Tag Archives: interviews

The Universal Language of Food: A Conversation with Aimee Zaring

Recent events have highlighted the need for an understanding of the situation facing refugees throughout the world. Refugees, unlike economic migrants, are forced to leave their countries of origin or are driven out by violence or persecution. As these individuals and their families struggle to adapt to a new culture, the kitchen often becomes one of the few places where they are able to return “home.” Preparing native cuisine is one way they can find comfort in an unfamiliar land, retain their customs, reconnect with their past, and preserve a sense of identity.


In Flavors from Home: Refugees in Kentucky Share Their Stories and Comfort Foods, author Aimee Zaring uses her many years of expertise working with refugees in the Commonwealth to explore their everyday life, the situations that brought them here, and the food that connects them to home. Zaring shares personal and dramatic accounts of their fight for their lives, as well as heartwarming and fascinating stories of their transition to living in America. Zaring also illustrates the importance of understanding the persecution and struggle that these refugees have gone through and the ability of food to provide a sense of home for them when home is lost.

In order to foster a discussion about the lives of refugees in Kentucky and throughout the country, we’re sharing the following conversation with Aimee Zaring, author of Flavors from Home:

What first interested you to write Flavors from Home and how did that interest help to shape the finished book?

For many years, I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to elder refugees, and we held occasional potlucks where students could share dishes from their homelands. Something magical happened at those potluck dinners. Usually at snack time, the students from each ethnic group would sit together at the same table—but not during potluck days. I was always filled with awe when I looked around the room and saw people from all over the world coming together around food. And I loved seeing how the elders seemed to become kids again as they stood proudly by their dishes and encouraged everyone to “Eat, eat!”

It occurred to me that someone should collect all these delicious recipes before they became altered or “Americanized.” As I began talking to the refugees about their favorite foods, I was reminded that food is never just food; there are always stories and strong memories associated with it. I realized that leaving out the refugees’ stories would be like leaving out the indispensable saffron in the Persian dish tachin. So I decided to make food the unifying element, linking all the stories, just as food in general unifies all of humankind. It’s one of the few things we all share in common.

Describe the circumstances that led a few of the people you interviewed to seek refuge in the United States.

All refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants are refugees. Refugees flee their home countries out of fear or necessity because of persecution or violence. They usually cannot safely return to their homelands. Economic migrants, on the other hand, choose to leave their home countries to improve their lives, especially to better their economic conditions, and can generally return home when and if they choose.

As one can imagine, war is almost always the culprit. Nearly all the refugees I interviewed for Flavors from Home were driven out by the trickle-down upheaval and chaos resulting from war, military dictatorships, or political uprisings. The first refugee featured in the book came to America as a young girl with her family after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Several refugees in the book are from Myanmar (Burma) and were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs by the country’s longstanding military junta. Two refugees in the book are from Bhutan, the country often referred to as “the happiest in the world,” yet their specific ethnic group (comprised mainly of Hindus) made them a target in the small Buddhist-dominated kingdom. The last chapter in the book features one of my former students, a political activist who spent over two decades of his life in jails because of his enduring fight to defend human rights.


The kitchen is home for Huong “CoCo” Tran at her Heart & Soy restaurant. (Photo by Julie Johnston)

Which of their stories did you find most uplifting?

Every one of these stories was deeply moving and affected me in a profound way. Sometimes I was moved by the sheer horror of what the individuals had seen or suffered through, for example Nicolas Kiza from Rwanda, who as a young boy traversed the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo by foot, trying to outrun the Rwandan Genocide, because, as he told me, “I’d rather be killed by a lion than my fellow Rwandans.” Sometimes I was moved by the refugees’ fierce determination and strong work ethic and how much they’ve accomplished in the United States with minimal assistance, often knowing little to no English. Huong “CoCo” Tran comes to mind. CoCo spent thirty days at sea after the fall of Saigon. She is now one of Louisville’s most inventive and successful restauranteurs.

Can you explain why some ended up in Kentucky, as opposed to another state?

Kentucky has several official refugee resettlement agencies, including Catholic Charities, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, the International Center of Kentucky, among others, which have been offering services to refugees for decades. Because we have a long tradition of hosting refugees and consequently have refugee populations already established in the area, resettlement agencies will often try to place refugees where they already have family and a built-in support system. The majority of refugees in Kentucky are resettled in Louisville, which has a lot going for it—a relatively low cost of living, good schools, ample job opportunities, a vibrant international community, and a current local government that by and large supports cultural diversity.

What makes food a more tangible connection for some than other aspects of their heritage?

For most refugees, food equals refuge. It offers a safe haven in a strange land filled with foreign customs. Though refugees must adapt to American ways to increase their chances of success (including the formidable task of learning a new language), nothing dictates that they must give up their native foods. Because of the widespread availability of international ingredients—through ethnic groceries, native produce grown in individual or communal gardens, and online shopping—there is no compelling reason to alter their dishes and culinary customs. Cooking and eating is a multi-sensory experience, evoking all sorts of memories and emotions. It’s the easiest and cheapest direct flight back home.

What do you hope Flavors from Home accomplishes, and what do you believe will resonate most with the audience while reading this book?

I hope Flavors from Home will serve as a launching point for dialogue between people from diverse backgrounds who might not otherwise have a reason or opportunity to communicate with each other. Food is something we all share in common and can enjoy together, and often no words are necessary. Food is its own language and can transcend barriers. I’ve seen time and again the goodwill that a fine meal can foster.

I hope, too, that the book will help educate readers on the many different cultures and ethnic groups that have been added to America’s melting pot over the past half-century. And I hope the stories will inspire people to persevere, even when all hope seems lost. Native-born Americans will no doubt walk away from these stories with a greater appreciation of our great nation, especially after viewing it fresh through the eyes of refugees. Yes, there’s a lot that’s wrong with our country, but there is also a lot that’s right, and refugees remind us to never take for granted our most basic freedoms. And, of course, I want people to try these delectable dishes and perhaps even discover, as did I, a whole new world of comfort foods.

Aimee Zaring lives in Louisville, Kentucky where, for more than five years, she has taught ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at Catholic Charities, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Global LT, and Jefferson County Public Schools.

To learn more about her book, Flavors from Home, visit our website.


Summer Under the Stars: Anne Baxter

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverCool summer nights sitting on a blanket under the stars—there’s no better setting to watch a film from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Plus, May 6th and 7th mark the birthdays of Academy Award-winners Orson Welles and Anne Baxter, respectively, making this the perfect time to celebrate these film legends.

While Baxter will always be remembered for her role as the conniving Eve Harrington in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All about Eve (1950), James Bawden and Ron Miller reveal her softer side in their recent release, Conversations with Classic Film Stars.  Today, in celebration of what would have been Baxter’s 93rd birthday, we’d like to share some interview excerpts in which she discusses working with Welles on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), among other things:

Setting the Scene


Publicity photo, circa 1950. Photo via Wikipedia.

Anne Baxter (1923-1985) was a prodigious acting talent from a prestige-heavy family—her grandfather was America’s leading architect, Frank Lloyd Wright—and always seemed destined for greatness. She began acting at age eleven and went on to study with Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya and America’s Stella Adler. She made her Broadway debut in Seen, but Not Heard in her early teens and her movie debut at seventeen. While still a teen, she worked with Orson Welles in his 1942 masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons.


The Interview

BAWDEN: Let’s go back to your first film, Twenty Mule Team [1940].

BAXTER: Oh, let’s not. I’d been on the stage since I was fifteen in New York. My teacher was that old sourpuss Maria Ouspenskaya. Then in 1938 David Selznick asked me, along with Montgomery Clift, to read for Tom Sawyer. Monty had bad acne right then. David had me open my mouth and examined my teeth like I was a prize horse. And both of us flunked our tests.

Two years later David asked me again to come out and read for Rebecca and [the film’s director] Alfred Hitchcock said I had made the best test but the lead at that time was going to be Ronald Colman and he was thirty-one years older. That would make the story seem to be one of robbing the cradle, so I lost again. But the test went the rounds and I had definite offers from MGM and Fox. I simply chose Fox because it was for more money.

My parents were worried until it was arranged I’d room with a family friend, Nigel Bruce, and his wife. They were very strict, which is what I needed.

Then MGM asked to borrow me for Twenty Mule Team, a Wally Beery western, after Ann Rutherford was too busy, and I made my debut there. Wally Beery had very busy hands and Marjorie Rambeau said she’d protect me—and she did, very nicely. Stepped right in and would snort, “Back off, you old sea horse!” Acting with him was impossible. He’d paraphrase everything and told me to “jump right in when I stop talking.”


Anne Baxter, a teen newcomer to Hollywood in 1940. Photo by Frank Powolny; copyright 20th Century-Fox. (From the book.)

MILLER: You were so young then. What did you look like in 1940?

BAXTER: I had a body like a mini Mack truck and a face that looked like it was storing nuts for the winter. I was very naïve. I had been very well brought up and I was very well educated. I was precocious, I’m sure.

Miller: Is it true that you actually were fired from the Broadway cast of The Philadelphia Story before you went to Hollywood?

BAXTER: Yes. I was fourteen and was already too busty to play an eleven-year-old.

MILLER: Even if you were pretty well developed for a young girl, it seems a testament to your acting ability that Hitchcock even considered you for the leading lady in Rebecca. Tell me about the audition.

BAXTER: They had me in a rubber girdle, laced up practically under my bosom. My knees were knocking. It was awful.

BAWDEN: After your debut at Fox, you were in one of John Barrymore’s last films, The Great Profile [1940]. Legend has it he was pretty well juiced in his final films. How did that go?

BAXTER: I was the stock ingenue. Did my first take with him and I was flailing away and Barrymore turned to director Walter Lang and said, “Does she have to swim?” He was in terrible shape. In the morning, he was so wasted that his man would have to carry him in and set him down in an easy chair. Then he’d pour Barrymore a Coke. No response. Then he’d shake in some rum flavoring and this great actor would suddenly spring to life. Amazing. Once we were waiting for a take and I asked him why he read his lines from chalkboards. Couldn’t he remember his lines? And he stood up and recited a Hamlet soliloquy. He never made a pass at me, but it was hard going for our resident vamp, Mary Beth Hughes. She bent over once to fix her stockings and he instantly leapt up to pinch her behind. If you’d asked the public of the day the greatest actor, they would have instantly responded, “John Barrymore.”

[ . . . ]

BAWDEN: When did you know you’d been loaned to RKO for The Magnificent Ambersons?

BAXTER: When it went out as a press release. It was a straight trade: Fox got Vic Mature, I think, and he subsequently joined the studio full-time. I’d talked with and tested for Orson Welles, but he said his heart was set on Jeanne Crain, who he’d met in the RKO commissary. Jeanne was prettier than I was but hadn’t acted as yet. RKO studio head George Schaefer made the call, much to Orson’s displeasure. His days as the studio golden boy ended when Citizen Kane failed to return a profit.

By the time I arrived, those huge sets were up—the main house was a fully functioning house built on a soundstage—everything worked, including the gas lighting. But the walls couldn’t be moved to accommodate cinematographer Stanley Cortez. No wonder he stormed around all the time.


Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter, and Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons. Photo via Wikipedia.

It was a reunion with Joe Cotten, who played my father and was perfectly cast. We’d been in the tryouts of The Philadelphia Story in 1939 when Kate Hepburn had me fired because she charged I was getting big laughs. Joe had made it a point to come to my dressing room and assure me I had a future.

Dolores Costello was so motherly to me. I couldn’t believe she’d once been married to John Barrymore. She was so demure. And I had Tim Holt as my suitor, George, cast right to type. He was that way offstage. I was nineteen at the time, new to this game. I remember we shot scenes in an icehouse so our breath would be visible. That impressed me.

I wasn’t around when Agnes Moorehead tried the scene on the staircase five different ways and each way worked. To his credit Orson always asked us for acting solutions, to try something a different way. And yes, he did make the obligatory pass at me and I made the obligatory refusal.

I saw a print in a screening room at RKO that was very long—maybe almost two hours—and it seemed draggy to me. But Orson had left on his next film adventure to Brazil when the studio head ordered Bob Wise to cut it down to 88 minutes and ship it out. I think it’s a great film, but how it would have run at 120 minutes I’m not sure—that was too long for most features in those days.

[ . . . ]


Anne Baxter with Yul Brenner in The Ten Commandments (1956). Photo via Wikipedia.

BAWDEN: How did you get the part of the pharaoh’s wife in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments?

BAXTER: DeMille asked me to come in. His office at Paramount was bursting with books, props, rolls of linens. I told him I’d have to wear an Egyptian false nose and he pounded the table. “No. Baxter, your Irish nose stays in this picture.” He acted out my part and I kept nodding, and I walked out with the part. The soundstage sets were magnificent. It was all corny, sure, but DeMille knew it was corny—that’s what he wanted, what he loved. I loved slinking around—really, this was silent film acting but with dialogue. No shading was permitted. “Louder! Better!” That’s what DeMille roared at everybody. It was all too much for him, I’m afraid, and directing the desert scenes in the Sinai was so strenuous he had a heart attack. This one was the last film he directed. It’s on TV every Easter. I advise sitting down with a big box of chocolates, a jug of white wine, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. I do it that way and I still love this last gasp of old Hollywood excessiveness.

[ . . . ]

BAWDEN: Have you ever given any thought to retirement?

BAXTER: No [laughing]. I want to go on until they have to shoot me.



Anne Baxter died suddenly in 1985 from a brain aneurysm. She was only sixty-two.


If you’re looking for more astounding behind-the-scenes stories from the greatest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, look no further than Conversations with Classic Film Stars by James Bawden and Ron Miller


Cutting to the Golden Era

When James Bawden arrived precisely four minutes and twenty seconds late to interview the esteemed and ever fashionable Gloria Swanson, she bemoaned, “But I have more pressing problems [than being fashionably late], as you can see! Here I am in a supposedly grade-one hotel suite, and look for yourself! The ignominy of it all! No full-length mirror! No chandelier! Must I rough it? Must I?” Bawden’s interview relentlessly zooms Swanson’s close up in by touching on everything from her less-than-rewarding criticism of Kathrine Hepburn in Coco to her obsessive bean sprout diet.

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverJames Bawden and Ron Miller have spent more than fifty years interviewing stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era collects many of these in a rich and enlightening archive about our favorite Golden Era stars. These interviews expand and enhance what was published at their respective newspapers with exclusive interview material. Bawden and Miller paint a picture of these illustrious stars’ careers while offering rare insights into their life and personalities.

Since the studios directed the Golden Age, interviews and cover stories about the glamorous stars have always been perfectly scripted, until Bawden and Miller put the spot light on the actors’ true words and not the force-fed words their studios wanted them to say. Strikingly real, some of the words these famous film stars had for their peers and costars are, in the words of popular columnist Liz Smith, “scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.” Douglas Fairbanks Jr., for instance, admits that his first wife, Joan Crawford, “hated every minute” of their honeymoon in Europe. Well, every minute except those few, precious moments at the local MGM distribution office “where she could do some publicity.”

Featuring interviews from some of the most famous leading men and women of the era like Kirk Douglas, Joseph Cotton, Jackie Coogan, Joan Fontaine, among many others, Bawden and Miller bring the silver screen out of the Golden Era and onto the page. Conversations offers a new look at our favorite Golden Era stars through the eyes of our favorite Golden Era stars.

Conversations with Classic Film Stars

Oscar Sunday is officially less than a week away, and UPK is counting down the days! To celebrate, we are kicking off a week-long series called “Let’s Go to the Movies” that will showcase a few of the films nominated for an award this year as well as reminisce on some classics that got the industry started nearly 100 years ago. Additionally, UPK will be handing out some of our own awards this week (be sure to check back tomorrow to learn more about how you can win)!

Today, we decided to kick it old school and share some of the most interesting interviews we could muster that are featured in the UPK book Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era by James Bawden and Ron Miller. In this book, each interview takes readers behind the scenes with some of cinema’s most iconic stars. The actors convey unforgettable stories, from Maureen O’Hara discussing Charles Laughton’s request that she change her last name, to Bob Hope candidly commenting on the presidential honors bestowed upon him. Humorous, enlightening, and poignant, Conversations with Classic Film Stars is essential reading for anyone who loves classic movies. Here are some highlights of the collection’s interviews:

Cary Grant

[Cary] Grant was the quintessential Hollywood leading man, a handsome and debonair fellow who was as impressive in action roles as he was in romantic love stories, as convincing in serious dramatic parts as he was in flat-out comedy roles… Grant had come a long way from his days as a British-born acrobat named Archie Leach. He had scaled the heights of stardom in America but was known all over the world. He had evolved into an international symbol of style and grace. [In his interview with Bawden, Grant laments the ways in which he struggled to identify with his film persona as opposed to his true identity:]

: Seeing the way people behave around you, is it still fun being Cary Grant?

Grant: I don’t like to disappoint people. Because he’s a completely made-up character and I’m playing a part. It’s a part I’ve been playing a long time, but no way am I really Cary Grant. A friend told me once, “I always wanted to be Cary Grant.” And I said, “So did I.” In my mind’s eye, I’m just a vaudevillian named Archie Leach. When somebody yells “Archie” on the street I’ll look up. I don’t look up if somebody calls “Cary.” So I think Cary Grant has done wonders for my life and I always want to give him his due.

Jackie Coogan
The greatest and most memorable of the silent movie child stars was surely Jackie Coogan. Charlie Chaplin discovered him performing onstage at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Noticing the boy was a natural-born mimic, Chaplin cast him—at age five—in a small part in A Day’s Pleasure (1919). The boy glowed on camera, so Chaplin put him into his 1921 feature film The Kid and Jackie became an overnight sensation in one of Chaplin’s biggest hits. [Coogan sheds light on what it was like to be adored by millions as a young star when he sat down with Miller for an interview:]

Miller: When you became a star, movies were silent, so there was no language barrier and people all over the world could see and appreciate what you did on-screen. As a little boy, did you realize you were world famous?

Coogan: When I was around nine, I was taken on a trip to Europe. It wasn’t like a normal kid’s trip to Europe. I met heads of state. I was “received” by royalty. I exchanged photos with Benito Mussolini. I kissed the pope’s ring. Everywhere I went, I was mobbed by fans. I can remember being in a car in Paris when the mob nearly killed me. They picked up the whole car with us in it and paraded us down the street on their shoulders.

Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine was one of the great Hollywood leading ladies of the 1940s, her performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the Oscar-winning 1940 film, lifted her into the top ranks of dramatic actresses. She followed up that success in 1941 with Hitchcock’s Suspicion, for which she won the Best Actress Academy Award. [Despite being one of the brightest stars in the film industry at the time, Bawden’s interview with Fontaine demonstrates that a life in Hollywood wasn’t always as glamorous as it seems:]

Bawden: What do you remember of the making of Rebecca?

Fontaine: How miserable I was. Larry Olivier had tested with his wife, Viv Leigh, but [producer] David Selznick said it was too early after [his] Gond with the Wind. In fact, scenes from Gone with the Wind were being done at the same time as we started. I also know Loretta Young and Maggie Sullavan had tested, but both were considered too American. Finally David said, “I guess it will have to be you,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Larry and Judith Anderson were very mean to me, but I now see this only increased my performance because I had nothing else to fall back on, no technique.

Oscar night was a hissy fit. I didn’t want to win; I was only twenty-three. David insisted I would, but he was wrong. Ginger Rogers walked away with it that year. And as it turned out, Rebecca was the only David Selznick movie I would ever star in.

For more interviews like these, be sure to check out the rest of Bawden and Miller’s collection in Conversations with Classic Film Stars!

From “Hollywood’s New Cinderella” to “Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel”

If this screen siren doesn’t immediately look familiar to you, it’s because she is often overlooked despite her powerhouse performances and unique beauty. (We know, Ann, its not fair!)

Ann Dvorak was once crowned “Hollywood’s New Cinderella” after performances in movies like Scarface (1932) and Three on a Match (1932). But after she walked out on her contract with Warner Bros. and engaged them in a controversial lawsuit, her acting clout steadily declined.

Christina Rice, a librarian and photo archivist at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles and self-titled crazed Ann Dvorak fan, has written the first full-length biography of the under-appreciated actress’s life entitled Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. Rice discusses not only Ann’s body of work but also her rebellion and the ways in which it paved the way for other Hollywood actors and actresses to break their contracts with the established Hollywood system.

Rice F

Rice recently joined WICN Public Radio for a podcast discussing the book during their Inquiry Program. Check out the podcast here to hear more about the book and Rice’s research.

Rice also wrote an article for the Huffington Post that discusses the Selig Zoo Statues. These statues, previously owned by a man named Colonel Selig, framed the entrance to a zoo on his property that housed his beloved jungle animals. After the zoo went through various owners, these majestic statues went missing. They were found by a docent and were once again restored to their former glory in 2009 at the entrance of the Los Angeles Zoo.

Also, be sure to check out Christina Rice’s website and blog.

In honor of Ann Dvorak, this is how we like to imagine Ann walking out on Warner Bros. and her contract:

ann throwing

Tennis, Philosophy, and the Huffington Post

Tom Morris, a well known public philosopher who writes for the daily news site The Huffington Post, started a new series today in which he interviews other philosophers on their current work. The series started today with an interview of our own David Baggett, whose book Tennis and Philosophy: What the Racket Is All About can be found in stores now! Head on over to The Huffington Post to read more on Tom Morris and his interview with David Baggett, or jump below.

**Also, don’t forget to enter yourself in the giveaway by Friday afternoon to be eligible to win a copy of The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook!


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Reviews and Interviews

This week, Library Journal publishes a glowing review of Andrew L. Slap’s Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath. LJ says:

“This impressive new study will pave the way for additional scholarship. Excellent, readable, and absorbing history, it gives us a better understanding of this compelling aspect of the Civil War. Highly recommended for both general readers and specialists.”

Robert C. Doyle is also making media waves with his new book, The Enemy in Our Hands: America’s Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror. Doyle recently appeared on The American View Radio, and you can listen here!

*** Don’t forget, we’re on Twitter and Facebook too!