The Golden Age Hollywood Diet That Starved Its Famous Starlets — And Then America

In 1929, Ethel Barrymore went to the Mayo Clinic to lose weight and followed the “18 Day Diet,” which reduced her calorie intake to olives, toast, and grapefruit. From there, he took the country by storm. Until his followers begin to die

In April 1929, a new regime took over Hollywood.

At first, his details were vague. Charles J. Estcourt Jr. dribbled past some of the first information available nationally via his syndicated New York Skylines column. Under the title “A New Hollywood Diet”, he wrote about the rumor that it was designed for an unnamed Hollywood star and intended to help that person lose a pound of weight every day for 18 consecutive days thanks to cucumber consumption. , green salad, some lobster and some olives.

As innocuous as that initial revelation was, a predominantly female readership was clamoring for more information. In fact, by the time June rolled around and the intricate details of the regime were fully disclosed to the press, it seemed that every woman in the country already knew the regime intimately. “Yes [the diet] really works, there should be a startling drop in the national pound as the regime spreads through a chain letter system,” Lemuel Parton wrote in his Sun of San Bernardino column. “And women, in particular, are embracing it by the thousands.”

Parton went on to detail how the new “Hollywood diet” had caused an increase in purchases of lettuce and grapefruit, and a similar increase in levels of concern felt by butcher and deli owners as demand for their products had fallen.

It was at this time that Louella O. Parsons of Los Angeles Examiner published all the details of the 18-Day Diet in his National Column, which I’m adding here for no other reason than to overwhelm you with his calorie restriction:

Day one

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: ½ grapefruit, 1 egg, 6 slices of cucumber, 1 slice of rusk, tea or coffee
  • Having dinner: 2 eggs, 1 tomato, ½ head lettuce, ½ grapefruit, coffee

day two

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, lettuce, 1 slice of rusk, tea
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), ½ lettuce, 1 tomato, ½ grapefruit, tea or coffee

day three

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: ½ grapefruit, 1 egg, lettuce, 8 slices of cucumber, tea or coffee
  • Having dinner: 1 lamb chop, 1 egg, 3 radishes, 2 olives, ½ grapefruit, lettuce, tea or coffee

day four

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: Pot cheese, 1 tomato, ½ grapefruit, 1 slice of rusk, tea or coffee
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), watercress, ½ grapefruit

Fifth day

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: Orange, 1 lamb chop, lettuce, tea
  • Having dinner: ½ grapefruit, lettuce, 1 tomato, 2 eggs, tea

Sixth day

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: orange, tea
  • Having dinner: 1 poached egg, 1 slice of rusk, orange, tea

seventh day

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: ½ grapefruit, 2 eggs, lettuce, 1 tomato, 2 olives, coffee
  • Having dinner: 2 lamb chops, 6 slices of cucumber, 2 olives, a tomato, ½ grapefruit, tea or coffee

eighth day

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, lettuce, 1 slice of rusk, tea
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), ½ lettuce, 1 tomato, ½ grapefruit, tea or coffee

Day 9

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, 1 tomato, ½ grapefruit, tea
  • Having dinner: Any meat salad

Day 10

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: ½ grapefruit, 1 lamb chop, lettuce, tea
  • Having dinner: ½ grapefruit, 1 lamb chop, lettuce tea

Day 11

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: Cinnamon toast, tea
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), celery, olives, tomatoes, tea

Day 12

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: ½ lobster, crackers, grapefruit, coffee
  • Having dinner: 2 grilled lamb chops, coleslaw, tomato, 1 orange, 3 olives

Day 13

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, 1 slice of toast, grapefruit
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), lettuce, celery, grapefruit, coffee

Day 14

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, toast, grapefruit, coffee
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), tomato, grapefruit, coffee

Day 15

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, tomato, grapefruit, 1 slice of toast
  • Having dinner: 2 lamb chops, ½ spoonful of tomato ketchup, 1 slice of toast, grapefruit

Day 16

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, 1 tomato, grapefruit, coffee
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), plain spinach, orange

Day 17

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 lamb chop, lettuce, grapefruit
  • Having dinner: Grilled steak (plain), tomato, celery, olives

Day 18

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit, rusk, coffee
  • Lunch: 1 egg, tomatoes, ½ grapefruit, coffee
  • Having dinner: 1 grilled fish, plain spinach, ½ grapefruit

Newspapers containing Parsons’ column were gobbled up so voraciously that several of them acceded to readers’ demands that the scheme be reprinted in its entirety in the following weeks. Parsons would write a follow-up column to express his embarrassment that his revelation of the 18 Day Diet had been by far his most popular column to date. “If only I had known how long the world had been waiting for a recipe for weight loss,” Parsons wrote. “I would have specialized in dietetics and I would have come to the aid of suffering women.”

It took less than a month for readers to start sending letters to their favorite columnists reporting weight loss successes achieved with a diet that could have provided its adherents with 500 to 600 calories on a good day. . “In order to follow the lunch diet, I had to resign from the Rotary Club, but it was worth it,” wrote one. “In 18 days, I not only lost a dozen pounds, but I missed three after-dinner speeches.”

It was also during this time that the story of the true origin of the regime became public. the boston globeHollywood journalist, Mayme Ober Peak, revealed how actress Ethel Barrymore allegedly walked into the Mayo Clinic, frantically complaining that she needed to lose weight fast for a movie role, and pleaded, “I have to eat , but I also have to reduce. Help me!”

From there, doctors at the Mayo Clinic reportedly devised a diet that would allow Barrymore to restore her slender figure. The diet was apparently enough to satisfy the actress who was famous for turning down recall calls with her signature catchphrase (which also ironically reportedly describes the 18-day diet): “That’s all there is!” There’s no more!” Barrymore reportedly passed the diet on to other actresses in need of quick weight reduction. From there, it spread like wildfire in Hollywood and then the rest of the world.

But amid the popularity of the 18-Day Diet, tragedy struck. Famous actress Marietta Millner has been pronounced dead in Vienna following a bout of tuberculosis following a voluntary starvation diet which was deemed necessary to bring her under the weight cap set by her studio contract . Although Millner’s death may not have been specifically linked to the 18 Day Diet, it opened the door to criticism. “The 18-day diet is the worst fad this country has ever seen,” sniffed Dr. JJ Carter at Los Angeles Evening Post. “People who follow the diet die. The diet also causes tuberculosis and heart problems.

That was a bit of a stretch because TB is caused by bacteria, not weight loss. But it’s conceivable that Millner’s post-famine condition left his body ill-suited to fend off disease. Either way, several other top Hollywood actresses were already convinced that the 18-Day Diet was bad news. In one Eagle Rock Sentinel column titled ’18 Day Diet Denounced by Screen Stars’, actress Evelyn Brent was joined by many other starlets in declaring that the diet was harmful. “Girls, women, and even men I know have suffered poor results from following the so-called 18 Day Hollywood Diet,” Brent said. “It’s too drastic – like all diets are too drastic unless a physician who knows his patients has described them. It is unreasonable to believe that all systems can absorb the extraordinary amount of acid prescribed by the 18 Day Diet.

Responding to reports that most young women passed out – and even died – after following the 18-day diet, Morris Fishbein, editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, condemned the 18 Day Diet as a masked “hooey” in Hollywood fantasy. “[The diet] has the magic of numbers – the allure of doing something for a certain amount of time working towards a certain specific goal,” he wrote. “The 18 Day Diet has the psychological appeal of crowd action. There is the desire to do what everyone else is doing. There is the thrill of competition.

Ten years after the diet-caused hullabaloo died down, Dr. James W. Barton provided a grisly post-mortem on his outcome in the American Austin, as well as his own reasoning for why he was initially so well received. “Although this diet has caused the death of hundreds of people and the collapse of thousands of people, the idea behind the 18-day diet is correct,” he explained. “That is, the consumption of large amounts of bulky foods with low nutritional value – green vegetables and fruits – and small amounts of concentrated foods with high nutritional value – starches and fats.”

This was, in essence, another piece of movie magic – there seemed to be a lot more food than there was caloric content (that is, if you ate 10 whole grapefruits and 10 whole heads of lettuce a day, you would still waste away). But in this case, such sleight of hand and misdirection didn’t thrill moviegoers, it starved them.

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