All my dormant plants are suddenly bursting with colorful blooms and the potted herbs are exuberantly exhibiting fragrant fresh growth. The first tourists have arrived on the island and the locals are all light-hearted as they diligently prepare their business’ for the upcoming months.
The recipe for this posting is Susan Strasberg’s Cheese Blintzes. It’s fast, easy, and versatile… It’s a celebration! A celebration where you can use the last of your reserves, in anticipation of all the stone-fruits and flavors to come. Something fun you can whip up for a Mother’s Day brunch this coming weekend or a Sunday on the porch with neighbors while celebrating the great weather. They can be made far ahead of time and frozen, or whipped up in just a few minutes (if you prepared your batter the night before). They’re great for brunch (maybe with a savory breakfast sausage served on the side), by themselves at the afternoon coffee clutch, or for dessert, finishing an elegant evening meal…
I actually have 2 different Cheese Blintz recipes in the Recipes for Rebels cookbook…this one from Susan and another from James Dean’s buddy from the filming of Giant (1956), Chill Wills. Both similar, but different. I chose to feature Susan’s in this posting, mainly because I had already written about Mr. Wills last July in the Cowboy Day Cookalong. I have found that I prefer Susan’s recipe for the crepes, but Chill’s recipe for the filling. They’re both very good.
Blintzes can be finished off in so many different ways… Susan suggests a dollop of sour cream and/or applesauce (delicious, but the beige-ness of the applesauce is not very photogenic…so I didn’t use it in either the cover image or video). Chill suggests black cherry preserves and sour cream (very eye-catching…but almost too much sweetness for my personal taste). Here in Greece they have something they call “sour cherries”…still in a thick sugary syrup, but the deep dark red cherry variety they use offers a balance of tartness. A beautiful accompaniment to this dish. Just about any favorite marmalade you have hanging around could really be used.
The relationship between Susan Strasberg and James Dean is ambiguous at best…NONE of the Dean biographers mention it at all. In 1955 The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “James Dean courted Susan Strasberg in jeans, a dirty leather jacket, and cowboy boots. Susan was as happy as if he had worn a tuxedo.”
Susan was a FUN girl! Wise beyond her years. As daughter of the co-founder and artistic director of The Actors Studio’s Lee Strasberg (and his 1st wife Paula), she and her brother John had grown up in a household that was a revolving door of New York’s rich, famous, elite, and most creative intellectuals. She was hobnobbing with the Who’s Who of actors, writers, and directors since childhood (she eventually became good friends with Marilyn Monroe, whom her father brought to live with them, and wrote Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends. There’s a great article about them in this 2003 issue of Vanity Fair).
In 1956, Susan was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award for the title role she originated in The Diary of Anne Frank (1955) at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. She was the youngest actress (17 at the time) on Broadway to have her name appear ABOVE the marquee. She would go on to appear in 4 more Broadway, 1 Off-Broadway, and 98 film and TV productions. She lost the role in the subsequent movie adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), (both based on the book The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank) because director George Stevens didn’t want to work with Susan’s overbearing stage-mother Paula…
With a seven-year difference in age between she and James Dean, there’s no doubt that she could have kept up with him. And there’s no doubt that the two DID make company…but I suspect that the “courting” aspect of the relationship was mainly publicity agent fodder. Dean, at that time, was networking heavily for connections to the movers and shakers within the industry…Susan’s circle of influence must have been tantalizing to Dean. Lee Strasberg’s recollections about Dean were few, and mainly from encounters at The Actors Studio. Susan had a rebellious, teenage relationship with her father.
The only accurate, first-hand accounts of Dean’s time at The Actors Studio come from his acting partner/friend/girlfriend Christine White, that she details in her book about him (and a few anecdotal moments recalled by other Studio members like Paul Newman, etc…). Dean’s time at The Studio was brief. Although it had been his goal to gain acceptance into The Studio, once he had achieved that and absorbed an understanding of The Method…the harsh critic of his one-man toreador performance marked the end of his time there. It was an not a wasted experience. Dean’s acting ability seemed to flourish under the direction of The Actors Studio guru Elia Kazan in East of Eden (1955)…much more so than when he worked with dictatorial directors like George Stevens in Giant (1956).
Susan may have been intrigued by Dean…she went on to marry actor Christopher Jones in 1965, who somewhat resembled Dean in both looks and mannerisms. Jones was touted by the Hollywood hype machine as the “New James Dean” of the time…a label he both identified with and fought. The similarities between Jones’ life and Dean’s are interesting. Jones lost his mother at an early age (she was an artist, and hospitalized due to mental illness)…his father was unable to care for him, so Chris (William Frank Jones at the time) was sent away to live with an aunt. Unfortunately that situation didn’t work out either, and he was again sent away to live in Boys Town in Memphis, TN. It was there that he became a fan of James Dean.
Joe Stockton, the director of Boys Town showed Chris a magazine with Dean on the cover (Joe told him he resembled Dean, although Christopher thought of himself as a more “flashy” Elvis-type). Stockton took Jones to a screening of East of Eden (1955). Christopher says he was “blown away” by Dean’s performance, and started patterning his life after Dean. Jones left Boys Town at age 16. He did a short stint in the military, but went AWOL in 1957. Stealing a car, he drove to New Orleans, LA and then drove to Fairmount, IN where he knocked on the door Jimmie Dean’s childhood home, the Winslow farmhouse…
“The Winslow’s were very nice people and made me feel right at home,” remembered Chris. “Marcus (Jimmie’s younger cousin) was not at home. I suppose he may have been in school. They took me up to Jimmie’s room where his Levis were lying on the bed waiting for him to jump into them and there were several pairs of boots on the floor, just where he had left them. His Uncle showed me his motorcycle and took me to the barn to see Jimmie’s hand print they had put in the cement when he was 9 years old. He also told me Jimmy fell while playing and his father made him a (dental) plate which he wore for the rest of his life.”
From there Jones traveled on to New York where he turned himself in to military police. He served 6 months prison time for going AWOL and began acting classes to pursue his eventual career. Jones was moderately successful, with a growing fan base and 44 film and TV credits. He suddenly left acting at the height of popularity. Jones’ marriage to Strasberg only lasted 3 years and ended immediately after they finished their 1 and only movie together, Chubasco (1967). As the hot, up-and-coming male property in Hollywood, he was notorious for his string of female conquests. He was having an affair with Sharon Tate (wife of director Roman Polanski and pregnant with Roman’s child). While working on a film project in Europe, Jones got the news of her murder. He was devastated. Coupled with devious dealings with managers and directors, Jones quit the business (eventually living in the guest house behind the main residence that Tate was murdered in. He pursued painting and sculpting interests. Years later Pamela Des Barres published a very extensive and revealing interview with her friend Chris in the Aug ’96 issue of Movieline Magazine. In that interview, Chris revealed (among other things) his disillusionment with the film industry. Jones paid tribute to his idol, and attended the 1988 dedication of the James Dean bust at Griffith Observatory, by invitation of the artist Kenneth Kendall.
Cheese Blintzes are one of those “dress to impress,” elegant treats that are deceptively easy to prepare. They’ve been a favorite indulgence for Alex and I for many years. Making decent crepes is not nearly as difficult as the fancy chefs would like us to believe…you DON’T have to have a special “crepe pan” (although if you DO, then that’s great!)…any non-stick skillet will work or cast iron (such as you’ve seen me cook EVERYTHING in, in the videos). Crepes can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, or weeks ahead and frozen. The filled blintzes can also be made well ahead of time and frozen until ready to serve. Here’s a few notes on Susan’s recipe and preparation:
HERE’S THE VIDEO…HOPE YOU ENJOY!