mildred pierce

What happened was that as Mildred’s expanded, the food we were asked to eat was just too much, too fast. At first it was a pleasure; the fried chicken, in particular. We sat at checkered tablecloths and were careful not to spill the gravy or make crumbs – the set dressers were vigilant, and among the meanest people at the studio. The coffee was good, too, very hot, but we were not permitted to blow on it because this action distended our cheeks, and consequently many burned their mouths, without grimacing of course.

But the plot called for more Mildred’s, more chicken, more scalding coffee, and also those mile-high cream pies, the kind no one makes anymore, as if they were prohibited. Why not make a pie so tall it cannot fit anywhere but a Hollywood set? But even the pies began to wear on us. The variety helped – pumpkin, apple, and the myriad creams: pineapple, banana, lemon chiffon – however many of us began to fall ill. Those who fell sick nonetheless showed up for work, because work was not plentiful, and in addition to our wages we were eating well; but the eating was difficult enough without feeling sick.

Then we had to travel, to the Mildred’s at Laguna Beach, to the many Mildred’s in the booming Valley – often in one day, at one meal even. The script would call for chickens down south and pie back north. The choice assignment was Beverly Hills, but soon they stopped serving food there altogether and used it only for the office scenes. While Mildred was working in Beverly Hills, we were eating everywhere else, keeping the money flowing, the business booming. The plot necessities were clear, but none of us could see how it could last.

And it didn’t last. Not enough mouths, not enough chicken, not enough pie to pay for all the costs associated with the now ubiquitous Mildred’s. An entire population was eating, but it wasn’t enough. It would take the end of the war, returning soldiers, big new families, to eat all the food this plot required. Before that could happen they killed off the principals, closed the set, put us out of work. Then we missed the chicken and coffee. I remember arguments about which Mildred’s had been the best, which pie, which gravy with the fried chicken. These were long, impassioned bouts of nostalgia for a set the likes of which we would never see again, food we could only recall in black and white, that looked so good we could never be sure we had ever really tasted it.

(Damon Krukowski, from The Memory Theater Burned, 2004.)

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