Cof­fee used to have star qual­ity

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY SO­NIA RAO so­nia.rao@wash­

Ben Af­fleck likes a cup of joe as much as the av­er­age Joe. ¶ The A-lis­ter and his girl­friend, “Sat­ur­day Night Live” pro­ducer Lind­say Shookus, have been the cen­ter of much pa­parazzi at­ten­tion over the past few weeks, but what re­ally stands out is the seem­ingly con­stant pres­ence of iced cof­fee. The drink fig­ures into most shots of the cou­ple, as The Cut re­cently pointed out, whether Star­bucks cups in New York or night­time java in Santa Mon­ica. The sub­stan­tial num­ber of im­ages keeps with a tra­di­tion of pho­tograph­ing celebri­ties act­ing “just like us,” a phrase that hope­fully doesn’t ex­tend to Af­fleck’s very wet T-shirt.

“I’ve seen a cou­ple of them where he’s dou­ble-fist­ing,” said Steven Rea, au­thor of “Hol­ly­wood Cafe: Cof­fee With the Stars.”

Fetch­ing a sim­ple cup of­ten acts as a mys­te­ri­ously hu­man­iz­ing force for celebri­ties — “a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor,” as Rea put it — be­cause it’s af­ford­able and of­ten part of a daily rit­ual. Sure, Tay­lor Swift re­port­edly bought a Rhode Is­land man­sion for $17.75 mil­lion, but she grabs the same La Colombe iced cof­fee we do. It wasn’t al­ways this way, though. Cof­fee used to do the op­po­site, act­ing as vis­ual ev­i­dence that celebri­ties were way cooler than the rest of us.

Cof­fee has “al­ways been a part of the fab­ric of the Hol­ly­wood scene” be­cause of early-morn­ing call times, ac­cord­ing to Rea. His 192-page book, pub­lished in 2015, is filled with vin­tage pho­to­graphs that fea­ture ac­tors drink­ing cof­fee on and off set. There are shots of Lau­ren Ba­call and Humphrey Bog­art mak­ing it at home with fancy gad­gets, and oth­ers of Grace Kelly and Steve McQueen at the craft ser­vices ta­ble on movie sets.

“It be­came a Hol­ly­wood habit, mostly in good ways,” he said. “If you’re go­ing to have an ad­dic­tion, cof­fee is one where the down­sides aren’t that bad.”

A steam­ing mug at a cafe of­fered what Rea called the “Euro­pean so­phis­ti­ca­tion fac­tor.” Hol­ly­wood has had ties to Europe from the silent era on­ward, when ac­tors and film­mak­ers came from the con­ti­nent’s ma­jor cities and brought their cof­fee habits with them. Pho­tos of Ba­call drink­ing cof­fee with a cig­a­rette be­tween her fin­gers mir­ror sim­i­lar ones of French ac­tress Jeanne Moreau or Ital­ian ac­tress Sophia Loren.

“They brought with them their taste — the food they loved and the bev­er­ages they were used to drink­ing,” Rea said.

Some Amer­i­cans con­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment of this trend, too, adopt­ing habits from their time abroad in the early 20th cen­tury. F. Scott Fitzger­ald and Ernest Hem­ing­way, for in­stance, spent time in Europe dur­ing their for­ma­tive years, Rea said, and you can find pho­to­graphs of each writer sit­ting in Parisian cafés. Both re­turned to the United States and worked in Hol­ly­wood, bring­ing back as­pects of the cof­fee cul­ture of Paris’s lit­er­ary and art cir­cles.

But no longer. Pur­chas­ing brewed cof­fee be­came ubiq­ui­tous with the rise of sec­ond-wave cof­fee cul­ture in the 1990s, ac­cord­ing to Sarah Lyon, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky. Go­ing to Star­bucks is a “mid­dle-class lux­ury,” some­thing that many peo­ple can af­ford on a semi-reg­u­lar ba­sis. Af­fleck and Shookus’s green straws are a mark of the every­man.

“I think it’s a way for mid­dle Amer­ica to iden­tify with the stars, through a small lux­ury, but not in this elit­ist way,” Lyon said. “If he was go­ing to some sort of elit­ist, third-wave cof­fee shop where they were hav­ing their $5 pour-over cof­fee, peo­ple wouldn’t iden­tify and re­act in the same way.”

Lyon spec­i­fied that it’s the act of grab­bing the drink them­selves that hu­man­izes the celebri­ties, who could eas­ily staff it out.

“It’s some­thing about the rit­ual of go­ing to the store and car­ry­ing the cof­fee around in a pa­per cup,” she said. “It’s just a caf­feine de­liv­ery mech­a­nism — there’s noth­ing much to it, in and of it­self. It’s the con­sump­tion, the pub­lic­ness of it.”

Jerry Se­in­feld’s Emmy-nom­i­nated Web se­ries “Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee” plays off this idea by, as the name sug­gests, hav­ing Se­in­feld drive his guest across town to get a cup. The se­ries serves the same pur­pose as any talk show, but the premise al­lows for more re­laxed con­ver­sa­tions. Se­in­feld some­times de­vi­ates from the struc­ture, run­ning into other peo­ple en route, and the pub­lic set­ting makes the co­me­di­ans ap­pear more hum­ble. Stand-ups of­ten thrive on re­lata­bil­ity dur­ing com­edy rou­tines, af­ter all, and the de­par­ture from a tra­di­tional stu­dio set­ting achieves a sim­i­lar ef­fect. So, why cof­fee? When asked by NPR why he chose cof­fee, Se­in­feld replied, “That whole de­scrip­tion of why it’s great to meet some­one for a cup of cof­fee — the ease, the sim­plic­ity, the com­pact­ness. And that it also ob­vi­ously gets peo­ple talk­ing. You have cof­fee, and, for some rea­son, it makes you talk a lot.”

Fetch­ing a sim­ple cup of­ten acts as a mys­te­ri­ously hu­man­iz­ing force for celebri­ties.


ABOVE: Lau­ren Ba­call on the Warner Bros. lot dur­ing the mak­ing of the 1945 movie “To Have and Have Not.” Cof­fee used to make movie stars seem cool, au­thor Steven Rea says. Now it’s the great equal­izer. BE­LOW: Ben Af­fleck, of­ten pho­tographed tot­ing cof­fee in card­board cups.


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