The Joan Files: Torch Song

The Joan Files is a recurring series of posts focusing on the life and career of the legendary actress, Joan Crawford. 

Most of my favorite Joan films are her campiest efforts, and 1953’s Torch Song is no exception. It airs next on December 12 on TCM at 1:15AM Eastern, so set those DVRs!

Torch Song poster

Joan invented the side eye…

 

Much like Berserk! you really can’t take Torch Song too seriously. Watch it for the sets, the costumes, and the over-the-top acting. And of course there’s the blackface scene… There’s no defending it other than to say that it was the 1950s. You just have to see it to believe it!

JoanTwoFaced

Do not adjust your computer screen!

In the film, Joan plays aging Broadway star Jenny Stewart, and she gets assigned a new rehearsal pianist, Tye Graham. Tye fell in love with Jenny back in the day, but he was blinded during WWII. That’s probably a good thing, given the blackface scene and all. Over the course of the film the two have continued spats as they work out the songs for Jenny’s latest production.

TorchSonglobbycard

Sing it, Jenny!!

 

Tye gets sick of Jenny’s crap and leaves the production, but then he has a change of heart and returns. Meanwhile, during a trip to visit her mother, Jenny discovers an old review in a scrapbook of one of her performances written by Tye and realizes that he loved her. Jenny goes to his apartment, sends his unworthy girlfriend away, and then tells Tye her true feelings for him. Ladies and gentlemen, the show must go on as usual! You can read a full synopsis on TCM’s website.

If you’re at all put off by that farce of a plot, well, you should be. But Joan is really fantastic in this film. Her dancing is impeccable, and she really shines in the role of Jenny Stewart. The character reminds me quite a lot of of Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls actually.

Those legs!

Those legs!

Joan was, of course, a well established movie star by 1953. She’d already won the Oscar for Mildred Pierce several years earlier, but Torch Song marked her return to MGM after ten years with Warner Bros. This was also Joan’s first Technicolor film, which the studio promoted along with noting her Oscar nomination for her 1952 film, Sudden Fear.

Described as “vivid and irritable, volcanic and feminine” in the role by a movie critic at the time, it’s also important to note that Torch Song showcases Joan’s impeccable comic timing. She is still usually remembered for her dramatic roles, so it’s a real pleasure to watch her repartee in multiple scenes in this film.

I hope you’ll watch Torch Song next month and let me know what you think! And if you’ve already seen it, what are your thoughts?

 

 

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Utopia, Texas

This past weekend I made my first trip to what’s known as the Hill Country of Texas. My husband booked a weekend getaway for us and some friends at a bed and breakfast in the small town of Utopia. Small as in it only has a population of 227 according to the last cencus. And no stop lights. The nearest grocery store is 45 minutes away, so it’s definitely in the middle of nowhere.

The winding roads and rock faces that sometimes reminded me of childhood roadtrips to Arkansas made we want to know more about the history of this region of the Hill Country, and I resolved to search for historical photos of Utopia once I got home. Sadly, ye olde Internet was unable to find any. This photo of the building that presently houses the Lost Maples Cafe was the only one I found:

Utopiaphoto

The cafe is named for the nearby Lost Maples State Natural Area. We spent Saturday morning of our trip hiking through one of the beautiful trails. It’s known for its namesake maple trees whose leaves change colors during this time of year. That’s something we don’t experience in Houston and, even though it was early in the season, it was lovely to see all of the red and orange leaves.

Despite having its very own music festival, UtopiaFest, and being featured in a couple of films, it seems that the town of Utopia is still keeping its secrets close to its vest. It does rather seem like a place that one would retreat to in pursuit of anonymity. The book, Welcome to Utopia by Karen Valby, was published in 2010 and details the lives of four residents during the year Valby spent living in Utopia. To the best of my librarian knowledge it’s the most extensive book written specifically about the town. If you come across another, especially if it’s historical, please let me know.

On the way into town I noticed a green sign by the road that appeared to be pointing towards the library, but it was so dark that we couldn’t see the building. “Um, is that Library sign just pointing to the woods??” I said as we drove past. Thankfully, the light of day on our way out of town revealed the lovely Utopia Memorial Library. I was impressed by the size of the library and the number of books on the shelves that I could see from peering in the windows.

UtopiaLibrary

In this photo I’m holding some books that I picked up from a bookcart stationed outside on the library’s porch. The sign above the cart read “Free books. Please do not return!” It was mostly stocked with dusty old Reader’s Digest compendiums. No, thanks! But I did take two vintage cookbooks and a novel while my husband made off with a Russian dictionary. Yes, there will be posts featuring the cookbooks soon. They’re from the 1970s and contain some gems of period food photography.

I highly recommend taking a trip to the Hill Country and letting yourself feel like you’re taking the road less travelled, even if it’s only for a day or two.

Penn Station

Penn-Station

 

The original, that is. Much of the original structure was demolished in the 1960s, and its destruction lead to the establishment of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and the movement for architectural preservation in the United States. Wikipedia’s article on the history of Penn Station is actually quite good.

 

“Busy Day” Lemon Cheesecake

A few months ago I started a Vintage Jello Pinterest board because those wacky and wonderful recipes, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, just fascinate me. Many of them are pretty gross, and sometimes even the most unassuming and pretty Jello mold can include something like cabbage, beets, or lime Jello. There are some truly horrifying concoctions out there, let me tell you!

Here at Berserk! I’ll be making and reviewing these and other vintage recipes periodically so you don’t have to. Or perhaps you’ll be inspired to try one after I share my thoughts, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

For the inaugural recipe I decided to start simple with the “Busy Day” Lemon Cheesecake of 1959:

BusyDayCheesecake

 

Who doesn’t want a shortcut for the time and hassle it takes to make a real cheesecake, right? This recipe involves cream cheese, whole milk, lemon Jello instant pudding mix, and a graham cracker crust. It’s a super simple, easy recipe that you can make just a few hours in advance of a party or on a Friday night when you’re just hanging around with the cats and watching The Misfits on DVR (like me!).

The part that takes the longest is waiting for the cream cheese to soften. Unfortunately, there’s really no shortcut for that like there is for butter in some recipes. You can make the graham cracker crust in the meantime (or just get a storebought if you’re really in a crunch). Once the cream cheese is soft enough, you basically just plop, pour and mix everything together.

Cheesecake2

The recipe cautions not to overbeat the mixture, but it’s a cinch to avoid doing that: once it all starts to noticeably thicken up, stop mixing and simply pour into the crust! Sprinkle the remaining graham cracker crumbs on top, cover with foil, and chill in the fridge for a couple hours.

Also, in my opinion, no vintage pie such as this one is complete without a few maraschino cherries. Frankly, I don’t know why the original recipe didn’t call for them! So I added a few, and I think it makes all the difference. If you plan on taking this cheesecake to any sort of get together it would also be nice to add some dollops of whipped cream! And ta-da:

Cheesecake4

Now, if you’re going to take this pie to any sort of function you might want to carefully sprinkle some more of the crumbs around the edge of the crust as pictured in the recipe for added aplomb. But since this particular pie wouldn’t be competing in any talent competitions I just sent her on her way to the fridge. I got a little sloppy pouring the mix in the crust, too, but I was planning on eating it ASAP so I wasn’t concerned about keeping up appearances. Also, the cheesecake effect will work best if you let your cream cheese soften for at least an hour. I didn’t, and so mine turned out slightly lumpy. But, hey, that’s what the graham cracker crumbs on the top are for, right?

–Taste Score: 7 out of 10 – The lemon flavor of the Jello melds nicely with the tang of the cream cheese. Overall, it’s slightly cloying, but that’s to be expected.

–Preparation Score: 10 out of 10 – It’s kind of hard to give this one anything less than a 10 since it’s a no bake and super easy to put together.

–Overall Presentation: 6 out of 10 – The cheesecake portion of the title should really be in quotes rather than the Busy Day since nothing about the color or texture of this pie resembles cheesecake at all really. But the mixture is easy to pour into the crust and smooths out well.

Total Score: 7.6 out of 10

Final Verdict: Look, nobody is going to think this is cheesecake, that’s for sure! In fact I recommend calling it “I Can’t Believe It’s Cheesecake (Because It’s Not)” just to avoid setting anyone’s expectations too high. But it is yummy if slightly artificial tasting, and I don’t think you’ll get any complaints. It’s definitely a quick and easy and cost effective option for pot lucks and the like.

For more retro food fun, follow my Vintage Jello and Vintage Recipes boards on Pinterest!

Welcome to Berserk!

“I think that the most important thing a woman can have–next to talent, of course–is her hairdresser.” –Joan Crawford

Indeed the name of this blog is borrowed from one of my favorite Joan Crawford films in which she plays Monica Rivers, the ringmistress of a travelling circus. It’s goofy and campy and I love it!

joanberserkbw

So welcome to Berserk!, where I’ll be writing mostly about all things vintage: fashion, film, books, recipes, and more! Of course, a dash of the modern age will work its way in every now and again, but the focus will be on all things vintage and retro.

I’ve loved the retro side of life since childhood. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to stay home “sick” and watch classic game shows all day. Match Game, Name That Tune, and Press Your Luck were some of my favorites. Classic TV shows, movies, and music have also been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was (and still is) one of my most favorite movies. And this was one of my favorite cartoons:

I’ve been collecting vintage clothes (mostly dresses) for around 12 years that I enjoy wearing for special occasions. Other vintage things I collect include books, jewelry, Polaroid cameras, and other odds and ends that I come across in antique shops and other places. Have I mentioned I love to shop yet? There’s nothing like stumbling on that perfect find, especially if it’s on sale!

By day I work as a cataloging and metadata librarian at a large public library, which is almost too good to be true because it’s a job I truly love and enjoy. I spend the rest of my time reading, baking, watching classic films, and wrangling our six cats (almost a full time job in itself, let me tell you).

I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy Berserk!, and I’d love to hear from you! Are you a vintage collector? What’s your favorite classic film? Drop me a line, and let me know!