One of the joys of proofreading for Distributing Proofreaders is finding a book that keeps you proofreading beyond your daily goal because you want to find out what happens next. Come Out of the Kitchen by Alice Duer Miller was one such book. Even more fun was post-processing the book later on because then I got to read the whole book and I got to see the illustrations and photos that were missing during the proofreading phase.
Apparently, this story first appeared in Harper’s Bazar in 1915. It was then made into a comedy by A. E. Thomas that became a hit on Broadway, opening on October 1916 at the Cohan Theatre and playing for 224 performances. The play starred Ruth Chatterton, who twenty years later played the selfish wife in William Wyler’s classic film Dodsworth.
The novel was published in 1916, with photos from the play and illustrations. Later, there was also a film version of Come Out of the Kitchen in 1919, and a 1925 musical called The Magnolia Lady (47 performances) with Ruth Chatterton and her newly-aquired husband (Ralph Forbes).
The story is of a rich young man from the North who rents a Revelly Hall in the South. One condition that he made in renting the mansion was that servants be provided. The servants that came with the house included “an excellent cook, a good butler, a rather inefficient housemaid, and a dangerous extra boy,” none of whom were what they appeared to be, as shown in this segment early in the book:
On her the eyes of her future employer had already been fixed since the door first opened, and it would be hardly possible to exaggerate the effect produced by her appearance. She might have stepped from a Mid-Victorian Keepsake, or Book of Beauty. She should have worn eternally a crinoline and a wreath of flowers; her soft gray-blue eyes, her little bowed mouth, her slim throat, should have been the subject of a perpetual steel engraving. She was small, and light of bone, and her hands, crossed upon her check apron (for she was in her working dress), were so little and soft that they seemed hardly capable of lifting a pot or kettle.
Mrs. Falkener expressed the general sentiment exactly when she gasped:
“And you are the cook?”
The cook, whose eyes had been decorously fixed upon the floor, now raised them, and sweeping one rapid glance across both her employer and the speaker, whispered discreetly:
“What is your name?”
And at this question a curious thing happened. The butler and Reed answered simultaneously. Only, the butler said “Jane,” and Reed, with equal conviction, said “Ellen.”
Ignoring this seeming contradiction, the cook fixed her dove-like glance on Mrs. Falkener and answered:
“My name is Jane-Ellen, ma’am.”