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literature

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Beard, James (1903-1985)  
 
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Standing six-feet-three and with a weight that fluctuated between 240 and 300 pounds, Beard did not fit the image of a leading man. Indeed, his best reviews came for character parts, yet for years he maintained the hope of winning starring roles.

Beard again did radio work to help support himself, and in 1932 he also began offering cooking lessons. Although without formal training, Beard was, like his mother, a natural and avid cook, and a perceptive one as well, who not only appreciated the food of his native Northwest but was excited by the other cuisines that he had encountered in his travels.

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In September 1937 Beard returned to New York for a last try at a career in theater, but he eventually realized that it was not to be.

At least partly out of economic necessity, Beard was living with a man named James Culllum. Through Cullum, he met William Rhode in late 1938, and his life took a new and fateful turn.

Rhode and his sister Irma were interested in opening a catering business that would specialize in hors d'oeuvre. Beard eagerly joined the venture. With financial assistance from Cullum, Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc. opened in January 1939 and was an immediate success.

The business received favorable notice in the press, and only a few months later, it was chosen to cater a reception of the prestigious International Wine & Food Society. The group's secretary, Jeanne Owen, impressed by Beard, secured him a contract with her publisher. Beard's first cookbook, Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapés, appeared in 1940. It sold very well and remained in print until 2001, an extraordinary record for a cookbook.

Rhode felt slighted by the choice of Beard to write the cookbook, and as a result of the hard feelings between them, Beard left Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc. shortly before its publication.

The publisher commissioned a second book, Cook It Outdoors (1941). With its success, Beard began to take his place among food writers and was soon contributing articles to magazines such as House Beautiful and Gourmet.

When World War II broke out, Beard made several attempts to enlist in the military but was turned down for being overweight. Nevertheless, he was drafted into the army in August 1942 and, despite having been told that he would be in the Quartermaster Corps, was placed in the cryptography school of the Army Air Corps.

Less than enthusiastic about the assignment, Beard took advantage of a new regulation that permitted men over the age of thirty-eight to request a discharge if they could go to a civilian job that served the national interest. Beard left the military in February 1943 and went to work on the farm of Cullum's parents near Reading, Pennsylvania.

After the summer Beard went from the farm to New York, where he rented an apartment in Greenwich Village. There he tested recipes for and wrote his third book, Fowl and Game Cookery (1944).

At year's end Beard became a manager for the United Seamen's Service (USS), an agency that operated clubs for the sailors of the Merchant Marine. For the remainder of the war, he ran USS facilities in Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, Panama, and Naples. In each place he took advantage of the opportunity to learn about the local cuisine from the excellent cooks who worked at the clubs.

Just as the war was ending, Beard landed in Marseilles. He delighted in discovering the food of Provence. After obtaining a large quantity of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine for the USS club and some copper cookware for himself, Beard completed his obligation to the USS and sailed for New York, arriving home in the last days of 1945.

The post-war world included television, and Beard became a part of it. A recurring cooking segment on For You and Yours, a show mixing household hints and celebrity interviews, led to Beard's own program, I Love to Eat!, the first cooking show on television, which debuted in August 1946.

The program ran until May of the next year, when the sponsoring company, Borden, withdrew all support from television projects, unsure that the new medium could compete with radio.

Beard became the restaurant critic for Gourmet magazine in early 1949 and published his Fireside Cook Book later that year. He continued his writing with a regular column for Argosy magazine.

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