Every second that Feud’s Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) isn’t scheming against her archrival, Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), the onetime sex symbol is busy applying some sort of beauty treatment, whether it’s lemon juice on her elbows or layers of cream slapped on her neck. The real Crawford penned (read: dictated) a 1971 self-help book about how to be as fabulous as she was. Unsurprisingly, the slim text is full of idiosyncratic rules and ridiculous assertions, like how sitting in a soft chair will “spread the hips.” But the former showgirl was always compensating for something — this is a woman born with a surname that sounds like “la sewer,” after all — and so much of Crawford’s book is humblebragging about her ladylike ways, not doling out advice about how to look like one of the smoking-est women ever filmed.
Enter Arlene Dahl, an MGM contract star born a couple of decades after Crawford whose career overlapped with the screen legend’s — and who built a kind of proto-GOOP empire based on more than two dozen books. Published in 1980 — but probably based on advice Dahl picked up during the years Crawford was active — Beyond Beauty feels like the book I wish Mommie Dearest had written: a saucy, frank, and entertainingly oblivious read intended for wealthy fans and rich friends alike. Thick with studio glamour shots, Beyond Beauty bursts with recommendations about how to be thin, gorgeous, and coquettish, midcentury-style. Here are 10 of the most noteworthy.
1. Drink a bottle of wine a day (if you want to lose weight).
Dahl’s “Happy Diet” consists of a bottle of wine per day, along with four eggs, a teeny tiny steak, half a head of lettuce (Bibb or limestone — don’t cheat with a larger variety like romaine or iceberg!), and a lemon if you’ve got a sweet tooth — which sounds like the perfect recipe for eradicating hunger pangs, since you’ll be passed out all day. Dahl takes her weight-loss advice from “a psychiatrist who now specializes in weight reduction.”
2. Eat bone meal.
Also known as “bone manure,” this plant fertilizer and pet nutritional supplement is among the superfoods Dahl recommends. (Zero calories!) She acknowledges that you basically have to trick yourself into eating it by mixing it in juice, but it at least sounds marginally better than some of her diet-meal suggestions, like braised lettuce (a head of iceberg serves four) and jellied borscht.
3. Always ask a man.
The title of Dahl’s first beauty book, this advice seems to negate the actress turned writer’s entire oeuvre. No matter. Her justification is straightforward: “I found that men are much more objective when it comes to evaluating a woman’s appearance” — because a penis is apparently incompatible with a specific taste or point of view.
4. Moisturize your face with a man’s, er, egg whites.
Dahl name-drops on practically every page, but she doesn’t dare identify which ladies are recipients of the “love facial,” which she calls “the most beautifying facial of all.” (Was a man holding a gun to her head as she wrote this? “Babe, you’ll love it.”) Dahl anonymously attributes the “legendary complexions” of “history’s leading courtesans and today’s most celebrated women” to weekly semen treatments. “Let it dry and harden on your skin,” she counsels. “After a while (don’t rush!), rinse with lukewarm water and look in the mirror.” In fact, look in the mirror for a while, because that’s probably a good time to assess when and how your life went off the rails. Oh, and make sure you don’t get any of it in your eye, because ocular herpes is a real thing.
5. Wash your hair with Champagne.
Bubbly is apparently good for red highlights (if you are, I’m guessing, blonder than Barbie). If Champagne is too rich for your bathtime routine (’cuz you aren’t Beyoncé), you can condition your hair with beer, a la Greer Garson, or put half a sandwich (mayo and avocado) up there, like Ann-Margret. Or you can stand on your head to get more blood into your scalp. Whatever you do, “you should select [your hair’s] look as carefully as you would a frame for a fine work of art.”
6. Wear mascara to bed.
Like Dolly Parton, Dahl doesn’t believe that you shouldn’t wear makeup just because no one will see it. “I’m rarely without [mascara] unless I’m wearing false eyelashes,” she writes. “I even wear it to bed. I don’t believe that glamour should end when you turn out the lights … even if you plan on falling asleep.” Rowrrr.
Get an intentionally excruciating deep-tissue massage once a week, because dammit, beauty is pain and money grows on trees. According to Dahl, Rolfing, or “the integration of human structures,” was popular with Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
8. Don’t wear diamonds to breakfast or more than three colors at any time.
Dahl doesn’t explain her anti-Cheerios-and-bling rule. But she’s got lots to say about why she — and allegedly iconic costume designer Edith Head — are nunnishly against a woman sporting more than a trio of hues at the same time, including her hair and eye colors. Follow this if you can: “Color emits vibrations of light that can blend with your own personality vibrations. When these rhythms are in harmony with each other, you will achieve your greatest happiness; but if they clash, you might find yourself moody and unable to express yourself. Learn your special color vibrations and use them in your wardrobe and in your home.” No one tell Dahl about tie-dye.
9. Don’t use a large pillow.
“If you sleep on your back,” Dahl warns, the elevation from a large pillow “pushes your chin into your chest, encouraging a double chin.” If you can’t live without your fluffy headrests, never fear. Dahl says you can just poke your two chins into a singularity if you push hard enough.
10. Be pregnant.
Dahl doesn’t recommend pregnancy as “a regular beauty treatment,” but she does refer to those months with child as a “beautifying” experience. A woman is supposed to glow as another (radioactive?) creature grows inside her, but maybe she’s just following Dahl’s instructions to look “slim and trim” everywhere else, gain no more than 20 pounds, get her hair done just before the baby arrives, and fit into her old clothes no more than three weeks after giving birth. Dahl boasts that she danced four hours a day eight months after pushing out one of her kids. You too can look beautiful while expecting — or you can choose to take the wisdom of a woman who named one of her sons "Rounsevelle" with a pinch of salt and bone meal.