Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Class: Charade

Audrey's Kippered Herring Salad on Roasted Potatoes
Italian Tossed Salad w/Audrey's Vinaigrette Dressing
Audrey's Spaghetti Pomodoro
Rosemary, Garlic & Sea Salt Focaccia
Fresh Vanilla Ice Cream w/Maple Swirl (her favorite dessert)

Once again I really want to thank everyone for coming. And the staff at Central Market who did a great job getting everything made and served. I hope everyone had as good of a time as I did tonight.

Just a quick mention - the next class will be on Saturday April 9. I'll be showing Buena Vista Social Club with an all Cuban menu. Stay tuned for more info on that in the near future. Tickets should be available for that class in mid-February.

So the story goes like this.... I had found three recipes in a biography of Audrey Hepburn, but it wasn’t enough for a whole class. But I really wanted to do this movie. I was thinking about it late one night, and sent an email to the official Audrey Hepburn website, explaining what I was doing and wondering, with the crazy notion, that whomever they were, might they know of an appetizer Ms. Hepburn enjoyed eating or making. The next day, I woke up and there was an email from her son, Sean Ferrer, with a recipe from his mother’s private home recipe book for a kippered herring salad. I was blown away. And now I had enough to base a whole class on. So, a very special thank you to Sean Hepburn Ferrer.

I also think it's kind of an appropriate appetizer to serve with this meal. Por que? Because kippered herring ("kipper" refers to the process of salt curing and either smoke or air drying the filleted fish) is also known as "red herring," because it takes on a reddish color when dried. And a "red herring," is also a well-known literary device used in thriller - a false clue or road which the author may lead the characters and/or reader down, or as the dictionary defines it "any diversion intended to distract attention from the main issue." Our film today is filled with red herrings. Though I'm featuring on the site here another red dish, her Spaghetti Pomodoro recipe. You'll have to come to the class next time to learn the herring salad.

For those interested in reading more about Hepburn's personal life, check out my post of Wait Until Dark.

You can watch Charade online, for free, at, and it is stream-able via Netflix, as well.


Reggie: "Why do people have to tell lies?"
Peter: "Usually it's because they want something - and they're afraid the truth won't get it for them."

Stanley Donen began his film career as a dancer and choreographer and through his close friendship with Gene Kelly (Donen's first wife later became Kelly's second wife) segued into directing, his first film being the musical On The Town starring Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He went on to direct a series of classic musicals including Singin' in the Rain, Funny Face, and Damn Yankees. With the demise of the Hollywood musical in the early 1960's, Donen switched gears and made two Hitchcock-esque films back to back. The first, Charade, was a great success; the second, Arabesque, not so much. But still, in Charade, he captured the master's style to the fact that it is often referred to as "the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made."

"I always wanted to make a movie like one of my favorites, North by Northwest," Donen said. "What I admired most was the wonderful story of the mistaken identity of the leading man. They mistook him for somebody who didn't exist; he could never prove he wasn't somebody who wasn't alive. I searched [for something with] the same idiom of adventure, suspense and humor."

Donen's search ended when he read the story "The Unsuspecting Wife." Peter Stone and Marc Behm had first written it as a screenplay specifically for Grant and Hepburn, apparently, but couldn't sell it. Stone, alone, then turned it into a novel, which was published in Redbook magazine which Donen read and bought. Donen then went to the two stars and tried to sell it to them.

Now according to one account, Hepburn read the script and told Donen she was interested... with two conditions. One was that her favorite cameraman, Charles Lang shoot the film (which he did - he was also camerman on Chef du Cinema selection Some Like It Hot), and the other that he get Cary Grant to be her co-star.

Another account has Donen showing up in Bristol to see Grant who is visiting his mother at a nursing home, and gives the script to him. Grant said he'd do it with one condition, "If only Audrey would play the girl."

"Cary thought he was going to do a picture with Howard Hawks called Man's Favorite Sport? [So he] said no to Charade," is the story according to Donen. "Columbia said get Paul Newman. Newman said yes, but Columbia wouldn't pay his going rate. Then they said get Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. So I got them and Columbia decided they couldn't afford them or the picture. So I sold Charade to Universal. In the meantime, Cary had read Hawks's script and didn't like it. So he called me and said he would like to do Charade."

Grant agreed, but with conditions. Charade would be Grant’s 70th film, and 30th year making films. Although the public thought he was 59 when he made the film, he was actually 63. Grant was afraid he was too old to play a romantic lead, especially against Hepburn who was 34. “He thought he’d be called a dirty old man,” noted screenwriter Peter Stone. Though in real life, Grant was dating (and would marry two years later) actress Dyan Cannon, who was 25 at the time of Charade. So Grant agreed but worked with Stone to reshape the script to make him seem less "dirty."

He made me change the dynamic of the characters and make Audrey the aggressor," Stone said. "She chased him, and he tried to dissuade her. She pursued him and sat in his lap. She found him irresistible, and ultimately he was worn down by her. I gave him lines like 'I'm too old for you, get away from me, little girl.' And 'I'm old enough to be your father.' And in the elevator: 'I could be in trouble transporting you beyond the first floor. A minor!' This way Cary couldn't get in any trouble. What could he do? She was chasing him."

Some inside jokes were also thrown into the script. For example, the scene in which Hepburn spills her ice cream on Cary Grant's suit was inspired by the true story of when Grant and Hepburn first met. Audrey was so nervous to have dinner with the great Cary Grant that she spilled her glass of wine on his suit jacket at the restaurant they met at. Another is the initial name of Grant's character in the movie - Peter Joshua. Stanley Donen has two sons - Peter & Joshua.

An interesting theme I encountered while researching this film is that several of the cast members noted how their encounters with each other affected their lives in consequential ways. For example, Walter Matthau acknowledged that Hepburn taught him more about the camera than any director.

George Kennedy recounted that Cary Grant said something to him which "meant so much to me." Kennedy noticed how Grant always talked about himself in the third person (e.g., "A Cary Grant can’t be in a picture like that.") He told Kennedy "‘You must always remember that you - George Kennedy - are a property, and you must treat that property with respect.’ I have found it to be immensely true and helpful. You must sell yourself like somebody would sell real estate or automobiles or anything else. If you treat the property with respect, everybody else falls in line. It is the single best piece of advice I’ve ever had in our business.”

Hepburn herself had one encounter with Grant that stayed with her all her life. “Unlike some people might think, [Cary] was really a very reserved, very sensitive, very quiet person, very philosophical, rather mystic in some ways," she said. "I think he understood me better than I did myself. He was observant and had a penetrating knowledge of people. He would talk often about relaxing and getting rid of one’s fears... But he never preached.... He said one thing very important to me one day when I was probably twitching and being nervous. We were sitting next to each other waiting for the next shot. He laid his hand on my two hands and said, ‘You’ve got to learn to like yourself a little more.’ I’ve often thought about that.


I am forewarning you that if you have not ever seen Charade, YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP OVER THIS SECTION UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE. Just saying there are spoilers here. Okay? So....

"I know them as one knows his own face, even though I have never seen them," says Felix the stamp collector in the movie. Because I never thought about, I assumed that the stamps Felix is so taken by were mumbo-jumbo made up by the screenwriter - what Hitchcock dubbed the MacGuffin. However, even though he mangles some of the details, the four stamps are indeed real and are some of the most expensive and rare stamps in the world.

"This yellow one, a Swedish four shilling, called 'De Gula Fyraskillingen,' issued in 1854.... perhaps $65,000," is the first. I believe Felix is referring to the Swedish Three Skilling (Treskilling) Banco, Yellow Color Error, 1855, which fetched 2.88 million Swiss francs (then about $2.3 million) in 1996 (a world record at the time). Earlier this year, according to an AP report, it "retained its title as the world's most expensive stamp when it changed hands at a private sale shrouded in secrecy."

"[The blue one] is called 'The Hawaiian Blue' and there are only seven left. In 1894 the owner of one was murdered by a rival collector who was obsessed to own it.... Forty-five thousand." The Hawaiian Missionaries, as they're correctly known as, are also some of the rarest stamps around, and were the first stamps ever printed in Hawaii, when it was still ruled by a king. One recently sold for $250,000.

As for the business of murder, that too is apparently true. In 1892 (not 1894), a Parisian stamp collector was found dead in his home. When the police discovered his Hawaiian Missionary stamp was missing, they went to see his friend & fellow philatelist, Hector Giroux, who was in possession of said stamp. Giroux confessed his lust to own the stamp led him to kill his friend, and was hung for murder.

"[The orange one, a] Two Penny Mauritius -- issued in 1856. Not so rare as the others -- $30,000 perhaps," says Felix, though he should have hung on to that one. He also gets this slightly wrong. The one penny was red/orange and the two penny was blue. So, I'm not sure which one he's really referring to. Now these may not have been as rare as the others then, but in 1993, a cover bearing two of them (one blue, one orange) sold for $3.8 million, setting another world record at that time. Only 12 copies of the 2-cent stamp are known to exist today. There were 200 printed in 1847 (boy, Stone was really off on his dates of these) by the British colonial government on Mauritius, but by accident -- these 200 have the words "post office" engraved not "post paid."

And, "[t]he best for the last - le chef-d'oeuvre de la collection. The masterpiece. It is the most valuable stamp in the world. It is called 'The Gazette Guyanne.' It was printed by hand on colored paper in 1852 and marked with the initials of the printer. Today it has a value of $100,000." Again, actually 1856, and known as One Cent "Black on Magenta" of British Guiana was once the most expensive, but is still considered the most famous stamp. Running out of stamps in 1856 and not having enough time to send to England for more to be printed, the British colonial governor got the local newspaper, The Gazette, to print some "emergency" stamps but nixed the first batch of 1-centers because of their design and all were thought lost until some kid in 1873 found the one and still only one copy.

In 1999, a second copy was discovered, but turned out to be a fake. The real one was owned by Philip E. du Pont, who died last month in prison while serving time for his murder of gold medal Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz. Du Pont paid $935,000 for it in 1980 and apparently still owned it at the time of his death.

So, adding it up, the $250,000 Charles stole from the US government during World War II, which he converted into those stamps, would, if kept as stamps, today be worth somewhere around $5.38 million. Which to put in some kind of bizarre perspective, is equal to what the US government spends in about 75 minutes on the war in Afghanistan.

Now even in this high tech world, stamp collecting remains one of the most popular hobbies in the world. Freddy Mercury, of Queen fame, collected stamps as a child. Today, his stamp collection is in the collection of the British Postal Museum. John Lennon's childhood stamp collection is at the Smithsonian Institute.

Bringing this all back to Ms. Hepburn, in 2001, the German government issued an Audrey Hepburn stamp. They printed 14 million of them, but they forgot to ask permission to use her image beforehand. And when Sean, her son, saw they had photo-shopped a cigarette holder in her mouth, he nixed the stamp. The stamps all had to be destroyed. Only a few survived, including the ones sent to Sean for his approval. So earlier this year, he sold them at a charity auction and netted $606,000 which was given to the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund & UNICEF.


Tomatoes first arrived in Europe thanks to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in the 1500's from Central America. Tomatoes were cultivated and eaten by the Mayans, and later the Aztecs, who brought them north into Mexico. The Aztec generic name for them were “tomatl,” but that also included their cousins, tomatillos. (To be technical, tomatoes were “miltomatl” and tomatillos “xitomatl.”) When they made their way to Italy, they were dubbed “pomo d’oro,” or golden fruit (we suppose they were first only familiar with yellow tomatoes and not red then). It is also spelled “pomodoro” and “pomidoro.” (Though in Piedmont, they were known as the “tomate,” in Lombardy “tomatesa,” and Parma as the “tomaca.” Perhaps they was brought to those regions by Spanish traders.)

Italian botanists of the time had their hands full of fruits and vegetables coming not just from the New World but also Asia and Arab lands. They were less interested in cooking with them than studying their medicinal properties. These early scientists wrote that tomatoes were “dangerous and harmful” believing their odor would bring on eye diseases and headaches and would produce “melancholic humors.” Another noted they are “strange and horrible things.” It's hard to imagine that Italians just didn't care for the smell or taste of them once upon a time. Though (and this says more about where science was in the 1600's), in other parts of Europe, they were used as a remedy for eye ulcers, ear tumors, and headaches. So go figure.

"The tomato was associated with the eggplant, which was regarded with suspicion," said David Gentilcore, author of Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy. "It’s a vine. Anything that grows along the ground was seen as a plant of low status, something you only give to peasants. And the tomato was thought to hinder digestion because it was cold and watery. When ideas about digestion changed, something like a tomato was not harmful anymore."

And the notion of it being an aphrodisiac is a pretty crazy story. This guy Fernando Hernandez, who was the royal physician of the King of Spain, was horrified at their site, because they reminded him of a woman's privates. And so, of course, because Fernando had something on his brain, these other geniuses ran with it and figured that if it reminds him of something sexual, then it must be an aphrodisiac.

However, by the late 1600's, Italians had begun eating them, but it still took another 200 years for them to be cultivated on a large scale.

"Tomatoes took off in Italy because they became an industry, mostly for export," said David Gentilcore. "Italians were too poor to buy such things. Most of the country’s processed tomatoes are exported. In Italy, up until the 1950s, there was a large part of the country, even where they produce tomatoes, where they wouldn’t eat the stuff."

Italy remains the top tomato producer in Europe. Though throughout the world, using 2008 figures, China is number one, with the United States (producing barely 1/2 what the Chinese do) as number two, followed by Turkey, India and then Italy.

Tomatoes, in Italy, are processed and preserved in three categories: “pelati” which are whole peeled tomatoes, either bottled or canned; “passato” which is a puree (when pureed with veggies, like onion, celery or carrot, it’s called “pomaruola” or “conserva”); and lastly, there is “concentrato” which is tomato paste. The most commonly used tomato in Italy is the plum tomato which has two famous varieties, the Roma VF, and the San Marzano (which apparently was essentially created as an export product for the British market).

Now contrary to what people seem to think (whenever I mentioned I was doing this class, a lot of people seemed surprise she would be ever found in a kitchen), Audrey Hepburn loved to eat and to cook. Her WWII experiences, when food was scarce, left her with a deep appreciation of good food and to dedicate her free time to ensure children aren't victims of hunger and war caused by adults. I'll leave it at that. As always, cook, watch, eat & enjoy....

Audrey Hepburn's Spaghetti Pomodoro
adapted from Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers, by Sean Hepburn Ferrer
Click for Printer-Friendly Version

Serves 6-8

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or minced
2 stalks of celery, 1/8" thick sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced into thin coins
2 28-ounce cans Italian pre-peeled tomatoes (Roma or San Marzano)
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Add olive oil to medium-sized pot and heat. Add onion, garlic, celery, and carrot, and sweat vegetables for about 5 minutes. Then add the two cans of tomatoes and half the bunch of basil leaves, whole.

Bring to boil then reduce to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to break up tomatoes. Salt and pepper, to taste.

Turn off and let rest at least 15 minutes which gives you enough time to cook the pasta. As Audrey notes “cooked barely al dente (still a tiny bit of snap at the core).”

To serve, dish pasta either in large platter for family style or individual plates. Top “with lots of fresh parmesan cheese (must be Reggiano),” according to Audrey, and the remaining half-bunch of basil leaves, “well washed and cut with scissors in a cup or glass to prevent bruising or blackening.” Drizzle with a little high quality olive oil, if desired.

Watch Charade (FREE) on Hulu
Charade, The Screenplay
Spotlight on Charade, by Jeff Staffod @ TCM
Charade, Isn't It Romantic?, by Charles Taylor @ Salon
Charade: The Spy in Givenchy, by Bruce Eder @ Criterion
Charade, Whom to Trust, by Cyrus Fard @ PopMatters

Charade (The Criterion Collection) DVD @ Amazon
Charade, Original Soundtrack CD
Audrey Hepburn, by Barry Paris
Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers, by Sean Hepburn Ferrer
Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, by Donald Spoto
Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best, by Nancy Nelson
Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy, by David Gentilcore

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