Wednesday 7 December 2011

Hollywood Kitchen Magic

You’d expect a forgotten, low-budget movie studio like Regal Films to have problems putting together believable props and effects for its 1958 classics ‘Space Master X-7’ and ‘Wolf Boy’ (not starring Taylor Lautner). You wouldn’t expect the prop proprietors to have difficulty with a loaf of bread. But such is the nature of Hollywood.

You may recall in the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode “Pioneer Women” (1952), Lucy Ricardo baked a long, long trailer loaf of bread. The show actually used real rye bread from a commercial bakery because it was cheaper than building a phoney prop. But, apparently, Regal Films decided to splurge and go with the phoney kind. Because That’s Show Biz.

The United Press revealed all in an amusing column in papers of May 31-June 1, 1949.

Baking Old-fashioned Loaf of Bread Stupendous Task for Movie Magic-makers
HOLLYWOOD, May 31.—(U.P.)—Baking an old-fashioned loaf of bread almost proved Hollywood’s undoing this week.
The movie magic-makers can move whole mountains and whip up tropical hurricanes without jatting an eye. But it took ‘em six whole days, a batch of rubber cement, and a can of brown paint to knock out a hunk of the “staff of life.”
And the baker they hired to make sure it looked real stalked home in a grave state of shock, swearing he’d never work on another Hollywood epic as long as he lived, so help him.
The kitchen catastrophe took place on the set of Regal Films’ “Mrs. Mike.” The script writers, homespun lads all, decided it’d be a nice touch if Evelyn Keyes baked Dick Powell a loaf of bread.
So far, so good. The powers-that-be called in Joe Pheipos, who runs a bakery in San Fernando Valley, to function as technical adviser on the sifting, kneading, baking, etc.
But in the movies nothing is what it seems, and regular flour, which was good enough for Pheipps’ Greek ancestors for 5000 years, wasn’t white enough for he movie-makers. Joe protested, but they added a little bicarbonate of soda to “dress it up.”
When it came time to knead the dough they decided to sling in a generous supply of slow-flowing rubber cement to give it a “cinematic” touch. By now, Joe is goggle-eyed.
Next, it turned out the backwoods oven, fired by pine logs, wasn’t hot enough. So prop man Johnny Orlando built a modern gas range inside, and pretty soon the aroma of baking bicarbonate of soda, flour, water, and rubber cement began to waft through the studio.
There was even a thin ribbon of smoke trickling out through the oven. It looked like the bread was baking. Actually, it was coming from a burning cigarette.
“You drive-a me craze,” Joe stormed. “What a helluva way to make da movies. No wonda you guys got ulcers!”
He stuck around just long enough to eye the finished product—And that's when he got the crowning insult. A painter rushed up to tint the loaf a crispy brown.
Joe threw up his hands.
“You tell me come over, be technical adviser,” he ranted. “You pay me lotta money. But who wants it with ulcers?
“You keepa your damned ulcers! And your movie bread! From now on I stick to my own recipes!”

‘Mrs. Mike’ (as opposed to the old Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse) was Regal’s second film. The company specialised in, well, it was the ‘50s after all, westerns, space/science fiction features and filmed a token musical epic—‘Rockabilly Baby’ (1957) featuring those noted rockabilly artists Irene Ryan (Granny on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’) and Ellen Corby (Grandma on ‘The Waltons’). One of the songs was written by Dick Kallman, who took acting lessons from Lucille Ball at her Desilu Workshop. Therefore, ‘Rockabilly Baby’ would have been one Regal Film where a loaf of bread wouldn’t have been a problem.

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