Not many people know the name William Gaxton anymore, but he was at one time a Hollywood star and popular comedian. He’s shown here with co-star Lucille Ball in the 1943 film Best Foot Forward.
I’ve never seen the film. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen William Gaxton on the screen. I know him primarily from a book. A cookbook.
In 1948 one Grace Turner published a collection of recipes by celebrities of the day, along with brief prose sketches of the stars who submitted recipes called – prosaically enough, The Celebrities’ Cookbook. Some of them like Henry Fonda, Marlene Dietrich, and Burgess Merideth are well-remembered today. Others, like Gaxton, Margo, and Margaret Speaks, are largely forgotten.
Sadly, reading the biographical material sometimes feels like a lot of modern hand-wringing about food and weight. Milton Berle talks a great deal about watching his weight by eating a lot of salad. Kate Smith has a diet dessert recipe to offer. Billie Burke takes it as read that nobody would ever, ever, ever want to be fat. And the list goes on.
But William Gaxton talks about how important it is to eat well, in terms of filling yourself up.
I know what it is like to fill up on water until you almost bubble with it, and just can’t hold any more. That’s why I am in sympathy with so many young boys who get in trouble with the law. Their temptation often comes from empty stomachs. As for actors – why a beef stew would have saved many a young actor’s career!
He goes on to talk with great enjoyment about eating French fries in Belgium, his favorite potato salad, the spinach salad Al Jolson taught him to make, what kind of sauce he likes on his spaghetti, how to tenderize a tough cut of beef, and how much he loves serving a cheese course to dinner guests in the European style.
He also speaks in praise of the European style of eating.
… as a people we are inclined to eat because the whistle blows. We rush through our meals, instead of lingering to enjoy them. Mr. Gaxton believes we should take a tip from our European neighbors and slow down long enough to savor a fine dish finely cooked and well served.
And you know what? I absolutely agree with Mr. Gaxton. Whether you’re eating a slice of toast, or an elaborate banquet, it’s worth taking a moment or two to just enjoy the aromas, the textures, and the flavors of food.
Also? Nobody functions better on an empty stomach.