Robert Alda and His Wife, Flora, Write a Steamy Book—but Relax, It's About Cooking Pasta
It was the celebration of such memories that inspired Robert and his second wife, Flora Marino, to collaborate on 99 Ways to Cook Pasta (Macmillan, $9.95). It is an unpretentious, easy-to-follow book in which the recipe is often introduced by homey anecdotes about their lives (though Robert doesn't mention starring in NBC's disabled Supertrain). The entries run from Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (streetwalker's style) to the favorite of the Sicilian-born Flora, her mother's Spaghetti e Carciofi alla D'Asaro (spaghetti and artichokes). As for weight worries, Flora, a size 12, assures: "You can eat pasta every day if you eat it at lunch, not at night. Have protein at night and be very careful with sugars and desserts, and you will never get fat."
Robert, 66, who was raised in New York City before sleek was chic, recalls that his barber father "would mourn if there was no pasta at least once a day." But Robert traces his culinary skill to his maternal side. "I hung around my mother and grandmother in the kitchen a lot," he remembers, "and by the time I was 10, I was cooking."
Alda was just six months shy of a degree in architecture from NYU when he dropped out for show business after winning $25 in a singing contest. "It was the Depression," he explains, "and nobody was building anything." It was "nip and tuck," though, until he got his own radio show in 1935. "Then during the war, they were short of leading men," he continues modestly, and in 1943 Warner Brothers brought him to Hollywood to star as George Gershwin in Rhapsody in Blue. Other movies followed, and he won a Broadway Tony as Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls.
His marriage to Alan's mother ended after 22 years, and while vacationing in Rome in 1954 Alda met Flora, a young actress from a well-to-do family. Alan, who was then spending his junior year abroad at the Sorbonne, was summoned to meet his future stepmother. The senior Aldas settled in Rome while Robert shot films around the world. In 1957, when their son, Antony, was 6 months, they made their first sojourn together to New York. Flora didn't speak English but adapted just as gracefully to America as she did to the kitchen when she first married. Having grown up with four servants, she says, "I never fried an egg until I met Roberto. But I loved my husband, and when I stopped crying, I learned how to cook."
Now that they are established in a Pacific Palisades condo, it's usually Flora at the stove. "I am a good Italian wife," she declares. "He works all day—it would be ridiculous for him to come home and cook." But for parties, Alda lends a hand. The division of labor seems to have worked—this month they celebrate their 25th anniversary. Says Robert: "Our book is actually a review of the years we have been married. It's our silver anniversary gift to each other."