"Lots of grapefruit throughout the day and plenty of virile young men at night."
We think of stars as creatures of the night—on-screen, they’re glittering with diamonds in chic nightclubs, in the real world they’re swanning into a premiere clad in an evening gown. But how the bombshells began the day was just as important to their images. Sometimes breakfast was a sensual pleasure, like turn-of-the-century pinup Lillian Russell eating melon topped with ice cream and sprinkled with cinnamon. Other times, it’s more about maintaining one’s alluring figure, as when contemporary diva Jennifer Lopez downs a kale smoothie. Here’s what some of the screen’s most legendary ladies have had for breakfast.
Dietrich was nearly as renowned for her hausfrau skills as for her smoky voice, spectacular legs or ability to rock a top hat and tails. Not only did she keep a spotless kitchen, but she was both a proficient and prolific cook. While she could whip up everything from pot-au-feu to jelly doughnuts, Dietrich was perhaps most famous for her scrambled eggs. Among her tricks: Use one extra yolk for three (room temperature) eggs, cook in melted butter and beat over a low flame with a fork.
The heroine of European silent cinema and iconic art deco beauty was actually from Cherryvale, Kansas. Fitting for her Midwestern upbringing, Louise ate big, even while in dance training, devouring what she called “disgusting country breakfasts,” often finishing these repasts with several slices of pie. Other dancers would look on, sipping black coffee and nibbling toast—one friend even nicknamed Brooks, “Pie Face.” By the end of Brooks’ life, when the wicked actress/dancer had become a monastic film critic, her breakfasts became much more Spartan: A raw egg, two pieces of toast with red raspberry jam and a cup of coffee with milk.
The original platinum blonde was a social butterfly, even in the morning. If she was working, she’d be having coffee and toast on set with the cast and crew; if she wasn’t, Harlow was known to sneak into friends’ homes early in the morning to cook them breakfast. She was known for a recipe for hot rolls that involved butter and shortening, plus more butter slapped on during the rising process. But when Jean had to be filmed in one of her signature clingy, bias-cut satin gowns, she’d give up the rolls and toast for a few days of breakfasting on orange juice and coffee. Sometimes beauty demands sacrifice and often that sacrifice is carbs.
Mae West was ahead of her time in many ways: She was a woman who wrote and starred in her own plays—plays with audacious subject matter and double-entendres. She also had rather modern ideas about diet, exercise and staying healthy. West worked out daily with dumbbells and an exercise bike; she also didn’t smoke or drink and ate a diet heavy in fish and vegetables. Along with a healthy breakfast of fruits and nuts, Mae West had one other morning ritual she credited for vigorous health: A daily enema. Pass on that one, but her breakfast recipe for compote actually looks pretty good.
Mae West’s Fruit Compote
- 1 large apple, chopped
- 1 large pear, chopped
- 1 large banana, chopped
- 2-3 almonds, grated
Combine fruits, top with almonds.
While working on a film, Crawford divided breakfast into two mini-meals. Shortly after waking up, she would have a piece of fruit and a cup of tea. An hour or two later, in her dressing room at the studio, she’d have a hard-boiled egg and bacon or sausage—a protein blast before strutting onto the set and getting down to business. When not working, Texas dame Joan was known to enjoy a plate of huevos rancheros with hot sauce.
Joan Crawford’s devotion to the first meal of the day was such that it was the last thing she ever did. Literally: One May morning in 1977, Crawford rose to make breakfast for her housekeeper and a fan who’d stayed over the previous night. She went back to bed to watch her morning soap operas and called out to the two women to eat the meal she had just prepared. Those were her last words.
Elizabeth Taylor held the title of “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” for decades. Observing how Taylor started in the day in her twenties and in her fifties is a testament to how ideals of feminine beauty--as well as metabolism and foundation garments—change over time. Circa 1960—that’s Butterfield 8 Liz--it was scrambled eggs, bacon (crisp) and a mimosa. That changed once Richard Burton arrived on the scene a year later: Cruising around the Mediterranean on their yacht, the Kalizma, the pair were known to start the day with a buffet and salty dogs made with gin. In 1987—White Diamonds Liz—the diva’s breakfast was dry toast and a piece of fruit. No bacon fat, not even a smudge of butter; no mimosas, not even a white wine spritzer.
In her starlet days, Marilyn went proto-paleo, favoring two raw eggs whisked into a glass of warm milk with a vitamin pill on the side, after which she would run around in back alleys or lift weights to firm up her bustline. A dozen years, three marriages and two Kennedys later, she was known to start the day with a bloody mary, brought to her by housekeeper Lena Pepitone while Marilyn still lay in bed.
International goddess Sophia Loren is renowned for her ageless beauty—she posed in lingerie for the Pirelli pinup calendar at 72. She’s also authored two cookbooks of wonderfully carb-heavy Italian recipes, such as a Neopolitan omelet, which has ham, cheese and spaghetti in it. Of course, a lady doesn’t breakfast on pasta every day and still fit into her Dolce & Gabbana, so Sophia also eats lightly when necessary. In the ‘60s, her slimming breakfast might have been half a grapefruit, melba toast and black coffee; today it’s an English muffin and the coffee is decaf.
Most bombshell breakfast tips are either about maintaining one’s figure or letting loose in a moment of personal indulgence. But what about the breakfast that helps a bombshell in her ultimate goal: Seduction? For this, we turn to the leggy, legendary Angie Dickinson, who once said, “I've always kept my diet secret but now I might as well tell everyone what it is. Lots of grapefruit throughout the day and plenty of virile young men at night." When Dickinson married composer and musician Burt Bacharach back in 1965, the pair honeymooned in Palm Springs. After what one can only assume was an exciting evening, they would brunch on the following….
Angie Dickinson’s Honeymoon Sandwich
- 2 slices rye bread or 1 English muffin, split
- 4 large slices baked or boiled ham, or broiled Canadian bacon
- 4 slices Cheddar or American cheese
- 4 slices thick beefsteak tomato
- 1 dill pickle, sliced lengthwise
- Soft butter
- Dijon mustard
1. Lightly toast bread and spread with butter.
2. Top each slice with ham and spread ham with mustard. Top with tomato and pickles, ending with cheese on top.
3. Put under broiler until cheese is melted and lightly browned.
4. Serve open-faced with good vintage brut champagne.