M.F.K. Fisher writer in residence in the neighborhood

| September 29, 2016 | 0 Comments
M.F.K. FISHER (right) and Dillwyn Parrish in Hemet, CA, circa 1941-1942. Photo courtesy of Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA

M.F.K. FISHER (right) and Dillwyn Parrish in Hemet, CA, circa 1941-1942. Photo courtesy of Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA.

The writer M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992) seems to be best remembered as a “food” writer, known especially for celebrating the terroir and everyday triumphs of the gastronomy of Provence.

But there is much more to her life, and much more to the writer about whom W.H. Auden in 1963 said: “I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose.”

A Californian

She was actually a California writer, very much shaped by the landscape and climate of the state she came to call her own. She was only three years old in 1911, when her family moved to Whittier and her father became owner and editor of the “Whittier News.”

Eventually, after on-and-off years in France and Switzerland, Fisher lived in Laguna, Hemet, Napa, and Sonoma — and, for about nine months, in our very own neighborhood.

In May 1942, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher Parrish was 33 years old, a divorcee, and, with the recent death of her second husband, Dillwyn Parrish, a widow. On the 19th she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures for 19 weeks of work as a writer (and for another 13 weeks the following year, with more to follow).

Also in that May, her third book, “How to Cook a Wolf,” was published, to much praise in the “New Yorker” and elsewhere.
Mary Frances still lived on her beloved “ranchette” on a ridge overlooking Hemet — too far away for a daily commute to Paramount, especially with wartime gasoline rationing. She rented a one-room, second-story flat within walking distance of Paramount.

She writes tantalizingly about this flat in her 1949 book, “An Alphabet for Gourmets.” Her “script-scattered” room had a “let-down” bed, and she decided to “market my way to the studio each morning. The more perishable tidbits I hid in the water-cooler outside my office,” she tells us in the first chapter, “A is for Dining Alone.”

Her local market?

BALZER’S grocery on Larchmont Blvd. may have been M.F.K. Fisher’s favorite local market. Shown is a Balzer's customer statement from the late 1920s, courtesy of Marilyn and Wayne Thomas, who found the document in a file from the original owner of their Windsor Square home.

BALZER’S grocery on Larchmont Blvd. may have been M.F.K. Fisher’s favorite local market. Shown is a Balzer’s customer statement from the late 1920s, courtesy of Marilyn and Wayne Thomas, who found the document in a file from the original owner of their Windsor Square home.

Now why would I care that I can’t find the address of this one-room walk-up? Or that I fret about where she did this marketing? Was it at Jerry’s Market (at the time across the street from Paramount, on Melrose), or at Balzer’s, in Larchmont Village?

I’ve been reading M.F.K. Fisher for close to four decades. I’ve written essays and articles about her, taught a class about her, and lectured about her. I want to understand her time in our neighborhood! But the 1942 Los Angeles City Directory has been no help.

I picture her here nonetheless, sure in her belief that in dining alone, “a snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit or miss congeniality.”

She knew Robert Balzer, then an up-and-coming California wine expert. The evidence? Randall Tarpey-Schwed, her bibliographer, owns two books that were once owned by Balzer, each inscribed to him by M.F.K. Fisher.

Fisher left Paramount in March 1943, her contract not quite fulfilled. She had fallen pregnant, as the British say, but that’s a story for another day.

She had a prolific writing career: dozens of books and untold magazine pieces. Although public interest in her waned in the 1950s, a second blossoming about her work and life that began in the 1970s has yet to fade.

“How to Cook a Wolf” takes on the privations and shortages of wartime cooking in her trademark sly, witty, intelligent way. One reviewer writes that Mary Frances “thought well enough of both food and writing to perfect a hybrid genre . . . that gently folded recipes into stories.”

That “hybrid genre” is the food writing of our time. Stop into Chevalier’s Books and speak to Liz Newstat about it.

By Paula Panich

Tags: , , ,

Category: Real Estate

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *