Memories I Should Have Had
New York: Sardi’s/St. James Theatre
Lunch with Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic. Vincent Sardi buzzes around the table supervising the waiter making the eponymous salad for Kit. Sardi is distracted and the waiter serves it. Kit takes one bite and stage-whispers, “Needs more garlic.” The waiter is nonplussed, “Miss Cornell, I must have put in four cloves of garlic…” McClintic snaps, “Then four more are in order.” At that moment, Sardi returns asking if everything is all right. McClintic queries him, “Is garlic being rationed?” Sardi glares at the waiter and jerks his head toward the kitchen. The waiter beats a retreat. Another waiter shows up a minute later with a basin of minced garlic. Kit’s hooded eyes turn twin lighthouses with a smile beaming to match. He adds it to the shredded cabbage, anchovy, and bacon in the salad bowl. Sardi himself squeezes a lemon over it and does the toss. McClintic pours a dash more olive oil and mutters, “Smoothes the roughage.” Kit grimaces at him, and then insists I have some salad too. As I chew, the roof of my mouth and the back of my tongue are inflamed. I was brought up in a household where a dash of pepper in ketchup was called “chili sauce.”
Arlene Francis arrives at the table, out of breath and all aglow. “Don’t worry Kit; I’m not going to ask you to do my show. Jack Wilson promised me he’d get Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner to come on and talk about The King and I, and today’s the day.” She surveys the room. Arlene does a radio broadcast from the restaurant. Kit smiles ruefully, “But Gertie has been ill. Celeste Holm is playing for her.” McClintic asks, “When did Wilson make that promise?” Arlene looking cross responds, “Last week, why?” McClintic persists, “I mean what time, dear?” “Oh it was late, Martin and I saw ‘New Faces.’ We took Alice Ghostley — isn’t she marvelous? — to ‘21’ afterwards. Jack telephoned me there and was so excited; he boasted how he’d been tracking me down all over town.” McClintic says, “Arlene, when Jack Wilson remembers anything that happens after 10PM, Yul Brynner will need a hairdresser.”
Arlene blanches. “Kit, I beg you, can you do the show today?” I’m stuck!” Kit starts to shake her head. McClintic grunts and taps the table. I stop him. “Arlene — wait. What about Celeste Holm? She owes me a favor.” McClintic smirks, “Oh is that what you kids are calling it these days?” Kit almost chokes on her salad. I dash out of Sardi’s and over to the St. James Theatre; it’s next door.
I know Celeste always arrives much earlier than she needs to. I find her dressing room and go right in. Sure enough, she’s sprawled face down on a chaise under a sun lamp. I murmur, “I never saw that birthmark before.” She springs up, grabs a make-up towel that only covers her heart and mews, “Masher! You didn’t knock!” She drops the towel. I lean to kiss her; she recoils, “Trying to ward off Dracula or what?” I remember the mound of garlic being tossed into the salad. I explain, “Katharine Cornell made me…” She puts on her robe and chuckles, “The Sardi’s salad.”
I get to the point, “Listen, can you do me a tremendous favor? Arlene Francis is up the creek — Gertrude Lawrence was supposed to be on her show today with Yul Brynner. But because Jack Wilson was drunk…” Celeste’s eyes narrow, “Since when do you care about Arlene Francis? — don’t you know Martin Gabel is a regular green-eyed monster? He practically challenged Ed Sullivan to a duel for patting her on the cheek last week! Why can’t Cornell do it? Right after she finishes her bowl of garlic.” I think fast, “She’s probably antsy because she closed The Constant Wife last month and it was such a hit and…” Celeste sighs, “Never mind, sweetie, I’ll do it. I’m taking Miss Lah-rence’s place on the stage, why not over the air waves?” I tell Celeste, “You are a shining star! But we have to hurry.” She exhales, “Do we?” and moves close to me, letting the robe open; my lips brush hers, but she shudders and pushes me away, “On second thought, I’ll get dressed right now!”
Damn Katharine Cornell salad to hell.
In later years, I’ve grown quite fond of it. Here is Vincent Sardi’s history and recipe: “This is the salad we had to remove from the menu because so many people, after they had ordered it, found that it contained too much garlic. We named it after Miss Cornell because she was so fond of garlic in large quantities that she often ordered the salad and sometimes even asked that more garlic be added. The garlic may be added to taste. First, shred as much white cabbage as you estimate you will need for the number of people you are serving. Shred it the way you would prepare it for coleslaw. Next, take a can of fillets of anchovies and turn them into a frying pan. Let them simmer over a low heat, meanwhile adding a few ounces of olive oil, about an eighth of a pound of butter, and as much garlic as you wish, sliced very thin or minced well. Allow this mixture to remain on the fire, still over the low heat, until the anchovies are completely dissolved and mixed with the other oils. Now add two tablespoons of strong vinegar or, if you prefer, lemon juice. Meanwhile, in another frying pan, fry as many strips of bacon as you wish. Let the bacon get very crisp, take it off, and dry the grease out of it. It should be crumbly. Put your shredded cabbage in a deep salad bowl. Pour over the anchovy-garlic-oil mixture. Crumble the bacon in your fingers all over this, and it’s ready to serve.” — From “Sardi’s: The Story of a Famous Restaurant” by Vincent Sardi, Sr. and Richard Gehman.