Gargantuan Appetites. Feeding the Beast.

Gargantuan Henry VIII

     We are entering the season of overeating. It begins with Thanksgiving followed by Christmas and New Year’s, and then extends through the rest of the winter. Overeating seems to give us an inner comfort and warmth we crave. At least it seems like a good idea. Then, in April, we assess what we’ve done and what’s become of us. And through diet and exercise we begin to pay for our sins.

Wretched Excess

     There were some whose overeating had no season. They indulged and over indulged excessively most of the time. They were known for their gargantuan appetites which often included more than food. It was wretched excess, where the joy of appeasing their appetite was oftentimes offset by the guilt and personal distress over their loss of self-control.

       It’s easy to come up with a list of people who are known to have a gargantuan appetite. They can be found in all walks of life; however, the entertainment industry seems to have more than its share. Perhaps it’s because they are so public, and as a result, so are their excesses.

     Epic tales abound of men (and its usually men) who have become legendary because of their excessive consumption. I’d like to feature five such men. They had much in common. All were talented, successful, arrogant, sometimes difficult, and oftentimes self-destructive. And all of them are dead. Only two of the five made it to the ripe old age of 80.

Orson Welles


     Even though Coppola’s movie Godfather, Marlon Brando, is also listed here, I consider Orson Welles to be the Godfather of gargantuan appetites. He loved food and drink of which he often partook in epic proportions. As a result, he continually battled his weight. Even as a young actor he had to be strapped into a corset before playing certain parts. He soon went from chiseled and clean to portly and bearded.

     He eventually ballooned up to 350 pounds and used his girth to his advantage in advertising. Many will remember the Paul Masson Wine’s “we will sell no wine before its time” ad campaign in the late 1970s.  There were others. A not-so-flattering example can be found on YouTube entitled, Frozen Peas. It also shows how difficult he could be to work with.

     Over time Welles became the object of much teasing concerning his rotund physique, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He even found humor in it. He’s quoted as saying, “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.”

     You might enjoy a humorous piece by Alan Hanson about Orson Welles. Click on Never-Before Heard True Hollywood Stories, although I would be remiss without issuing a warning: Reading this may be dangerous to your mental health; however, I think the satirical piece on Welles is great.

Jackie Gleason


     He was called “The Great One” by Orson Welles. That alone should ensure you a place in history.

     To me Jackie was the epitome of a rich and flamboyant lifestyle. He dressed to the nines in monogrammed shirts and custom-made suits always with a red carnation in the lapel. He possessed only the best and he had a fondness for great cuisine and decades-old scotch. Men sought his attention and women adored him. In social gatherings, he was always the largest man in the room, and not just because of his girth. He was simply gargantuan by nature.

     His theme song, the beautiful and haunting Melancholy Serenade, seemed to be an apt accompaniment to his suave and debonair presence. He had a huge propensity to enjoy life and would often sum this up in single phrase: “How sweet it is.”

 Marlon Brando

     Marilyn Monroe called him “the sexiest man” she had ever seen. She said this about him in the early years of Brando’s career before overindulgence started to take its toll. Huge breakfasts and binge eating caused him to inflate over the years creating many wardrobe problems on movie sets. Many of his outfits had to be fitted with elastic to allow for the variations. He also had a weakness for ice cream, and he would buy it by the 5-gallon containers.

     He dieted a lot and would lose weight, but he was weak-will in this regard and gain it back. On the set of “One Eyed Jacks” in which he starred and directed, the crew presented him with a birthday cake that said “Don’t feed the director.”

     Known as one of the most difficult actors in Hollywood, he became worse as he became older. At the time The Godfather was filmed, he was already a living legend. His demands were outrageous and his moods were tetchy and mean. But whenever one of his movies was finished and in the can, it was always a great product.

Elvis Presley


     Elvis grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi loving food. And many of the same tastes followed him throughout his life. Despite all of his fame and notoriety, he seemed to remain a country boy at heart.

     Mary Jenkins Langston, Presley’s chef for 14 years, told the BBC, “He liked his food real rich.” She cooked the meals in king-size proportions: cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steaks, hamburger steaks, caramel cakes and family-size bowls of banana pudding.

     His often-requested favorite was a variation on Denver’s own Fool’s Gold Sandwich. It usually consisted of peanut better, banana, blueberry jam and bacon between two slices of bread. The outside was slathered with butter and then fried in butter. He would order this at any time of the day or night.

     To those of us who loved his music, he will always be “The King.” We miss him, but there are many Elvis fans who think he still lives. There are reported sightings from time to time, but the most recent ones have him at a svelte 170 pounds.

Alfred Hitchcock

     Weekly his recognizable profile would appear on our TV screen. His theme song, Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette would begin playing, and the stage would be set.  

     The sight of him always brought a smile to my face. Perhaps it was because of the cameo appearances he had in many of his movies, but also the fact that he was an odd-appearing rotund little man who delivered his opening comments in a deliberate and sober manner.  Yet, he seemed to exhibit a wry sense of humor and charm. In a way, he was mesmerizing.

     Hitchcock hated the fact that he was overweight, and would avoid mirrors.  His weight varied from 180 pounds to as much as 340 pounds, which is a lot on a 5’7” frame. Most of his public found his eating excesses to be acceptable and even loveable.

     Hitchcock also had a dark side. He could be difficult and demanding, but he also had other issues. He was known to have made unwanted advances to many of his leading ladies, and was often abusive to those around him. Many thought of him as being lecherous; however, most found him to be the perfect gentleman.   Kim Novak said of Hitchcock, “You always knew there was a lot going on in that head of his, behind that smile or smirk or whatever you call it. It was a perpetual sort of look that you didn’t know how to take. He could be furious and he’d have that same smile.


     It’s odd, but a thought occurred to me after writing this piece. Not one of these great men with their gargantuan appetites would I have liked to have spent time with, not dinner, drinks, or any one-on-one time. I would have found it too intimidating.

     The exception is Jackie Gleason. I’d like to have gone golfing with him, and not necessarily as a member of his foursome. I’d liked to have been his caddy, and to have been privy to the bantering and hijinks that occurred. That would have been cool. And I also heard he tipped well.



Attention Avid Readers:

If you enjoyed this blog and would like to receive each new post via email, simply scroll down to the bottom of this page and submit your name and your email address. We would appreciate it.
No Comments

Post a Comment