Remembering The 1962 James Beard Awards

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In the butter-soaked annals of history, the 1962 James Beard Awards go down as one of the most salacious awards shows ever. Fights broke out at the buffet, nominees accepted awards while doing heroin, and Harpo Marx, at age 74, spoke for the first time in front of a live audience. His first words? "Go f— yourself, Julia Child." Here are the highlights:

  • New girl group The Supremes opened the show by performing their second single "Buttered Popcorn" to a mostly disinterested crowd. Attendees assumed the performance would feature actual buttered popcorn and booed the group off stage as soon as the song was over.
  • Newcomer Julia Child won the first major award of the evening. Her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking received the Best New Cookbook award. To celebrate, she-giant Child brought an elderly Harpo Marx up to the stage in a headlock. He tried to fight her off during her acceptance speech, but she only let him go when she was finished. Some in the audience chalked this up to Child's well-known hatred of both clowns and Jews.
  • The first major upset of the night was "Greatest Culinary Innovation." The smart money was on Life Cereal, but the crowd gasped when presenter Ray Kroc announced that Teflon was the winner. Later, a controversy emerged when it was discovered that every judge had been sent a full case of Teflon-coated non-stick pans before the competition.
  • Steve Allen came onstage and performed a really blue comedy set that included jokes about Kruschev's taint, President Kennedy having an affair with a Cuban missile and a foursome involving The Four Seasons while singing "Big Girls Don't Cry" in drag. He also gave out "Best Cheese Balls," which went to Wisconsin's Marjorie Sorenstam for her pimento-scallion cheese balls. The category was discontinued in 1978.
  • More controversy erupted when "Historic Jell-O Mold of the Year" was presented to Theodore Kaghan's "Siege of Leningrad," an ambitious depiction of the World War II battle that appeared to glorify Communism. Angry protestors stormed the stage and began eating the gelatin structure, thereby rendering it ineligible to receive the award. The award was still given to Kaghan, who thanked "freedom of expression" in his acceptance speech.
  • Finally, the biggest award of the night was presented by Jackie Gleason. "Casserole of the Year" had been won by Edna Morgan of Levittown, New York for each of the previous four years, but this year there were whispers of a new phenom gunning to steal her casserole crown. That upstart? None other than Lady Bird Johnson, wife of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Her "White House Casserole" was made with creamed corn, egg noodles, maraschino cherries, tiny marshmallows, and poached tuna. When Johnson was announced as the winner, her creation was revered as the first salvo in a new era of casseroles.

The evening ended in an Absinthe drinking contest, which was won by none other than presenter/actor Jackie Gleason. He promptly hallucinated.

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