Portland produces media pioneers. One of our cultural geographic strengths!
Portland Center Stage celebrates one of them when it opens I Love To Eat on Jan. 8, a new play about Portland actor-turned-chef-turned-media-icon James Beard.
Beard was born in Portland on May 5, 1903. The son of a restauranteur, he grew up immersed in theater and good cooking. When Reed tossed him out without a diploma, he began preparing for a career on the stage. It is because of Beard’s account of his early acting studies in Portland that we know that Marc Rothko, his exact Portland contemporary, also had a (brief) theater bug. In the summer of 1923, Rothko was a student, with James Beard and Clark Gable, of Portland acting coach Josephine Dillon. What a group! Josephine Dillon would go on to become the first Mrs. Clark Gable, Clark Gable would become the King of Hollywood, Marc Rothko would transfer his ambition to painting, and James Beard would find glory teaching America how to cook.
Beard became a cookbook author in 1940. With the invention of television, he broadened his fan base by going straight into American homes. Television was live in 1946, so there are no archives of his NBC show, I Love To Eat, but the one audio tape which survives testifies that it showcased Beard’s storytelling ability as much as his cooking. Maybe the Portland Center Stage production, I Love To Eat, will reveal more.
James Beard was an enormously influential chef, a popular writer, a tireless teacher and a famed raconteur. A trans media pioneer, he used print, television and live performance (in the classroom) to promote the brand James Beard. Moving to New York permanently in 1937, at age 34, he returned to Oregon annually to teach classes at the James Beard cooking school in Gearhart, the beach town where he had spent his summers growing up.
Portland contemporaries of Beard, besides Rothko (Clark Gable was only making a pit stop), include jazz promoter Max Gordon, voice artist Mel Blanc and cartoonist Basil Wolverton. Rothko and Gordon joined Beard in creating New York based careers which changed the respective worlds of art, jazz and cooking. Mel Blanc skipped New York to go Hollywood. The Mel Blanc Show hit radio airwaves in 1946, the same year NBC broadcast I Love To Eat. The only homebody of the bunch, Basil Wolverton, sent his cartoons around the world while he himself never budged from his home in Vancouver.
Here’s hoping that as Portland rebrands itself as a Creative Capital, these creative spirits will get reclaimed, and rebranded, as the Jazz Age Portlanders they were. Portland Center Stage’s celebration of James Beard follows Portland Art Museum’s Mark Rothko exhibit in 2012, and Oregon Cartoon Institute’s Mel Blanc Project in 2011 – all three taking steps towards this goal.
Here’s the skinny, for people who like building a chronological awareness of Portland-centric magnificence.
James Beard, 1903 – 1985 Born & raised in Portland.
Marc Rothko, 1903 -1970 Born in Dvinsk, raised in Portland.
Max Gordon, 1903 – 1989 Born in Lithuania, raised in Portland.
Mel Blanc, 1908 – 1989 Born in San Francisco, raised in Portland.
Basil Wolverton, 1909 – 1978 Born in Central Point, raised in Vancouver.
Clark Gable, 1901 – 1960 Lillypadder! Arrived from the Midwest, departed for LA.
Josephine Dillon, 1884 – 1971 Lillypadder! Arrived from East Coast, departed for LA.
Yes, the real story here is Josephine Dillon. I’m looking forward to a full length biography of this woman. Someone please write one!
If, after reading about Portland’s first locavore chef, you’re feeling you’d like even more of him in your life, the people at the James Beard Public Market have got your back. Buy a ticket to see I LOVE TO EAT on Jan 11, a special fund raising night, and Ron Paul will tell you about the James Beard Public Market in person.
From the James Beard Public Market website:
Purchase tickets to the Jan. 11, 2013 fundraiser performance of I LOVE TO EAT by visiting or calling the Portland Center Stage box office, 503 445 – 3700 and providing the code “James Beard Public Market Event”. Tickets are not available online, and only available for a limited time.
I LOVE TO EAT, a one man play about the life of James Beard followed by a tasting featuring Oregon James Beard Foundation Award winners Phillipe Boulot, Greg Higgins, Caprial Pence, Gabriel Rucker and Corey Screiber.
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM
Gerding Theater at the Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave, Portland OR 97209
Proceeds benefit the James Beard Public Market.