Cooking with the Stars: Loretta Young’s Chicken Curry
It’s a new year, which means it’s time for more stars and more delectable recipes! I feel like Loretta Young has been on my ever-growing list of stars that I’ve wanted to cover for ages, but this month seemed like the perfect time for many reasons. Like many of you, I’m sure, I recently dusted off my copy of The Bishop’s Wife (1947) over the holidays, which has made me realize how underappreciated and seldom discussed Loretta is nowadays in comparison to other actresses of her time. Even though she was one of my favorite actor Tyrone Power‘s most frequent leading ladies, I’m sorry to admit that even I don’t know much about her. I figured the arrival of the new year would be the perfect time to learn new facts about stars and try new types of cuisine. Besides, January 6th marks Loretta’s 107th birthday, and on February 10th, many of her belongings will be auctioned off in partnership with Julien’s Auctions. It seems like 2020 will be Young’s year at last, and I can’t wait to dive more into her career and her curry recipe!
Loretta was born under the name of Gretchen Young on January 6, 1913, in Salt Lake City, Utah to Gladys and John Earle Young. Her parents separated when she was only two, and by age three Gretchen’s mother relocated along with Gretchen and her two older sisters, Polly Ann and Elizabeth Jane to Hollywood. Due to Mrs. Young’s connection to her brother-in-law, an assistant director during the early days of cinema, Gladys’ three daughters all began careers as child actresses, with Gretchen receiving her first role at the tender age of four in The Promise Ring (1917). Her performance, though uncredited, caught the eye of silent star Mae Murray, who was so taken with little Gretchen that she offered to adopt her.
Gretchen ended up living with the Murrays for a year and a half, after which she moved back in with her mother, who by this time ran a boarding house with the help of her daughters. After appearing uncredited in The Sheik (1921), Gretchen took a break from acting so she could finish school, though it wasn’t long until she found herself drawn to the screen once more. Her role in Naughty but Nice (1927) attracted the attention of another famous face: John McCormick, husband, and manager of legendary star Colleen Moore, who saw potential in the newcomer and decided to sign her to a contract. The name Loretta was given to the actress by Moore, who later claimed that it was the name of her favorite doll.
Loretta entered the world of films with a bang, going from near obscurity to starring opposite Lon Chaney in Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) within just one year. She continued to work steadily and build her star status from the end of the silent era, making a smooth transition to early talkies. She averaged anywhere from six to nine films during any given year, and by 1930 she was so popular with audiences that her elopement at age seventeen to Grant Withers, Young’s costar in The Second Floor Mystery (1930), made headlines. Their marriage was annulled the following year, which ironically coincided with the release of their second onscreen pairing, Too Young to Marry (1931). The end of her marriage didn’t stop Loretta’s ascent into the stratosphere, however, as she continued to star in scores of pre-code classics, many of which still hold up today, such as Platinum Blonde (1931), Employee’s Entrance (1933), and Heroes for Sale (1933).
By the mid-1930s, Loretta decided to leave her home studio, First National, for rival Twentieth Century Pictures, which was on the verge of merging with Fox to create 20th Century Fox. She had previously worked there on a loan-out basis, and the career move led to her transforming from a successful actress in the industry to become one of the most renowned leading ladies in Hollywood, but that wasn’t the only major change that was to come in her life at the time.
In January of 1935, Loretta journeyed to Mount Baker, Washington with the rest of the cast and crew of her newest feature, Call of the Wild (1935) co-starring MGM’s biggest leading man, Clark Gable. Despite his marriage to Maria Franklin and his multiple liaisons with Joan Crawford, Gable was drawn to Loretta, and while she was as flirtatious with him as she was with many of her other leading men, her strict Catholic upbringing made her careful not to take their relationship any further.
However, in a case of what’s now considered sexual assault perpetrated by Gable, Loretta became pregnant in the spring of the same year. In a very rare occurrence for the time, Loretta was adamant about keeping her child by any means necessary and decided to feign illness to the public and hideaway in Europe until she gave birth to daughter Judy on November 6, 1935. At first, Loretta placed Judy in the custody of her housekeeper, then in an orphanage until she was able to formally adopt the child. After a brief two months in recovery, Loretta returned to the screen in Ramona (1936), 20th Century Fox’s first three-strip Technicolor feature. The remainder of the 1930s was filled with picture after picture that each succeeded at the box office, and during this time she became most notable for her pairings opposite Tyrone Power in Café Metropole (1937), Second Honeymoon (1938), Suez (1938), and one of my absolute favorite films, Love is News (1937).
Loretta continued to work steadily throughout the 1940s, and though she was still highly successful as a star, only a few of her works in this decade have gone on to become well-known to modern audiences, including The Stranger (1946) opposite Orson Welles, the more recently beloved Christmas classic The Bishop’s Wife (1947) with Cary Grant and David Niven, and most importantly The Farmer’s Daughter (1947), which earned Young her first and only Academy Award for Best Actress. Her win came in the twilight of her career in motion pictures, as Loretta made only a handful of films during the late 1940s and early 1950s, but her next career move put her in front of a larger audience than ever before. Her television show began in 1953 as Letter to Loretta, an anthology series in which each episode was a dramatized response to one of her fan letters. This idea was scrapped after the show’s second season in favor of The Loretta Young Show.
Due to her overwork on the show during this time period, Loretta did not act in all of the show’s episodes, but each airing featured an introduction and conclusion featuring the actress in a stunning evening gown. The show ran until 1961, after which The New Loretta Young Show, a fictionalized sitcom starring Loretta and her six television children, attempted to take its place but quickly floundered in comparison to the original. Young spent the following decades focusing on charitable causes along with her friends and former costars, especially charities related to Catholicism. She passed away on August 12, 2000, of ovarian cancer at the age of eighty-seven and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Loretta Young’s Chicken Curry
- 1 medium onion
- 1 tablespoon green pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups stock
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup celery
- ½ cup diced raw potatoes
- ½ cup peas
- 2 cups diced cooked chicken
- 1 teaspoon curry powder, stirred in a teaspoonful of hot stock
- Brown the onion and pepper in butter.
- Add stock, salt, celery, and potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add peas, chicken and curry powder. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Serve with hot boiled rice and India chutney. Serves 6.
As I touched on before, Indian food is largely new to me. I’ve dined with people who are more well-versed in this type of cuisine, but this is one of the first times that I can recall ever cooking any kind of curry before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I prepared Loretta’s recipe exactly as stated, though the fact that the recipe includes chicken that’s already been cooked left some room for experimentation. I decided to cook two large chicken breasts in a buttered pan first, seasoning with salt, pepper, curry powder, and a touch of coriander and cloves. Sautéeing the onion and pepper in the butter and the fond left from the chicken added just the right amount of flavor to the end result, so I would highly recommend doing the same if you fancy remaking this dish. In retrospect, the one mistake I very likely made while recreating this recipe was using the wrong type of “green pepper”.
The phrase “green pepper” in vintage recipes has frustrated me for years now because it’s so vague and I nearly always buy the wrong variety. I was confused about why so little pepper was required here until I realized that the recipe was likely calling for a spicy green pepper-like a serrano, jalapeno, or chili pepper, and of course, I bought and used green bell pepper. While it may have made a difference in heat, I was still highly satisfied with my version, more than I ever thought I would be! I was so proud that my first attempt at Indian food yielded some of the best Indian food I’ve tried. On paper, I wasn’t sure about the balance of ingredients, but in the pot, everything harmonized into one scrumptious and cohesive dish. The curry flavor is present, yet not overbearing, and the chicken and potatoes make this entrée very filling! If this is a dish that intrigues you as much as it did me, I urge you to dive right in and make this a weeknight staple in your kitchen. I’m so glad that our first recipe of the year has earned a perfect five out of five 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.