures like Chained (1934) and Love on the Run (1936), as well as in films that highlighted her own acting talents like The Gorgeous Hussy (1936). After the release of The Bride Wore Red (1937) co-starring then-husband Franchot Tone, Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and more were notoriously and arbitrarily labeled “Box Office Poison” by Harry Brandt in the Independent Film Journal, and it appeared that Joan’s days with MGM were numbered. She would achieve critical and commercial success in one more movie with the studio, the legendary comedy The Women (1939), before she and MGM mutually terminated her contract on June 29, 1943, after eighteen years.
All was not lost for Crawford, however. She would soon claim the ultimate revenge on the studio that lost interest in her by signing with their competitor, Warner Bros, and starring in her magnum opus and one of the true pillars of the noir genre — Mildred Pierce (1945). The role proved to be sufficient evidence of her dramatic prowess, earning Joan her only Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The films that followed at Warner Bros were stylistically similar, such as Humoresque (1946), Possessed (1947), and The Damned Don’t Cry! (1950), but they still offered her a chance to shine and were each box office successes.
Throughout the next decade and the latter part of her career, Joan’s pictures progressively blurred the line between drama and melodrama, even verging on camp at times. Still, she continued to work steadily in movies like Sudden Fear (1952) and Johnny Guitar (1954). In 1955 Joan married her final husband, President of Pepsi-Cola Alfred Steele, becoming deeply involved in the company. Pepsi-Cola attempted to distance themselves from Crawford following Steele’s death in 1959, but after revealing their actions to the press, Joan was elected to fill her husband’s position on the brand’s board of directors.
The thriller genre was especially kind to Joan Crawford in the sixties, and at the age of fifty-eight, she starred as Blanche Hudson in what would become one of her most recognized movies: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), opposite her most famed and notorious rival, Bette Davis. An attempt was made to re-team Crawford with Davis in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), but Robert Aldrich replaced Joan with Olivia de Havilland after her poor health delayed production, a decision which deeply upset the actress despite loathing her would-be costar. Instead, she spent most of the decade in horror films that boosted the careers of newcomers like Diane Baker in Strait-Jacket (1964) and Sarah Lane in I Saw What You Did (1965).
Joan’s final film was Trog (1970), and after winning the Cecil B. DeMille award the same year of that picture’s release, she retired to her New York apartment and passed away of a heart attack three years later on May 8, 1977 at the age of seventy-three. She’s interred at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY.
As I mentioned above, I found this recipe in Jenny Hammerton’s book, Cooking with Joan Crawford. There appear to be multiple versions of her meatloaf recipe, but today I’m testing the version that was originally published by Joan herself in her second book, My Way of Life, in 1971.
Joan Crawford’s Meatloaf
- 2 pounds minced sirloin
- 1 pound minced pork sausage
- 1 pound minced veal (It may be difficult to find pure minced veal in your local grocery store, but you’ll find that many meatball mixes contain minced veal, or you can ask your local butcher!)
- 3 unbeaten eggs
- 1 large Bermuda onion, finely chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, divided use
- 3 tablespoons Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, divided use
- 3 teaspoons A-1 Steak Sauce, divided use
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- Combine meats, unbeaten eggs, onion, peppers, one tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, one tablespoon Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, and one teaspoon A-1 Steak Sauce. Mix thoroughly.
- Shape mixture into oval loaf form in large shallow baking pan. Gently press hard-boiled eggs into a loaf.
- Sprinkle remaining Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Worcestershire and Steak Sauce on top of the loaf as a crust.
- Pour 1 cup of water into the base of the roasting pan.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F for 30 min, then turn down the oven to 300 degrees F and bake for another 30 min.
- Turn the oven down once more to 250 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, basting frequently with pan juice. Serves 10.
This recipe takes quite a bit more effort than something like Frank Sinatra‘s Fettucine a la Sinatra would, especially when it comes to purchasing and storing so many different kinds of meat. But was it worth it? My answer… kind of.
In all honesty, I’m not used to meatloaf, as I haven’t prepared it myself before and the only version I know is the one that my mother made as a child. I’m not even sure what my mother’s recipe is, but I know for certain that this isn’t it. I think the biggest drawback of this recipe is the use of the pork sausage, which gives a texture that’s tougher and a flavor that’s stranger than what I was used to in meatloaf. With the wide variety of meats, spices, and sauces that were used in creating this entrée, you would think that it would be full of delicious flavor, but another issue is that the ratio of spices and sauces to four whole pounds of meat was meager at best.
I ended up using quite a lot more than the amounts that I measured, and the meatloaf was still under seasoned, not quite forming the crust that was promised in the recipe. The inclusion of hard-boiled eggs was strange, of course, but nothing that I’m not already used to after making Old Hollywood recipes for as long as I have. Everyone I knew turned away from the meatloaf for this reason, and if you decide to use eggs in the recipe, slightly undercook them and let the oven do the rest. Sure, the finished product was slightly pink in the center, bland, and included overcooked eggs, but you know what redeemed this dish? Pouring a hefty amount of tomato sauce on top of the whole thing! As soon as I tried the meatloaf by itself, I immediately craved that acidity and flavor that I knew and loved.
If you’re not a stickler for following recipes to the letter, I would recommend doing the same to your meatloaf and tasting the difference! Overall, I would give Joan Crawford’s Meatloaf a solid three out of five Vincents. I wouldn’t make this again, but it was by no means inedible, and I’m still very encouraged to test more of Joan’s recipes in the future so I can find my favorites!
Cooking with the Stars Recipe Rating – 3 out of 5 Vincents:
–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.