Of all three-act productions that mealtimes inevitably stage, breakfast—not dinner, lunch nor afternoon tea, if you take it—is the most capricious and intimate. Menus, waitstaff, courses: none are as surprising as when they appear at breakfast, a repast that can range wildly from corner-of-toast while running out the door to unlikely food combinations such as popcorn eaten with milk and sweetener in 1800s America. A wanton pomp has been given to this mealtime by the leisure classes and the tradition of ceremony has continued, unabated, by glamorous and weird celebrities.
Some took it easy. During the Gilded Age, upper class married women were allowed a more luxurious start to their day, receiving a breakfast tray while still in bed to reflect their status, while unmarried women would eat with the men in the dining room. Princess Margaret stretched time like molasses, enjoying her breakfast in bed at 9 a.m., then spending two hours listening to the radio and reading newspapers “which she invariably scattered over the floor” before heading downstairs at 12:30 p.m. for a vodka pick-me-up.
Others, like Marilyn Monroe, weaved the act of breakfast into a pleasurable routine. “I’ve been told that my eating habits are absolutely bizarre, but I don’t think so,” Monroe told Pageant magazine, before explaining her indulgent routine. “Before I take my morning shower, I start warming a cup of milk on the hot plate I keep in my hotel room. When it's hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork, and drink them while I'm dressing. I supplement this with a multi-vitamin pill, and I doubt if any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry."
How they eat, more than what they eat, limns a celebrity’s most revealing and intimate habits, like the ‘original’ platinum blonde Jean Harlow, who was so absurdly social that she would reportedly break into friends’ homes early in the morning to cook for them. For the first three years of her life, Candice Bergen ate with her famous ventroliquist father and his dummy Charlie, who would tell her to “drink your milk” and whom she believed was her brother. Her father would not speak directly to her.
Then there was Joan Crawford, so devoted to breakfast that it was, fittingly, the last thing she ever did. On a May morning in 1977, and despite feeling very ill, Crawford allegedly insisted on making breakfast for her housekeeper and a devoted fan that had spent the night at her New York apartment. She returned to her bedroom, and called out for them to go eat. She pulled up the covers, turned on the TV and died of a heart attack. Breakfast can be a long sojourn, a quiet bite, or a labour of love, but its defining pleasures in the eyes (and bellies) of the famous are made less in the details and more in the romantic, varnished truths of how a bit of private indulgence could start the day off right.