Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What Would Boris Karloff Read?

Boris Karloff poses with a fake book. Or at least I thought so. Read on. (Photo via A Certain Cinema)

At the used bookstore where I’ve worked for close to sixteen years, I like to happen upon books I call “prop books.” What I’m referring to are books with very stark and simple covers and nothing but the title on the front -- books that a character might read in a play or on a sitcom, when the director wants the subject to be extremely obvious. The title could be anything from Communism to Lose Weight in One Day, but they all have that same jokey stage look to them. They’re real books, of course, but they look fake.

That’s why I was so pleased when I came upon this fun photograph of Boris Karloff in an obviously concocted pose, reading what I automatically pegged as a prop book, only in this case, a prop book in the real sense of the name. The photo was taken on the set of Tower of London (1939), in which Karloff played Mort, the club-footed assistant of Richard III.

The book Karloff is reading is What Actors Eat When They Eat! and I guessed it to be a commentary on the grueling grind of working on a movie set. I took it as sarcasm, thinking it should almost have an ellipsis for better effect (What Actors Eat … When They Eat. Which Is Pretty Much Never.)

I was wrong. (Mark this on your calendar; it doesn’t happen often.) What Actors Eat When They Eat! is not only as real as Justin Bieber duct tape, it’s apparently highly sought after by book collectors. According to an L.A. Times blogger, it’s the Hollywood connection that has driven up the price -- often as much as $200-$400.

The book, published by small Los Angeles publisher Lymanhouse (which also published They Call Them Camisoles, silent film actress Wilma Carnes’ memoir about being in a mental institution), is actually a cookbook. The major part of its collector-y appeal is the fact that it contains personal recipes from a bevy of 1930s stars.

Recipes in the book include:

  • W. C. Fields’ Brandied Peaches
  • Carole Lombard’s Spareribs
  • Jackie Cooper’s Curried Eggs and Macaroni
  • Joan Crawford’s Charcoal Broiled Steak
  • Finnan Haddie a la Davis (That’s Bette)

A few bloggers lucky enough to own the book have reproduced some recipes, so you can try Harold Lloyd’s Tamale Pie or Cary Grant’s Oven-Barbecued Chicken without spending a few hundred clams.

You can at least eat like Boris Karloff, even if you can’t afford to read like him.

Would you pay $400 dollars for a cookbook? Would Clark Gable’s method of cooking a dozen doves persuade you?


  1. I don't guess I'd spend $400 for any book these days unless I had money to throw away and all kinds of space to store books. I'm being swallowed up by books as it is.

    Cool topic though. When I see a movie scene where someone is reading a book I like to try to see what book it is. I also like those scenes where they show a newspaper page with an article about the movie story. If I'm watching a DVD movie with one of these scenes, I'll sometimes freeze the frame to see what other articles are on the page to see if they are fake stories or something actual. Kind of weird, huh?

    A Faraway View

  2. Why don't you use for your list? It's a free tool, lacks some features but it's still in beta, so... I am pretty sure you'll love using it. Thanks for posting your words.