Greta Garbo looked peaked. Or so her director, Ernst Lubitsch, thought. "Roses I got to have in your cheeks!" he told her on the set of Ninotchka.
For advice, Garbo turned to Gayelord Hauser, a German-born health food advocate whose regimen of vitamin- and protein-rich foods had already found converts in Hollywood. "I made it my task to wean her away from strict vegetarianism and coax her back to intelligent eating,'' Hauser told the New York Post in 1939. (Their relationship would soon be the subject of great speculation.)
Whole foods. By the 1950s, Hauser had a bestselling book, Look Younger Live Longer, that challenged America's postwar eating habits. He railed against processed foods while championing foods that he thought promoted longevity--yogurt, brewer's yeast, powdered skim milk, and blackstrap molasses. His message--to eat whole foods--was decidedly against the tide. While the government was supporting the production of enriched white breads as a "quiet miracle" to improve nutrition, Hauser suggested that such bread be labeled "devitalized" instead.
And he lamented the national sweet tooth: "In 1900, the national consumption of white sugar was about 10 pounds per person in a year," he noted in the book. "Today, what with our mountains of cheap candies and candy bars, and our oceans of soft drinks, the national average of white sugar consumed yearly is more than 100 pounds per person." (What would the diet guru say about the 2003 consumption rate of 142 pounds per person?) No mere America basher, Hauser called it as he saw it--on several speaking tours, he told the Argentines that they ate far too much meat.
Convinced that his diet saved him from death from tuberculosis of the hip, he believed many ailments could be eased through strategic eating--most significantly with a diet rich in vitamin B foods. But he found mainstream medicine little help, calling its clinics "human machine shops" and offering his own alternative regimens on how to stop hardening of the arteries, prevent stroke, and guard against cancer. Mainstream medicine answered his skepticism with undisguised animosity, recalls his nephew, O. Robert Hauser. In 1951, the Food and Drug Administration seized copies of Look Younger Live Longer on the grounds it was promoting the sale of one brand of blackstrap molasses. Hauser's views incensed the American Medical Association and the sugar and flour lobbies, says his nephew. "They were always trying to discredit him," he says. "The more successful he was, the more vigorous the opposition."
Tall, handsome, and well built, Hauser was his own best advertisement. With his broad smile and warm sense of humor, he attracted Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, and the Duchess of Windsor as well as many ordinary American housewives smitten by his glamour. But as Hauser himself noted before his death at 89, it wasn't until the 1970s, with the rise of the counterculture, that a groundswell of Americans took his message to heart.
Julia Child's 1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking was heralded by critics and housewives alike. But it was her TV show, The French Chef , which aired from 1963 to 1987, that made her America's first true celebrity chef. The show, which was followed by other series like Baking With Julia and Dinner at Julia's, brought French cooking to the masses, but it was her frank demeanor that made her a hit. Apart from being a master at improvisation, Child used what most would see as major faux pas, like melting a dessert, into lessons for her viewers. She inspired a generation to see the act of cooking as a joy and an art.
This story appears in the August 15, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.