Reading to Reels: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

838488For Gene Wilder (RIP). Thank you so much Mr. Wilder for being a wonderful memory and an icon of my pop culture loving childhood. You will be missed.

Can you believe the much beloved movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is now over 40 years old? It seems just yesterday my sister and I were sitting in front of the television, transported to a world of candy, Oompa Loompas, bratty kids who get their just desserts and of course, the mysterious Willy Wonka. My sister and I loved this movie and we watched every broadcast.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is based on the classic Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Played by Gene Wilder in the film, Willy Wonka is the reclusive proprietor of a world-famous chocolate factory. In the beginning, Willy Wonka makes a huge announcement. He is granting five lucky people a chance to tour his factory, learn some of his tricks of the candy trade and win a lifetime of free chocolate. The catch? You must first purchase a chocolate Wonka bar, and if one of those bars has a golden ticket, you are a winner. The world loses its collective shit and the media goes wild for the story (and this is the pre-Internet days). Who will win the golden ticket?

One person who would love to win a golden ticket is Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). Charlie is good hearted but his family is broke. Even buying a simple candy bar could put a dent in the Bucket family budget. But somehow Charlie gets the money, and he purchases a Wonka bar. Charlie rips open the chocolate bar with anticipation, and low and behold, there lies a shining golden ticket!

However, before Charlie arrives at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, he is offered a proposal by the devious Arthur Slugworth, the owner of a rival chocolate factory. Slugworth wants Charlie to steal Wonka’s secret recipes, most ideally, Wonka’s recipe for his latest creation the everlasting gobstopper. Will Charlie succumb to Slugworth’s shady plea, or will he stand by his convictions and not steal the recipe?

Being a minor, Charlie has to bring along a chaperone to tour Wonka’s chocolate factory. Charlie brings along his beloved Grandpa Joe played by the irascible Jack Albertson (yep, the “man” from Chico and the Man). Along for the tour are four other rather vile children, and their equally vile parents. First there is the gluttonous Augustus Gloop who doesn’t say much but sure loves to stuff his face. Violet Beauregard talks a mile a minute and is always chomping on a piece of gum. Mike TeeVee is obsessed with television and pop culture (wait, this is a bad thing?). But most odious of all is Veruca Salt, a spoiled, entitled brat. Hmm, if Veruca existed today she’d probably have her own reality show on Bravo.

Willy Wonka meets the winners and their adult chaperones at his factory’s elaborate gates. After freaking everyone out by pretending to be feeble, falling, and then finishing his “fall” with the perfect somersault, Wonka invites Charlie and the gang into the factory. Before anyone can go further they must read and sign a very elaborate contract, which pretty much looks like the contract you had to sign when you got your credit card. Now it’s on to the tour of the magical Wonka factory.

The first room the winners visit is a totally edible garden with flowers, mushrooms and a chocolate river. The winners also meet the Oompa Loompas, Wonka’s vertically-challenged, green-haired, orange-skinned helpers. Veruca Salt tells her daddy, “I want an Oompa Loompa right now” because she’s a snotty bitch, and you pretty much realize she is going to work your last nerve. However, it is Augustus Gloop who is the first to be eliminated from the tour when he falls into the chocolate river and gets sucked up in a large tube.

Still, the tour goes on. The winners and their chaperones visit magical room after magical room. They even go on a crazy boat road right out of a bad acid trip (it was the 1970s). Throughout the tour, the kids misbehave and are punished. Even Charlie gets up to some mischief. He and Grandpa Joe sneak into a room to try some Fizzy Lifting drinks, and start floating up towards a menacing whirling fan on the ceiling. Will they be beheaded? Fortunately, Charlie and Grandpa Joe find out belching will help them get their feet back on the ground, and they join the others on the tour.

At the end of the tour, only Charlie is left. However, Wonka finds out about the Fizzy Lifting drink fiasco, and he is pissed! He denies Charlie the ultimate prize because he defied the contract’s rules. Charlie turns to leave dejected, but not before he hands Wonka the Ultimate Gopstopper he swiped to give to Slugworth.

But all is not lost! Wonka turns to Charlie and tells him, “You won!” It turns out Slugworth is not rival and a spy; he’s actually one of Wonka’s employees and his name is Wilkinson. The Everlasting Gobstopper predicament was actually a test, and Charlie passed!

As the movie ends, Wonka leads Charlie and Grandpa Joe to the “Wonka-vator.” The Wonka-vator is an elevator that goes up, down and in all other directions. The Wonka-vator blasts through the factory’s ceiling and flies over the city below. It is at this time Wonka tells Charlie that the factory is his once Wonka retires.

I loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a kid, but I saw it again as an adult and I loved it even more. There is something so subversive about it, but at the end the good kid wins out. Sure, Charlie isn’t perfect but his heart is in the right place. And the bad kids are punished which totally fills me with schadenfreude. Jeff Gordinier even covers this in his book X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep from Everything Sucking.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was later remade in 2005 and starred Johnny Depp; but to me, Gene Wilder owns the role of Willy Wonka.

And while doing research for this piece I found out some interesting trivia. Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) and Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregard) totally crushed on Peter Ostrum. I can’t say I blame them. He was adorable. And speaking of Peter Ostrum, Charlie Bucket was his first and last film role. He’s now a veterinarian.

What else? The flower-shaped cup Willy Wonka drinks from in an early scene was made from wax (ew). However, many of the props found on the set like the giant mushrooms were edible. Jean Stapleton was slated to play Mike TeeVee’s mom but had to back out due to another acting role. You probably know her best as Edith Bunker from the 1970s classic TV show All in the Family. And Julie Dawn Cole admits to hating chocolate!

I don’t have kids, but I do have a niece and nephew. And I’d love to share Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with them. And I bet there are a lot of Gen X parents and aunties and uncles who have done just that.

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Book Reviews: Audrey at Home-Memories of my Mother’s Kitchen by Luca Dotti (with Luigi Spinola)

audrey at home“Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.” ― Audrey Hepburn

When I learned of Audrey at Home-Memories of my Mother’s Kitchen by Luca Dotti last year, I just knew I had to put it on my reading list. It’s no secret I am a huge fan of the late Audrey Hepburn. I also find great joy puttering in my kitchen with a pot of chicken soup on the stove, a pot roast in my slow cooker and my much beloved sugar mint cookies baking in the oven.

Most people know Audrey mainly through her film work and her humanitarian work with UNICEF. She is also notable for her Givenchy-honed sense of style. But to Luca Dotti, Audrey’s son with Andreas Dotti, she was simply his mother who loved him and his elder brother Sean. Audrey also love gardening and puttering in her kitchen discovering new recipes and savoring the tried and true.

But Audrey at Home isn’t merely a collection of recipes; it is lovingly written book filled with family photos and Luca’s sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) memories of being Audrey’s son. I always thought I knew her, but Audrey at Home gave me insight into a delightfully singular, yet everyday woman more than I could ever know.

After creating a career, most notably in movies like Roman Holiday (for which she won an Oscar), Sabrina, Funny Face, A Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Wait Until Dark, Audrey decided to dial back and focus on being a wife, mother and homemaker. First in the country of Luca’s birth, Italy, and later in Switzerland, in a home called “La Paisable,” (The Peaceful Place). I can’t think of a better name for a home owned by Audrey Hepburn, especially considering how she barely survived the Holocaust as a child and spent her later years as a tireless advocate for children through her work with UNICEF. Audrey desired peace, not only for herself, but for others.

“There is a science of war, but how strange that there isn’t a science of peace. There are colleges of war; why can’t we study peace?” – Audrey Hepburn

Audrey also brought her desire for peace to her home, making it a welcoming place not just for her sons and the love her live, Robert Wolders. But also for her extended family and close friends (both famous and not famous). Food was just one way Audrey used to express a place of peace, love, comfort and joy.

Though Milwaukee is a great food town, and I have access to a wide-range of ingredients and food products in my east side neighborhood, I like Audrey’s idea of simplicity and less is more when it comes to cooking. Most of the ingredients in Audrey’s recipes can be found at your local grocery store, your garden and your favorite farmer’s market. While reading the book, I made note of Audrey’s recipes – flourless chocolate cake, mac and cheese, cutlets and various seasonal salads.

This past May 4th (Audrey’s birthday), I made the book’s first noted recipe called Hutspot, which sounds like a slightly elevated version of Pocket Stew. I learned how to make Pocket Stew when I was a freckle-faced Girl Scout and I still eat it to this day. Here is Audrey’s recipe for Hutspot:

HUTSPOT (Serves 2)

Ingredients: ½  pound  (225 grams) beef shoulder or chuck roast

Salt and Pepper

2 large eggs

2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

Whole grain mustard for serving

Add 1 cup of water (250 ml) to a braiser (I used my slow cooker). Add beef, lightly salted and peppered. Cook at a low temperature until tender.

Remove and set aside.

Increase the heat to medium and stir to thicken the gravy. Pour the gravy over the meat to keep warm.

In the meantime, place the potatoes in a pan and add water to cover the potatoes, then add the carrots and onion. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook the vegetables until tender, about 20 minutes. Mash the vegetables until tender, about 20 minutes. Mash the vegetables into a puree, and season with salt and pepper. On a platter, place the sliced meat on top of the puree and serve accompanied by mustard.

I have to say the result was very delicious, and quite comforting on a cold, windy day. I’m sure I will make Hutspot again and again

While reading this book I couldn’t help but think of my mom cooking for my sister and me. To this day, I still think she makes the best chicken soup ever. And though my mother was no Julia Child (too short) and no Martha Stewart (she’s never been to prison – well, not as far as I know), she made sure her kids got a decent meal while growing up. Though my sugar mint cookies should be declared a national treasure, I was inspired to make a favorite since childhood that my mother taught me- the classic chocolate chip cookie. Delicious!!

Interspersed throughout Audrey Hepburn are handwritten notes on gardening, food and actual photos of index cards with various recipes written on them. Remember when we used to have little boxes filled with index cards of recipes?

Audrey Hepburn at Home is a nearly-perfect book, one that not only celebrates Audrey Hepburn as the multi-faceted woman she was, but also one that celebrates the two greatest gifts we can give to our families, our friends, our communities and our world as a whole- our love and our labor.

On this mother’s day I would like to dedicate this post to my mother and my sister, Julie. I would also like to dedicate this post to two non-moms, my foodie friends Nora and Elaine who inspired me to trust myself more in the kitchen.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” ― Audrey Hepburn

 

 

Retro Review: The Poetry of Dorothy Parker

Dorothy-Parker_1504166c 

“I was just a little Jewish girl trying to be cute.”—Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was probably one of the sharpest, wittiest women of the 20th century. She wrote everything from screenplays to short stories to literary criticism for Enough Ropepublications like Vanity Fair, Vogue, Life, and the New Yorker.  But as April draws to a close, I want to concentrate on Dorothy Parker’s poetry.

Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair in 1914. Even after she honed her writing talents on other projects, she never stopped writing poems. She published several tomes of her poetry, and I was fortunate to find a couple books featuring her poems at my local library, Enough Rope and The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker. Even though most of these poems were written nearly a century ago, they still hold up today and are relatable to modern audiences. Collected poetry DP

Like so many ladies, Parker was often bewildered when it came to romance and relationships. And she summed up this bewilderment in this brief and perfectly stated poem:

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying—
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Only a few short lines, but says so much. Unfortunate Coincidence is both timeless and timely. In fact, while reading Parker’s poetry I couldn’t help think how well she would have done on social media, using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to post her poems to a global audience.

Among her other love-based poetry, I also love the following pieces of perfectly posed pithy poems:

General Review of the Sex Situation

Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman’s moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?

Pictures in the Smoke
Oh, gallant was the first love, and glittering and fine;
The second love was water, in a clear white cup;
The love was his, and the fourth was mine;
And after that, I always get them mixed up.

Men

They hail you as their morning star
Because you are the way you are.
If you return the sentiment,
They’ll try to make your different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They’ll want to change you all around.
Your moods and woods they put a cure on;
They’d make of you another person.
They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They’d alter all that they admired.
They make me sick, they make me tired.

And the following poem reminds me of past suitors who always treated my writing as a “cute little hobby.” Somehow my feelings are more artfully stated in Parker’s poem Fighting Words than a profane response like, “Fuck you.”

Fighting Words
Say my love is easy had
Say I’m bitten raw with pride,
Say I’m too often sad—
Still behold me at your side.

Say I’m neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue,—
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!

And then there are a lady’s platonic relationships, and she had a poem aimed at “frenemies” long before Carrie Bradshaw and Co. came up with the concept.

The Leal

The friends I made have slipped and strayed,
And who’s the one that cares?
A trifling lot and best forgot—
And that’s my tale and, and theirs.

Then if my friendships break and bend,
There’s little need to cry T
he while I know that every foe
Is faithful till I die.

And what about America’s preoccupation with self-reflection and self-help? Why, yes. Parker wrote a poem those things, too.

Inventory
Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and foe.

Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

But eventually the concepts of love, friendship, the power of written verses, and a maddening fixation with oneself grows tiresome. What else is there? Why, fashion, of course! And Parker knew the charms fabulous frock.

The Satin Dress

Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where’s the man could ease a heart
Like a satin gown?

See the stitches curve and crawl
Round the cunning seams—
Patterns thin and sweet and small
As a lady’s dreams.

Wantons go in bright brocade;
Brides in organdie;
Gingham’s for the plighted maid;
Satin’s for the free!

Wool’s to line a miser’s chest;
Crepe’s to calm the old;
Velvet hides an empty breast
Satin’s for the bold!

Lawn is for a bishop’s yoke;
Linen’s for a nun;
Satin is for wiser folk—
Would the dress were done!

Satin glows in candlelight—
Satin’s for the proud!
They will say who watch at night,
“What a fine shroud!”

Sadly, Parker’s finely-honed wit and vast writing talent thinly veiled her struggles with depression, drinking, divorce, not to mention career woes and a lack of self-esteem, which made her very dismissive of both her talents and accomplishments. Yet, somehow she was able to find a humor in the gallows, and commented suicidal thoughts in one of her most notable poems, Résumé.

Résumé
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker died nearly forgotten in 1967, but became legendary and an icon to anybody who appreciates salty good humor with mad writing skills. She is a true icon and inspiration to ladies of letters, including this one. Of Parker’s work The Nation described it as “caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity”. Dorothy Parker, you were so much more than a “little Jewish girl trying to be cute.” You are a heroine to every girl and women who bravely picked up pen and paper and put thoughts into words.


Tribute-Harper Lee

Harper Lee quote posterAs many of you know, we lost a true literary great yesterday—Harper Lee—author of the iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird died at the age of 89.

Born Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, Miss Lee later worked as an airlines reservations clerk while pursuing a writing career. It was at this time she wrote and later published To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel about a small-town lawyer named Atticus Finch defending an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman. To Kill a Mockingbird was not told from Atticus’s point of view, but of his tomboyish daughter, Jean Louise, better known as Scout.

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year and was both a critical rave and successful bestseller. In 1962 the film adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout was released. Like the novel, the film was both a critical and commercial triumph.

Harper Lee TKAM

However, Miss Lee did not take to celebrity. She was a quiet and very private person who found fame quite off-putting giving her a bit of a Greta Garbo mystique, which is quite refreshing in our age of table-turning “real” housewives and people with the last name Kardashian.

Lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird pined for Miss Lee to write another novel and for decades this wish seemed like a pipe dream. But in February of last year, the world was shocked when the publishing giant Harper Collins imprint Harper’s announced they were going to publish a manuscript of Miss Lee’s that she had written in 1957. This novel, called Go Set a Watchman also became a best-seller.

But it is To Kill a Mockingbird that will truly be Harper Lee’s legacy. It has been translated into countless languages, has been called the best novel of the 20th Century by Library Journal, read and discussed in most high schools and has countless fans, both famous and unknown. To Kill a Mockingbird has also inspired many related books, stage plays and documentaries.

It’s no secret to my readers To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee are close to my heart, inspiring both a Retro Reads and a Reading to Reels post. There are no words I can find at this time to express my love and appreciation for Miss Lee’s talent and her iconic novel other than a mawkish paraphrased quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, “Stand up, people. Miss Harper Lee has passed.”

Book Marks

bookmarks obamaLovely tributes to Alison Parker, reporter and Adam Ward, photojournalist.

Author Joseph Stiglitz discusses growing income inequality issues.

Yes, please do this. Oh, wait. Don’t.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Wrote a Book. Hmm, Morrissey is writing a novel.

Just what is JK Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter fan theory? She’s happy to tell us!

Male writers hide their gender to gain female readers.

Beyond the standard book shelf. Really cool and unique ways to store your books!

Toronto Libraries lets patrons check-out humans as well as books. I love this idea, so clever!

Words of wisdom from Judy Blume.

Librarians on bicycles are bringing books to under-served children.

Book Review: In the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heeley

In the company of legendsStarting in 1980 and lasting until 2005, documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley focused their creative eye on the best and brightest of Hollywood’s golden age. Beginning with Fred Astaire and including documentaries on other film greats like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda, Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries (many shown on PBS) won countless awards. They also allowed viewers to see these movie stars as they really were beyond the calculated machinations of the old studio system.

Now Kramer and Heeley are sharing their notable filmmaking careers, the stars they covered and all the hard work that went into making these documentaries in their hugely entertaining and fascinating book In the Company of Legends.

Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries showcased these stars film legacies, often bringing on other stars to talk about their peers’ notable work. But these documentaries recognized so much more than a movie star’s career. They also covered the anecdotes, opinions, ideas, friendships and odd quirks that made these stars so much more interesting than the glossy veneer of the studios’ publicity machine. And finding the innate humanity behind these movie stars is probably why Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries were so successful and why In the Company of Legends is such a great read.

While reading In the Company of Legends I couldn’t help be reminded why I love classic movies and the stars that made these movies so legendary. What a body of work these amazing talents left the world.

I also really appreciated the sensitive and respectful nature of Kramer and Heeley’s treatment towards their subjects. They are reverent without debasing themselves and their subjects. They never slip into embarrassing and unprofessional squealing fandom. Kramer and Heeley are both fair and firm (not exactly easy considering some of their subjects could be a bit challenging).

While it was fun to take a walk down a celluloid memory lane, I also loved the various personal stories the authors share about the stars. These stories showed more personable and relatable aspects of the stars. Sure, Katharine Hepburn could be a bit prickly, but when someone accidentally dropped some raspberry sauce on her couch, she just turned over the couch cushion-no muss, no fuss. Jimmy Stewart at the time was frail and a bit insecure, but once he put his toupee on top of his head, he regained some confidence and reminded everyone why he was a true star. The regal Audrey Hepburn made couturier Hubert de Givenchy a household name, but loved to kick back in simple sweaters and trousers (and being Audrey Hepburn, made them effortlessly stylishly). And my mom, a long time fan of the late Paul Newman, will be thrilled to know he was a funny, down-to-earth man, and fully devoted to his wife, Joanne Woodward.

I also learned about the lifelong friendships these stars had with each other. Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria were friends with President Reagan and the first lady, Nancy Reagan. Judy Garland was close to President Kennedy and would sometimes sing her signature song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to him. The oddest and most surprising friendship had to be the one Katharine Hepburn had with Michael Jackson. And she wasn’t exactly thrilled with his vulgar stage moves, and let him know it! Does that surprise you?

Through the In the Company of Legends I also learned about legendary movie mogul Lew Wasserman of MCA/Universal, the controversial theater troupe The Group Theatre, which was accused of being rife with Communists, and character actor John Garfield who you probably best know from the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

Inspired by Kramer and Heeley I will probably treat myself to a classic movie binge some upcoming week-end. And I’m thrilled my local library carries some of Kramer and Heely’s work. You know I’ll be checking them out soon.

As much as I enjoyed reading In the Company of Legends, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a loss. I know we will never go back to Hollywood’s golden age and the studio system, which is probably a topic for another book.  However, I do feel a sense of melancholy on how fame has been so cheapened in this day of insipid bloggers, reality show cretins and other assorted D-list celebrities. In the Company of Legends reminds the important of talent and hardwork that leads to lasting and deserving fame. One I hope our society can get back to. But nevertheless, thank Joan Kramer and David Heeley. In the Company of Legends is a book I will treasure and turn to again.

Book Marks ***UPDATED***

lets read book mark

 

***Great news. To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee to release second novel later this year!***

Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist and all-around bad ass, is writing a column about working women for Fortune magazine.

Here is Ms. Gay’s first column.

Colleen McCullough’s obit. Sure she was a best-selling author, but too bad she wasn’t a hottie.

Writers, maybe you should just give it up. Hmm, I can think of a few writers who should have taken this advice.

Is Hollywood opening its mind to novelists? Sure, looks that way.

Would you pay money to read the hateful, bigoted screeds of the Thinking Housewife? Nope, I didn’t think so. But apparently some people like hateful, bigoted screeds. FYI, if people don’t pay up the Thinking Housewife she’s going to pull the plug on her blog. I bathe in your tears, bitch, I bathe in your tears.