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Friday, December 31, 2010

A few Laughtonian tips for New Year celebrations

Wishing you a happy New 2011 from the Cub Room, where -you know- the elite meet

I'd like to excuse myself with this blog's readership about the scarcity of posts and lateness of comment replies. Things have not been going well as far as work issues are concerned and I haven't been in the proper mood to update properly. I intended to make, at least, a big post saying how much I had liked the recent Criterion release of Night of the Hunter, but by (dis)courtesy of Barnes and Noble, I'm not expected to have my copy before I get my Valentines (By the way, If any of you has reviewed this release or knows of a dandy link about it, feel free to send it as I'll love to include it in the links section of that upcoming post).

Still, we'll be celebrating a new year tonight (which will be hopefully better that the year we're leaving behind), so let's drink and be merry for tomorrow we lie (with a hangover), and to this end we'll be giving some wise Laughtonian advice. Underage visitors are kindly discouraged to keep on reading: nothing for you here, kids, nothing for you...

We might start with Charles and Elsa's first trip to America, in which Charles played "Payment Deferred" in New York and Chicago. The couple had fond memories of his time by Lake Michigan, although Charles was surprised to find that local mobsters were not as colourful as he had portrayed them in Edgar Wallace's 1930 stage hit On The Spot: "I spent three weeks there without seeing a machine gun or hearing a gun shot" Charles would later reminisce.

Tony Perelli, or Capone according to Laughton

Elsa had some other anecdotes of the Prohibition era. On the occasion of a lone Transatlantic travel (Charles was left working in California), she entertained a couple of high society fellow travellers with stories such as the one about a little shop in Times Square which was...
(...) Just a hole in a wall with room for a narrow door. It sold only one thing –apparently reddish-purplish house bricks. Actually, they were dried pressed grapes, and round each brick was a label that read: "DO NOT put this in three quarts of water at a temperature of 76 degrees and leave uncovered for three weeks, then strain and over and leave for six more weeks, as it will become alcoholic AND THIS IS AGAINST THE LAW!"

She thought that New Yorkers had all "furry tongues and bad breath from drinking bathtub gin, which made plain tap water taste horrible", to which her rich acquaintance replied "Tap water, tap water, what does it taste like?

We have a useful tip by Charles' younger brother. When Charles, who was the elder son, relinquished his first-born right to direct the Pavilion Hotel of Scarborough in order to become an actor, his younger brother Tom was more than keen to take the post. As it turned, Tom may not been originally chosen by his parents for the job, but filled Charles' shoes quite efficiently, and possibly became a better (and more enthusiastic) hotelier than Charles would eventually have.

Tom left a book of memoirs in which he talks a bit about his famous brother, and mostly about his family's trade: his remarks on food and drink are quite worth reading, for he was as much a gourmet as his brother was, though of course he had by trade to oversee its quality on a daily basis to serve an important number of customers, so he was much more the pro in this regard.

Tom was keen on listening to the advice of those who worked for him, as in one occasion when he had to attend a party, and feared that the social obligation of drinking might obliterate his ability to attend the guests properly throughout the soirée (a situation in which many of us may find ourselves tonight). A butler gave him the advice of swallowing two desert spoonfuls of olive oil before drinking. This worked splendidly, though it must be said, much to Tom's regret:
(The party) was gay from the start, and still gayer as the party progressed, except for me. The butler's recipe was only too successful. For once in my life my capacity to take in alcohol was unlimited; it was passing through my stomach lined with with olive oil without getting into my blood stream. On the way home the roads were a sheet of ice, cars were skidding, and the car I was in did a double spin. What terrific fun for everyone, everyone except me –the only sobre one in the party. I have never taken precautions before going to a party since.

Anyway, whether your drinks are made from pressed grape bricks or not, and regardless of whether you take a spoonful of olive oil or none, celebrate and have fun tonight but drink wisely. And of course, don't drive drunk as the car might spin more than twice.

Be the soul of the party! Charles and Dean Martin on the sax, Dorothy Lamour plays the clarinet and Jerry Lewis slaps the bass

Notes on sources:
Charles is quoted from an interview in The Observer in 1932. Elsa's anecdotes are as told in her 1983 autobiography "Elsa Lanchester Herself", and Thomas Laughton memoirs Pavilions By The Sea