Peg Bracken and Porter Wagoner


Peg Bracken


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The reluctant cook who championed no-frills meals

In the late 1950s, a small network of female professionals in Portland, Ore., found themselves complaining that after working all day, they had to face the drudgery of making dinner. So they began trading timesaving recipes. One member of the group, Peg Bracken, would pepper her recipes with tart comments: “This is for those days,” she wrote of her beef stew, “when you’re en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons—or possibly a good case of the flu.” The other women urged Bracken to add her wit to their contributions and publish them. The result, The I Hate to Cook Book, would go on to sell more than three million copies after it came out in 1960, helping to launch a new era of no-frills cooking. Ruth Eleanor Bracken’s irreverent streak dated from her childhood in Clayton, Mo., where she often ran afoul of her mother, said the London Telegraph. “I knew when I’d crossed the boundaries,” she recalled. “The bridge of her nose would become pinched.” After graduating from Antioch College in Ohio, she moved to Portland and became an advertising copywriter for accounts such as Jantzen swimwear and Pendleton shirts. She also wrote the syndicated comic strip Phoebe, Get Your Man, with Homer Groening, “the father of The Simpsons creator Matt Groening.” The I Hate to Cook Book was a tough sell, said The Washington Post. “Male editors were afraid of it,” Bracken said later, “because they were convinced that women regarded anything that had to do with cooking very seriously and would not stand for an attitude that was the least bit flippant.” But a female editor at Harcourt Brace “got it,” and the book became an instant hit among weary homemakers who craved simplicity and speed. Bracken “gave a green light to canned vegetables and promoted mushroom soup as an effective way to cover up mistakes.” To make “Skid Road Stroganoff,” she wrote, “Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.” She described the oatmeal concoction “Aggression Cookies”—which called for mashing, squeezing, beating, and kneading— as perfect for “channeling some energies away from throwing bricks.” Bracken wrote several other acerbic books, as well as many newspaper and magazine columns, said The New York Sun, ultimately parlaying her renown into a job as pitchwoman for Birds Eye frozen vegetables. Despite her grumpy image, she didn’t hate cooking entirely; “she regularly ground her own whole-wheat flour for epic bread-baking sessions.” Still, she did her best to avoid the kitchen. Once, when asked what she ate, she answered “donut holes, skim milk, and juice for breakfast, and boiled eggs and wine for lunch.” For dinner, she said, “I just hope that my husband will take me out, which he often does.” Bracken, who died of a lung ailment, had four husbands. The second was a writer, Roderick Lull. After reading the manuscript for The I Hate to Cook Book, he told her, “It stinks.” As Bracken recalled, “When the first royalty check came, he had to eat a huge platter of crow—French-fried or ovenbaked, because that’s the easiest.”

Porter Wagoner


The country singer who was a Grand Ole Opry favorite

As a boy on his family’s farm in West Plains, Mo., Porter Wagoner would stand on an oak tree stump, pretending to be the host of the Grand Ole Opry, his favorite radio show. One day, he would later recall, a neighbor snorted, “You’re as close to the Grand Ole Opry as you’ll ever get.” The neighbor was wrong. Wagoner not only went on to star at the Nashville icon for more than 50 years, he scored 81 singles on the country music charts, won three Grammy Awards, and partnered with Dolly Parton, helping to launch her career. “Young Wagoner attended a one-room schoolhouse with no heat or water,” said The Tennessean. “His older brother, Glenn Lee, taught him to play the guitar, and music became a balm for the harder times.” At 15, Wagoner quit school, took odd jobs, and began performing on a local radio station. In 1952, he recorded for RCA Victor, and in 1955 he had a No. 1 hit with “A Satisfied Mind.” Within two years, he had moved to Nashville and joined the Opry; in 1960, he launched The Porter Wagoner Show, which ran for 19 years and reached 3.5 million viewers every week. Wagoner’s style was straightforward, said the Los Angeles Times. “He sang with an unadorned, everyman voice, not the booming bass-baritone of a Johnny Cash, the jazz-inflected acrobatics of Willie Nelson, or the bluegrass-steeped purity of a Vince Gill.” Nor did he achieve the crossover status of Hank Williams or Waylon Jennings, who once remarked that Wagoner “couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers.” But he scored his second No. 1 hit in 1962 with “Misery Loves Company,” and when Parton became his vocal partner in 1967, they had a series of well-received duets, including his last No. 1 song, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me,” in 1974. “As a songwriter, Wagoner was known for producing surprising literary twists,” said The New York Times. “At the end of ‘Green, Green Grass of Home,’ it is revealed that the story about a happy homecoming is the dream of a prisoner.” His 1971 song, The Rubber Room, was based on his stay in a psychiatric ward; amid waves of reverb, Wagoner warbled, “Doom, doom, doom, zoom, room, tomb.” But he may have been best known for his “towering pompadour” and his rhinestone-studded suits made by the tailor Nudie Cohn. “He eventually owned 50 of them, for which he paid as much as $12,000 apiece. A special feature on most was the word ‘Hi!’ in foot-high letters on each side of the lining.” Whenever somebody tried to snap his picture, Wagoner would throw open his jacket. Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, Wagoner is survived by three children. He died of lung cancer.

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