Hollywood Undressed, Part Two

This is our final offering from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker).
The second part of the book comprises Sylvia’s dietary and nutritional theories, and we weren’t going to share those here (they’re a little on the dry side), but we decided to say goodbye to Sylvia with the first chapter of that section of the book, which shares daily menus from the diets Sylvia assigned her various and sundry celebrity clients. “Who wouldn’t want to eat like Gloria Swanson or Constance Bennett for a day?” we asked ourselves.



BELIEVE it or not, the object of a first-class masseuse’s business is to get rid of patients. If she’s on the level, the masseuse aims to send the patient away in good condition and hopes never to see her again. In this respect, massage is like the medical profession. The doctors too (the decent ones) do their level best to ruin their own racket and nothing is so satisfactory as a patient cured—which is a patient lost.
In Hollywood, Sylvia is reaching the point where her hob, for having been done too well, shows diminishing returns. Which is as it should be. And Sylvia, far from moaning over the fact, is as pleased as the kid who broke up the game by slamming the only ball into the river for a home run. Bit by bit, one by one, the respectable and representative percentage of Hollywood film people who are listed on the boss’s books have been made over and educated to the point where they are the caretakers of their own waistlines and do not need professional supervision at thirty dollars an hour.
If the boss can take it that way, far be it from me to show a meaner spirit. So—
Hurrah! I got fired.
It isn’t the massage that makes these people their own conditioners. The pounding can, and does, effect a speedy correction of overweight, underweight and some of the other deviations from the beautiful normal. But we can’t give any mileage guarantees in our business. A waistline bought on the massaging slab won’t last from now until next Sunday unless the buyer coöperates in the upkeep. With every treatment given in our back room goes a lecture on diet. The boss spiels it out while she’s working, something like this:
“No more fried food—“
“Cut out sea-food.”
“Turn over. And listen: lay off the liquor.”
Our customers all go through the same phases. At first they pay no attention to the diet instructions, figuring that the treatments will be absolution for their sins of the table. Sylvia’s invariable procedure, after a week or so of this kind of dishonesty, is to lock the patient out. It makes no difference who the patient is. Some of our most famous patients have been through the disciplining experience of being refused treatment. They eat, drink, live and, to a certain extent, dress as Sylvia prescribes, or they are locked out until they come back in penitent mood—which they all do. Thereafter, there are frequent backslidings. But Sylvia screams and threatens, periodically refuses treatment, and the backslidings become fewer and farther between. The great time to complete the dietary education of a Hollywood movie girl is during one of those interludes (they all pass through them) when the last picture contract is dead and the new one hasn’t been offered. Then, living on credit, running up bills, frightened, chastened, ready to listen to reason, the over-size babies can be taught something. In the long run, invariably, the knowledge is finally appreciated. Good dieting is good eating. When they find that out, the boss has done all she can do for a patient. Good-by patient.
The proposition, here, is to sum up Sylvia’s diet knowledge as it was brought to bear on the people of Part One, taking them in order of their appearance in these pages. As will become apparent as we go along, the boss handles diet problems with a dual point of view: the elements of the diet, and their preparation. Of the two, the latter is much the more important. A pork chop, properly cooking, would be a much better diet dish than a chicken wing fried in fat and ignorance. The place where the chemistry, quality and suitability of your food is decided is not in a scientific tract setting forth the calorie, protein, vitamin contents of this and that raw product; it is not in the package from the patent food manufacturer; it is not in test-tubes, treatises and tabulated statistics; it is over the burner of your kitchen range. There you may negotiate the miracle of your physical regeneration. There also, you may concoct an assortment of deadly poisons from the evil effects of which not even Sylvia’s fists, pounding at their merriest, can deliver you.
MARIE DRESSLER, as has been told, went through a period in Hollywood when, for business reasons, she put up a million-dollar front. By way of awing the financial executives of a company which was trying desperately to circumscribe her salary demands, she set up a semi-royal establishment in a turreted castle of the Hollywood hills. An unexpected result of this purely political maneuver was that idleness, plus a Filipino cook with an oriental imagination, began to tell on her midsection. Sylvia had to put her foot down.

In the long run, Sylvia and Marie Dressler worked out a sort of compromise, Miss Dressler put in the claim that, being a middle-aged woman, stout (and what of it?), she wanted to remain about as was—healthy, but comfortable. Sylvia conceded the point and the result was what you might call the “As Is,” or
(A Characteristic Day)

1 small glass of orange juice
2 thin slices of crisp bacon
1 soft-boiled egg
1 cup of coffee with 1 lump of sugar, little cream

1 cup of consommé
1 mixed fruit salad, no dressing
1 broiled lamp chop
3 heaping tablespoons of carrots
2 heaping tablespoons of fresh peas
1 small glass of fruit jello
1 cup of tea with lemon

1 cup of broth
1 seafood cocktail
2 thin slices of roast beef
20 stalks of thin green asparagus
Fresh fruit (no bananas)
Demitasse coffee
You’re not going to catch me, not the boss either, recommending the above plot of a day’s eating as the final word on eating to keep fit. Neither Marie Dressler nor any other human being who isn’t a nut and a food faddist is going to pick out any one of the diet menus listed herein and stick to it. There was a fad a few years ago for doping out a menu and making it do for every day of the week. But anybody who will eat the same food, day after day, week after week, is unnatural and probably a chess player.
The fact is, you can’t hand out a diet, because that would involve doping out 365 menus per person, to take care of the variations of individual eating. The best we can do is to give a sample diet day in each star’s case and hope that nobody will get the idea, for instance, that during the time Sylvia bossed her eating, Marie Dressler ate one hundred and twenty consecutive dinners all beginning with “one cup of broth” and ending with “fresh fruit (no bananas).”
One thing I can do that will teach 99 per cent of you something you don’t know, and that is tell you how to cook the items on your diet list—any diet list.
Strictly between you and me, pretty nearly all diets that get published are equally good, the diet doped out by Dr. Whoozis for the morning paper being no better or worse than the diet figured out for the evening paper by Mehitabel Menu. The factor that licks dietitians and makes them look like saps to the lady that follows all the instructions and still sticks at 300 pounds is that there isn’t one person in a thousand who knows how to do so simple a thing as grill a lamb chop without turning it into something I wouldn’t feed to the boss’s cat.
(1) To get good meat (as anyone knows) you select the chop or steak that, on the butcher’s counter, shows the most fat.
(2) But, before broiling, you cut out said fat with a knife. That’s elemental.
(3) Your oven being red-hot, you present the piece of meat to the flame in such a way that the fats which are burned out drip into a receptacle below the meat and several inches away from it; the idea being that the meat must not cook in its own juices.
(4) The quicker the cooking, the better. Unless you have an aversion to rare meat, eat your chop or steak blood-red inside and burnt outside.
(5) Do not undo all you have done to make meat digestible and non-fattening by proceeding now to pour back over it the fats which have collected in the catch-pan. If you must have a sauce, serve it with a small lump of fresh butter placed on the meat as it goes to table. This element of timing is important because, whereas fresh melted butter is harmless in small quantities, cooked butter is unwholesomeness and is excluded from all diets.
(6) While we’re on the subject of meat, let me add a remark intended as a loud and raucous snort in the direction of all the diet quacks who continually add to the sum of their own and the public’s ignorance by handing out hooey about “meatless diets.” Meat is a necessary part of any reducing diet. Meat does not fatter, if properly selected and prepared. And when a person is following a reducing diet, meat is absolutely imperative, because reducing diets have a tendency to weaken, which can only be combated by good red meat. Broiled and roasted, all cuts of beef and the prime cuts of lamb are first-rate diet items. Meats should never be fried and most of them are deteriorated by boiling. An exception to the last is boiled ham. In refutation of the common assumption that pork is harmful, cold boiled ham stands at the head of the list of meats (even above broiled beef) which are easily assimilable by the touchiest digestive tracts.
(Maybe Somebody Will Try It; She Wouldn’t)

1 small glass of grapefruit juice
1 slice of wholewheat toast
1 glass of skimmed milk
1 cup of coffee, clear

1 cup of broth
1 slice of broiled calf’s liver
3 heaping tablespoons of spinach
1 small baked potato
1 cup of custard with with 1 spoonful of fruit juice
1 cup of tea clear

1 fruit cocktail
1 cup of vegetable soup
1 small broiled steak
3 heaping tablespoons of carrots
3 heaping tablespoons of fresh peas
1 small dish of fresh berries
1 glass of skimmed milk
1 demitasse of coffee
AGAIN the remark is made that this is necessarily a sample day taken from many and that there is no virtue in a monotonous code of eating.
And again it is stressed that the most valuable data that can be given by a dietitian who does not personally supervise the patient have to do with not so much what is to be eaten as how it should be prepared. From the above menu, then, let’s take the item, vegetable soup. Oh, you know how make a thing so simple and common as vegetable soup. Yes, you do! Any bets?
Every day of the year, American housewives, twenty million of them, throw away as waste-matter at least fifty per cent of the food bought with hard-earned cash when they empty out as useless the waters in which vegetables are cooked. The same cook who hoards meat remnants and bones like a dog and keep a meat-stock pot on the back of her stove, cheerfully tosses into the sink the better part of the food values of vegetables. It would be less foolish to throw away the vegetables and keep the liquid in which they were cooked. Vegetables should be boiled in just enough water to prevent burning—no more. The combined waters in which the vegetables for a day’s meals have been boiled, when put in a common container and reduced by further boiling, make a valuable light vegetable broth just as is and can be thickened with such adjuncts as sago, tapioca, winter squash or vermicelli, seasoned and served without further ado. Or
(1) Obtain from your grocer a “soup bunch” consisting of all the vegetables and salad greens in season; the cost should average twenty-five cents.
(2) Add to these three medium-sized Irish potatoes and one medium turnip (more turnip will make the soup bitter); also add all available rough greens, such as turnip-, celery- and beet-tops.
(3) Shred the greens. Dice the vegetables in 1/2-inch cubes.
(4) Immerse the mass in twice its volume of the vegetable stock described in paragraph 1 or in plain water.
(5) Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for two or three hours, adding water from time to time to make up for loss through evaporation.
(6) Strain, add small amount of salt, serve hot or cold.
(A Diet for Adolescent Girls Inclined to Plumpness)

1/2 grapefruit
2 slices of crisp rye toast with thin butter
1 cup of coffee, clear

1/2 canteloupe
1 broiled lamb chop
4 heaping tablespoonfuls of cauliflower
2 heaping tablespoonfuls of summer squash
2 leaves of lettuce
3 slices of tomato, diet dressing
1/2 slice of wholewheat toast, no butter
1 cup of coffee, clear

1 tomato-juice cocktail
Russian salad, diet dressing
1 slice of roast beef or 2 slices of roast lamb—“lean” gravy
3 heaping tablespoons of spinach
2 heaping tablespoons of Brussels sprouts
1/2 slice of wholewheat toast
1 small dish of strawberries
1 glass of skimmed milk
Demitasse coffee
It’s the first time a roast has appeared on one of these diet menus and, as in the case of the grilled chop, I suppose you think you know how to roast meat. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. The chances are you don’t follow the procedure below—the only correct one for the preparation of non-fattening roast meat.
(1) As in the case of the lamb chop, you naturally choose a good tender fattish meat off the butcher’s counter, buying the best meat. Again you cut out all the visible pieces of fat when you’re preparing the roast for the pan, which should have deep furrows in the bottom to catch drippings.
(2) Season with very little salt (salt is fattening) and some pepper.
(3) Get the oven red hot.
(4) Figure on roasting 15 to 20 minutes per pound.
(5) When the outside of the roast is browned, you baste. But do not baste with the drippings. Baste with a cup of hot water, operating slowly and drenching especially the spots where there are outcroppings of fat.
(6) When the roast is done, remove it from the pan. Now take the pan of drippings and pour into it a half-cup of boiling water. Until the pan cools, keep skimming off the fat that rises to the top of the water.
(7) What is left in the pan is now a pure blood juice with very little fat. Heated up again, it may be served, without thickening of any kind, with the roast. Or in the form of the jelly which it will take on cooling, it may be served in strips with the cold roast.
This method of preparing a roast removes fats so successfully that a fresh ham roast can be served on diet menus if the cooking has been carefully done.


A SINGER has a diet problem more delicate than that of the most fragile girl. It is necessary that a singer never perform while the stomach is full. Therefore the last solid meal before a performance is taken about 5 P.M., giving the stomach time to empty before curtain hour. This throws the whole time-table of eating off-center, as the “performance day” diet in the left-hand column below shows. The diet is a special one, occupational rather than remedial—Tibbett having little about his strong physique that needs remedy! The diets are not Sylvia’s, but were written out for her by Mr. Tibbett, who can recommend them to other professional singers and to those ordinary citizens who occasionally have to give banquet speeches or do other vocal stunts and need a tip about how to face the ordeal in at least a good physical condition.
Part of glass of grapefruit juice 1/2 hour before breakfast
When Singing       Not Singing
2 poached eggs
Thin buttered whole wheat toast
Crisp bacon
Warm Milk
      All-fruit breakfast (fresh figs or any fresh fruit in season)
1 glass of warm milk
No luncheon       Avocado salad
Wholewheat toast
(On a night when Mr. Tibbett has to sing an operatic rôle he dines about five hours before time to sing)
Purée of spinach
Fresh Peas
2 lamb chops
Head of lettuce with dressing of Italian olive oil, lemon and salt
Thing wholewheat toast
1 glass of milk
      (A favorite dinner on a night when Mr. Tibbett is not singing)
Avocado cocktail, Thousand Island dressing
Plain tomato soup with celery, no crackers
Rare roast beef
Potatoes, mashed with cream and butter
Corn on cob
Toast, no coffee
Combination salad—tomatoes, water cress, romaine, celery, onion, cucumber, raw carrots, raw cabbage—and mayonnaise
Blackberry or peach cobbler
LAWRENCE TIBBETT’S menus hardly belong here because they’re certainly not for diet meals. Avocado salad and peach cobbler! M-mh. But Tibbett has the constitution of a wolf and can probably digest leather.
Eggs are mentioned here for the first time and will nto be listed in any of the diets prescribed by Sylvia.
The reason is not that a fresh egg can’t find a place in the strictest diet. But the chances are so slim that you’ll ever get a supply of fresh eggs that Sylvia has had to exclude them rather than expose her clients to the risks of eating stale hen-fruit.
An egg less than twenty-four hours old is an excellent, nourishing, easily assimilable item of food. But an egg over twenty-four hours old is just the reverse. The egg-dealers in America have produced a situation that would not be tolerated except by a nation of saps. It is practically impossible to obtain an egg that has not lain in cold-storage for anywhere from ten weeks to ten years. If it were generally understood that eggs must be eaten within 24 hours of their laying or not at all, then the egg distributors would have to organize the way they milk dealers have done.
If you can get eggs specially delivered from the country, eat them boiled three or four minutes, or poached. Otherwise, lay off!
(Overweight plus Anemia)

Small glass grapefruit juice
2 tablespoonfuls of one of the baked patent cereals with a glass of skimmed milk
Tea, one lump of sugar

Salad of cottage cheese with shredded pineapple, no dressing
Cup of broth with liver extract (hot or jellied)
2 tablespoonfuls of carrots, 2 of spinach and 1 of peas
2 leaves of lettuce
Apple mold

Sweetbreads with truffles
3 heaping spoonfuls of string beans, 2 of summer squash
Tomato jelly, diet dressing
Stewed fruit
Black coffee
INA CLAIRE’S was a special diet, at once reducing and strengthening. There was a definite debility to be considered, as she was inclined to anemia. Somewhere I have already mentioned that meat should be regular part of all reducing diets, to offset the possible weakening effect of cutting down on rations. As Miss Claire’s trouble is a widespread one, especially among women, a reducing diet for anemic persons overweight should be helpful.
DIET DRESSING in connection with salads has been repeated several times without explanation. It is simply a healthy substitute for the classic French dressing, with which it is contrasted below.
French Dressing

Olive oil
salt and pepper
Diet Dressing

Mineral oil
Lemon juice
The same (but as little salt as possible, salt being fattening)
IF your state of health warrants using an oil other than mineral, you will still do well to avoid olive oil, the heavy and indigestible element of French dressing. The French themselves have universally adopted oil of arrachide (a Sahara desert plant) as a substitute for olive oil and their olive oil industry survives on export to America and on the demands of soap manufacturers.
LIVER EXTRACT, mentioned above,can be prepared in the kitchen by chopping up cow’s liver, covering with cold water, bringing to a boil and simmering for three to four hours. (There is a patent product which cannot be named here which is superior to the home-made liver extract.) The brew obtained from the liver is combined, half and half, with the broth of vegetables or meat, and is the element of the diet which is the most effective counter-agent against anemia.


PROPERLY, one cannot give a “Gloria Swanson Diet.” Gloria’s case was complex, and so was the matter of her diet. At first she had to be overfed, as part of the treatment of her run-down nervous condition. She was never sentenced to one of the drastic reducing diets. In her case, ample nourishment had to be kept up and the reducing part of the program had to be provided by mechanical means—which was to say massage in her case. If you are nervous and run-down and, as a consequence, overweight, do not risk any of the hundred percent reducing diets listed herein, but use vigorous exercise and massage as correctives of the increase of weight which would otherwise be bound to result from the long hours of sleep you need and at least one daily meal as copious and strengthening as the second one below.
(Typical Meals for Nourishing the Nerves While Causing No Increase in Weight)

Half grapefruit
Small dish of fresh figs
3 slices of calf’s liver
2 slices of crisp rye toast with thin butter
1 dish of fresh raspberries, plain
Cup of tea, one lump of sugar

Roast pheasant or chicken; or boiled fish
2 tablespoons of mashed turnips
2 tablespoons of string beans (or substitute two scoops of noodles with melted butter for one of these)
Pickled beets
Black coffee
NOODLES. The diet food value of noodles has never been adequately published in America. In Europe the diet uses of this starchy but non-fattening food are well-known. When eaten as the sole starch item of a diet, noodles not only do not fatten, but are directly healing in many cases where an irritated condition of the digestive tract exists.
The only noodles to use are the plain Italian wheat-noodles, without any flavoring ingredients. Egg-noodles are debarred. Naturally, all the spaghetti sauces are excluded as they are all mixtures harmfully concocted in pans of frying fat.
Cook the noodles not less than ten, not more than twenty minutes (the time given on the average package is correct). have the water boiling and slightly salted from the start.
Serve as soon as ready, under a pat of fresh butter which melts on the way to the table.
The positive virtue of noodles as a food for sufferers from colitis or kindred intestinal complaints is in the fact that they form a poultice for the irritated tissues and digest without strain.
FRYING. Reference to “frying fat” is made above and the Swanson diet includes boiled fish. Here, then, is the place to say that there is only one rule about frying: DON’T! This is a rule not only of dietary and of all sane cooking. Fried foods are certainly the origin of the chronic digestive troubles which identify the native American (by his belch!) to doctors all over the world. There is nothing that should be fried. And if you’re lazy, and don’t like to hear this, and if you forget it between now and dinner, which is to be prepared as usual in the quick-and-easy pan of grease—why, go ahead Suit yourself, only don’t go squealing to your doctor or your masseuse and say you don’t know how it is you have so much stomach trouble, for you greased yourself for the skid.
As fish can no more be fried than any other food, they must be boiled or grilled. Buy only the “lean” varieties of fish. By lean fish are meant those of the trout family, pike, true sole (unobtainable in America) and a few others showing no fat between skin and flesh. Boiled (but not so long as to soften the firm flesh) these are all excellent, with melted butter. The lean fish are less satisfactory broiled as that method of cooking accentuates the natural dryness.



The diet below is the only fattening diet herein. Meals similar to these will build up your weight, but not at the expense of your health.
Glass of orange juice
Dish of hominy mied with one over-ripe sliced banana with cream and sugar
Glass of certified milk (half milk, half cream)

Half avocado (alligator pear) on lettuce with mayonnaise (made in your own kitchen)
3 heaping tablespoons of turnips en purée
3 heaping tablespoons of fresh green peas
2 slices of wholewheat toast with plenty of fresh butter
1 dish stewed fruit
1 glass certified milk

1 cup creamed fresh tomato soup
Mixed grill of lamp chops, kidneys, two strips of crisp bacon
Beets in fresh melted butter (melted by the heat of the served dish)
Mashed potatoes
Cup of custard, vanilla sauce (the egg for the custard to be less than one day old)
Black coffee
STEWED FRUIT. Fruit is stewed when there is any reason for avoiding raw foods. Raw foods are stricken from the diets of persons suffering from colitis or kindred disarrangements of the intestinal tract. Whenever you feel “out of sorts” you will do well to cut out raw foods from your diet.
When you stew fruit, do not cook the fruit until it is shapeless and tasteless. Follow this plan:
1. Cook the fruit whole, except those that must been peeled and cored.
2. Cover with cold sugared water.
3. Bring to a boil. Then take off the fire immediately and cool.
When you are on the non-raw food régime, salads are also cooked. Lettuce and other edible leaves are immersed in boiling water for two minutes and served as a vegetable.
(Diet fads come, diet fads go, but one thing never changes: the art of diet cooking)
Pay no attention to meatless diat fads.
Broil or roast the leaner meats in such a way as to eliminate the fats, first by cutting away the visible excess before cooking and, second, by taking the measures I have described for eliminating contact between meats and their drippings.
Do not boil meats. However, you may eat cold boiled ham as often as you wish.
In contradistinction to meats, fish should be boiled. Only the lean varieties should be used.
Should be boiled or steamed in only as much water as will prevent burning and should be cooked no longer than is necessary to make them palatable.
The better parts of vegetables being absorbed in the cooking waters, preserve all of these for making the pure vegetable broths and soups you should habitually eat.
Harmless in small quantities if never cooked. Therefore butter should always be added to hot dishes with which it is served just before they go to the table. Sweet butter is best, and can always be obtained in Jewish stores.
Dangerous on account of American distribution methods which provide the public with stale eggs. To be used only when they are certified to be not more than 24 hours old. Soft boiled, poached or incorporated into custards.
With the exception of certain berries which disagree with particular constitutions, all are excellent. However, when there is reason to suspect disorders of the digestive tract, they should be stewed, though not longer than it takes the sugared water to come to a boil.
Always to be suspected. Salt fattens. Peppers, mustard, etc. are indigestible. Any sauce which has been fried is vile. Prefer mineral and neutral vegetable oils to olive oil. For vinegar substitute lemon juice. Avoid cocktail sauces with the exception of the plain and pure juices which are erroneously called cocktails.
With the exception of “lean” fish, they are generally to be avoided—especially the crustaceans.
Despite their starch content, they are non-fattening when eaten plain-boiled with melted butter. Helpful in all conditions involving irritation of the digestive tract.
And now to conclude with a diet day recommended to all who suffer from digestive disorders. If your digestive apparatus is on the blink, either because of disease or because of an excess, try living on this fare for a few days.
Vegetable broth
Cold boiled ham
Noodles, boiled 10 to 20 minutes (follow instructions on the package) and served with a pat of butter.
Stewed fruit

Clabber and hot or cold boiled potatoes (lots of clabber and little potato)


< Read Chap. 15

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