The New York Times, February 17, 1929


And Lord Ivor Cream Serves Montrachet Nightly at the Morosco


What libations does a sated lord, leaning languidly toward conquest, pour on the altar of Eros? With this problem Mr. Harris, Mr. Burton and myself found ourselves starkly confronted during the difficult period before rehearsal, while the script or "Serena Blandish" was being served by Mr. Harris to its ultimate content. The novelist tells us that Serena came and lunched at Lord Ivor's, but not on what. Had she the prescience to divine that one day a play bearing the name of her heroine would be presented at the Morosco Theatre in New York by Jed Harris, she would, assuredly, have been less niggardly of prandial details, for she is benevolent and would not willingly cause any one pain. Had she indicated a menu, more importantly a wine-list, she would have saved me infinite annoyance, infinite humiliation.

My own experience of life – that reservoir upon which all writers are said, in moments of inspiration, to draw – was somehow inadequate to qualify me for improvising a luncheon for a tepidly amorous lord. I doubt whether it would have served me better for a vigorous one, but the precise modulation in the food and drink required by this one was a problem in gastronomics that floored me. At Harvard, under Professor Baker, I had inquired into problems of psychology, suspense, conflict, mood, what not. I do not wish to reproach Professor Baker, but I cannot help regretting that he had not instructed me upon the project of what a lord gives a girl at lunchtime. It is true that once, in London, I had supper with a lord. A very distinguished one, 70 years old, mellow, rich in conversation, one of the most urbane and delightful, men I have ever met. He ate, unhappily, several helpings of, I believe, deviled kidneys. This didn't seem right somehow for Lord Ivor. I couldn't imagine this young man eating deviled kidneys.

On the question of drinks I considered myself somewhat better off. On an earlier visit to London – the first of two – Crosby Gaige had, on a gala occasion, given me some marvelous-tasting stuff which he told me afterward was Château Y'Quem. That, I reflected, is what a wine like this should be called. Immemorial castles in France, terraced vineyards. Y'Quem! It sounded like a very exclusive territory, a French Newport. This, I reflected, is what Lord Ivor would serve to supplement his languor. In this illusion I lived until one day Mr. Woollcott, who had read the script, said to me in his simple way: "You know that Château Y'Quem is a tourist wine!"

I didn't know it, but I behaved as if I did. I dammed the veritable current of Château Y'Quem drenching the manuscript, I squelched it altogether. My troubles increased. An English lady who has a house in London and serves luncheons told me that the food I had Michael give Serena at Lord Ivor's – I believe in that version it was sweetbreads, Devonshire cream and strawberries – was far off the mark. "If you give a girl that tort of meal," she wrote me with some point, "she'd get ill and be of no use to anybody." There was a certain cogency in this argument that gave me pause.

What should I do? I was at an impasse. I tried to get Noel Coward on the telephone, but he was in Baltimore. I thought desperately of getting a letter of introduction to Otto Kahn. I was certain that Mr. Harris, effete worldling, would know what to advise in this crisis, but it was a matter of pride with me not to go to him. I suddenly thought of asking David Burton. Mr. Burton, like Ivor himself, "conveys an atmosphere of foreign cities." He had told me often of being in Venice and riding in a gondola with Gilbert Miller. Into his conversation there creep references to Budapest, Vilna, Vienna, the Lido. I had seen a picture of him in a striped bathing suit at Antibes, and I knew for a fact that he had been to Australia. "David," I thought, "will know."

But David didn't. He made several vague gestures and vaguer sounds – did I distinguish burgundy, hock, chianti? – and was off for a dinner engagement at the Lambs Club. He would think about it and see me later that evening at Mr. Harris's suite in the Warwick. I had to face the necessity of telling the producer flatly that the food and drinks in the Ivor scenes were indigestible and provincial, and that I did not know what to put in their place. I anticipated Mr. Harris's comments on the general inadequacy of authors and I steeled myself.

The three of us foregathered. As preparation for our excursion into the vagaries of the British "high life," the producer did an imitation of Georgie Jessel impersonating one Mandelkern, a conceited actor in a Yiddish troupe downtown. This led us simply and naturally to the problem of what an English lord gives a girl. "Jed," I said flatly, "the drinks and the food in the Ivor scenes are all wrong. I don't know what to do about them. It's up to you. What do you want to substitute?"

At this point it becomes my painful duty slightly to impair the Harris legend, that tradition of omniscience, of infallibility, of a swordlike directness. For the first time in his life, I believe, he hesitated. He stammered. He made inconclusive sounds.  Mr. Burton and I were embarrassed. It gradually dawned upon us that Mr. Harris did not know. It was the sudden twilight of a god.

We sat down. There was a silence. I am sure that in that interval we conned our pasts with the desperation of college boys in the examination room trying to summon knowledge out of vacuity. I looked at Mr. Burton's agonized face. Was he trying to remember scraps of Gilbert Miller's conversation? What areas of his past was Mr. Harris traversing? No one will ever know. In my own mind there was a monotonous reiteration. . . . "Lord Esher . . . deviled kidneys . . . ."

Finally I got what I considered an inspiration. "Why not," I said brightly, "have Lord Ivor serve the most commonplace bourgeois luncheon in the world and the stodgiest of drinks . . . ? Steak and ale. . . ." I recalled Disraeli's duke who was so bored with good wines that he implored his friends to serve him bad ones. This would be a fillip, I thought, a comment on the eternal cycle of decadence; better than all this – a solution.

But it was no solution to Mr. Harris. He made several terse and bitter comments on my general habit of rationalizing my inadequacies. There we sat. Lord Ivor sat, too, writing checks . . . Serena sat expectant, waiting for the luncheon to begin; Michael, Lord Ivor's man, stood at attention ready to bring in food, ready to bring in anything. But the larder was empty. The decanters were unfilled. Suddenly Mr. Harris picked up the script. "At last," I thought, "the master –"

But what Mr. Burton and I heard were Ivor's chiseled sentences sounding grotesque and alien in the outraged silence. Mr. Harris was reading the precious Ivor scenes in Milt Gross! It was not the effect I intended. It is not the effect achieved now at the Morosco by Henry Daniell. But it was, I may assure this reader, an effect and an unforgettable one. On a later occasion the idea was conceived of having the gold and silver dishes placed before Serena and Ivor and letting them repose there to be removed with the food untasted. But this occasion ended in hilarity – Mr. Harris walking about the room, torturing Lord Ivor's prose, pressing on Serena heavy dishes out of ghetto cookshops, urging on her the seductions of seltzer water, Dr. Brown's celery tonic, milk shakes, all in a thick and dripping dialect that would have made Lord Ivor stuff his ears with silken wool.

The answer to the wine question dropped into my lap several days later in a letter from a sophisticated friend. Montrachet! My instinct told me that Montrachet was right. Noel Coward thought that Montrachet was right. Crosby Gaige thought that Montrachet was right. Neither Burton, Harris nor myself had ever heard of it – Henry Daniell had never heard of it. Certainly a wine that none of us had ever heard of was out of the tourist class and in a remoter, more sublimated one. We served Montrachet. We will, in spite of William Bolitho, continue to serve it. "A lord," writes Mr. Bolitho contemptuously, "who drinks Montrachet (of all things) out of a hock bottle. . . ." Well, I defy Mr. Bolitho. Montrachet, though I have never tasted it, is, I insist, what Lord Ivor would drink. It is just the right thing. And the fact that he drinks it out of a hock bottle is the very touch I consider masterly, inevitable, right. My first impulse was to have him drink it in the regular, normal way out of a Montrachet bottle. But not he, I thought later, not this lord. Of all his perversities this is his most intimate, the most significant and revealing – that he will, in spite of all the world, in spite of all tradition, in spite of William Bolitho, drink Montrachet out of it hock bottle!

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