Chicken Soup for the Stars

Chicken Soup for the StarsWell the good news is Such Mad Fun is almost ready to launch. Thanks in part to the stellar team freelancing for View Tree Press, we received a starred Kirkus review a few days ago.  And I’m so grateful for the encouragement of advance readers.  Very fews typos turned up, but then there’s this dilemma that every author dreads after a book has gone to press. Did I make a mistake by attributing the chicken soup recipe in MGM’s famous commissary to the wrong woman? Martin Turnbull, who knows more than most about what was really going on in Hollywood in the 1930s, pointed out that the chicken soup recipe that was so popular at MGM’s famous commissary came not from Louis B. Mayer’s wife, as I had written, but from his mother. Now that’s an error that needs attention.

I checked my sources and discovered that a terrific book,  MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot, by Stephen Bingen, Steven X. Sylvester and Michael Troyan, has this to say: “believing that excellent, well-prepared food would keep his employees on the lot and avoid long lunch breaks, L. B. Mayer originally put his wife in charge here. Margaret Mayer trained the chef herself, supplying him with a recipe for her husband’s favorite chicken soup (‘take nine fat, two-year-old kosher hens for every three gallons of liquid, stewing them overnight, then separating the broth from the chicken. Add chunks of chicken and delicate matzoh balls’) for 35 cents a bowl.” This was great chicken soup, loaded with “‘big chunks of chicken and noodles,'” according to one lucky person who got to taste it. So was Martin right?

A go-to person for everything classic Hollywood is Scott Eyman, author of THE  biography of Louis B. Mayer. Uh oh, Eyman’s book confirms that L. B.’s  mother was the source of the recipe. Her name rarely comes up, but she was Sarah Meltzer Meir, and I’m sure she would like proper credit. Can’t you just imagine her fixing that soup for little Lazar and his two sisters in Minsk, and then eventually in Rhode Island where his brothers were born in 1888 and 1891.The pot no doubt got much bigger for this family of seven when they lived in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. How great those matzoh balls must have tasted when Lazar came home after roaming the streets to collect scrap metal. (He left school at about the age of 12 to help support his family.)

Jane Hall knew nothing about this history when she used that chicken soup at MGM to soothe one of her frequent sore throats on a damp February afternoon in 1938.  And as for the book, just in the nick of time, thanks to ever- patient designer Elliot Beard, I changed the reference to give Sarah credit. But maybe both sources are right.  Margaret Mayer’s recipe may have come from her mother-in-law.  If you have one of the advance copies, just enjoy the soup and don’t worry about the source.