Peanut Butter and Romanticizing the Past

The beverages I drink don’t usually have words like “win,” “athletic,” and “epic” wrapped around the bottle. Thanks to a stomach bug I’ve been on the crackers and Gatorade diet for the better part of this week, drinking epic athletic liquid with artificially colored win.

I graduated to crackers + peanut butter on Friday and that was pretty exciting. Eating peanut butter spread on crackers always makes me think of one of my favorite people-from-the-past-I’ve-never-met-but-like-to-romanticize.

I have a soft spot for writers. My undergrad and grad school theses were both on 1930s film fan magazines. While I spent a lot of pages analyzing the contemporary context, consumerism, and content, I also spent a decent chunk of time looking at the writers and editors of the publications.

Some of the writers had prolific enough careers that they also wrote for other publications, leaving a big trail of evidence behind them. Others are a little trickier to track, though Anthony Slide’s Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine does a really fabulous job of profiling many of the writers that are tougher to track elsewhere. When I was writing my undergrad thesis I took a lot of information from an issue of Picture Play, which had a great two part feature on contributing writers written by Samuel Richard Mook in the February and March 1930 issues.

I would definitely want to do some fact checking before taking anything in the article as fact, but there’s always that non-factual value  – the mood and message that it conveys. One of the anecdotes that’s always stuck with me is about Myrtle Gebhart. Early in her career before writing for fan magazines, she bounced from one writing job to another and worked addressing envelopes at a rate of three dollars for every thousand. According to Mook, her diet at that point “consisted chiefly of peanut butter bought in bulk and spread thinly on crackers.”

So now every time I have peanut butter spread on crackers I think of Myrtle Gebhart, this writer I have very little knowledge of and have definitely never met (she died in 1958 according to Slide). But I have a soft spot for Gebhart and her Mook portrait. As he notes, “there is something splendid about a girl who has been through the mill as Myrtle has.”

In my thesis I got all analytical historian up in the article about the portrayal of women and the rags to riches angle, but that and fact checking aside, there is just something completely enchanting about these little writer portraits in Picture Play.

Mook himself is author of one of my all time favorite quotes: “I prefer dives to palaces, as I feel that in dives you see life, and in palaces you look on an artificial glitter.” True that.

Today I think I can finally eat real food again (hooray), but the brightside to my downside week was the thought of Myrtle and me eating our peanut butter crackers, decades apart but together in spirit.

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