Friday, March 27, 2020

Mark Twain, Fannie & Fred, and Hasheesh Candy in Old San Francisco

RICHARDS & CO., a San Francisco pharmacy that advertised Hasheesh Candy in 1872, was on the corner of Sansome & Clay streets on the outskirts of Chinatown, near the financial district and (today) the Transamerica Pyramid and Mark Twain Plaza. Clay was the street on which Twain was spotted after having ingested hashish in 1865. It's possible he procured his hasheesh from Richards & Co.

CF Richards & Co., wholesale drugs and chemicals, was depicted in William Hahn’s 1872 painting "Market Scene, Sansome Street, SF" (below). It was the first major painting of a contemporary California subject hangs at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.


An interesting little advertising/PR campaign (or so it seems) appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1872. It began on September 19, with this item touting the medical uses of “magic” hasheesh conserves:

MAGIC CONSERVES – Debilitated, Hypochondriac Sufferer, physically and mentally in need of an invigorator, pleasant and harmless, use this Hasheesh Confection. For sale at RICHARDS’ corner Clay and Sansome. Price, #1 per box. Send for circular, P. O. Box 1733.

The following day, recreational use was included in this ad:

MAGIC CONSERVES – All who are afflicted use Hasheesh Confection and find relief. Those who seek for novelty use it for its exhilarating effects. Price $1 per box. Send for unique circular, P. O. Box 1733 or RICHARDS & CO., Druggists. For sale by druggists generally. 

One month later, on October 20, this item appeared just over the Church Notices:

ALL who have used the MAGIC CONSERVES (Hasheesh) speak of it in the most glowing terms. Two days later, another ad previewed a coming article: TRY THE MAGIC CONSERVES (HASHEESH), and if your dreams do not equal Bayard Taylor’s or De Quincy’s, write to Box 393.

FANNIE AND FRED 

On October 25, this curious personal ad was published:

Fannie—I DID TRY THE HASHEESH; I will be there to-night. FRED.

Perhaps Fred tried hasheesh at Fannie’s suggestion, or so it would appear. Or perhaps an inventive public relations man placed the ad himself.

An ad the following day simply said:

OFFICE for MAGIC CONSERVES (Hasheesh), Box 393.

Finally, on October 27 a long article with copious quotes from Bayard Taylor appeared in the Chronicle under this headline:

PECULIAR DELIGHT. In the Realms of Bliss – Heaven on Earth—The Wonderful Hasheesh Candy—What the Great Bayard Taylor Says of it. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Opera's Carmen, The Gypsy Drug Smuggler

Elina Garanca as Carmen with Roberto Alagna as Don José at the Met
As a treat for those of us (almost everyone, it seems) who are "sheltering in place" these days, the Metropolitan Opera is streaming, free of charge, an opera every night this week. Last night was Bizet's Carmen, the story of a tempting and  tempestuous Andalusian gypsy (more properly, Romani) who lures her soldier/lover Don José into the freewheeling world of a band of smugglers—but just what they were smuggling is not revealed.

Carmen is based on the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, who traveled to Spain and its region in 1830, where María Manuela Kirkpatrick de Grevignée, the Countess of Montijo, told him a story that became Carmen. Mérimée, also a noted archaeologist and historian, was studying the Romani people and so made the character one of them, of whom he wrote, "Their eyes, set with a decided slant, are large, very black, and shaded by long and heavy lashes. Their glance can only be compared to that of a wild creature. It is full at once of boldness and shyness, and in this respect their eyes are a fair indication of their national character, which is cunning, bold, but with 'the natural fear of blows,' like Panurge" [a crafty character in Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, thought to be about hemp].

"The men generally call themselves grooms, horse doctors, mule-clippers; to these trades they add the mending of saucepans and brass utensils, not to mention smuggling and other illicit practices," Mérimée writes. "The women tell fortunes, beg, and sell all sorts of drugs, some of which are innocent, while some are not."


Monday, March 9, 2020

Marion Sunshine and Marijuana

While putting together my list of Top Ten Marijuana Jazz Tunes by Women last year, I learned that the song "When I Get Low I Get High," recorded in 1936 by Ella Fitzgerald, was written by actress, singer and songwriter Marion Sunshine.

Sunshine is best remembered as a songwriter and performer who helped introduce Latin music to American audiences. The prestigious Julliard school of music offers a scholarship in her name.

Born Mary Tunstall Ijames in Louisville, Kentucky on May 15, 1894, Sunshine began performing on the vaudeville circuit at the age of five, along with her older sister Clare, who was dubbed Florence Tempest because of her more tempestuous personality (apparently Mary was the Sunny sister). Starting with the first Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, Marion appeared in a dozen Broadway shows through 1926.

Between 1908 and 1916, Sunshine also appeared in 26 short films, many of them with her sister and billed as "Sunshine and Tempest," the title of a three-reel Rialto short produced in 1915. A promotional article about the film extolls, "As motion picture players the charming young actresses are great successes. Their clear cut beauty, their alertness, and their ready intelligence gives them more than the average screen value."

After becoming involved with Cuban businessman Eusebio Azpiazú in 1922, Sunshine began translating lyrics and writing songs for his brother Justo Ángel Azpiazú, better known as Don Azpiazú, a prominent Havana band leader. The 1930 rendition of "The Peanut Vendor," with English lyrics by Sunshine, became the first million-selling single in the history of Latin music. She and her husband engineered Azpiazu's 1931 tour, and she sang "The Peanut Vendor" with his band across the country. It may be Sunshine singing the song in this 1933 animated film.

Nicknamed "The Rumba Lady," Sunshine co-wrote other rumba hits such as "Mango Mangue," recorded by Celia Cruz and Charlie ParkerEating mangoes before smoking marijuana is said to improve the high, and the rumba was associated with marijuana culture in the 1930s: Louis Armstrong recorded a rumba version of "La Cucaracha" in 1935.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Men We'd Love to Toke With: Oscar Levant


Looking up Tokin' Woman Elizabeth Taylor on her recent 88th birthday, I came across this passage from her biographer Ellis Amburn: "Elizabeth sometimes ditched [second husband Michael] Wilding to slip off to Oscar Levant's Beverly Hills house with Monty [Montgomery Clift, a known marijuana smoker], where the pianist serenaded them with Gershwin tunes as they whiled away afternoons and early evenings.” It sounded like a stoner's dream date to me.

I'd seen Levant in "An American in Paris" (pictured), where he plays Gene Kelly's insouciant sidekick, uttering the unforgettable line, "It's not a pretty face, I grant you. But underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character."

Sunday, March 1, 2020

High Maintenance "Backflash" Episode Illuminates the Life of a Lighter

If you're ever wondered what happened to the many lighters you've lost sharing a joint or a pipe with your fellow pot smokers, the current episode of the HBO series "High Maintenance" answers the question in sweet and thought-provoking fashion.

The "Backflash" episode follows a lighter through the many hands that hold it, starting with a couple of teenage girls who skip out of a religious campfire circle where a goofy hippie plays Joan Osborne's "What If God Was One of Us." They share a pipe wearing T-shirts that say, "His Universal Flame....Let Your Light Shine (1999)"

One girl ends up with the lighter, to which she affixes a picture of the sheroic vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar in shimmering silvery garb, making her look like a fire goddess. The lighter then travels to the girl's waitress sister, a gay couple she waits on, a young black boy and his friends, and others, taking breaks sitting in boxes or drawers, getting stripped of its color (until it's an "unlucky white") and finally painted in a psychedelic pattern. As the series so often does, "Backflash" demonstrates how pot smoking brings people together in creative, weird and wonderful ways, as they pass the Universal Flame.

Hildegarde von Bingen and Hemp in Herstory

Women's Herstory Month 2020 got off to an amazing start as NPR's "Live From Here" featured a performance of a poem and musical composition Ordo-Virtutum from 12th-century German abbess, authoress and mystic Hildegarde von Bingen:


The segment also featured Sarah Jarosz singing "Wake Up Alone" by Tokin' Woman Amy Winehouse.

In my book (now available at Target!) Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory, Hildegarde is the sole link between the ancient healing goddesses and their cannabis medicine kits, and the rediscovery of hashish by Western adventurers who traveled to the Middle East in the mid-1800s.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Spartacus's Wife: The Woman Behind the Revolt


Jean Simmons with Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus" (1960).
It was sadly fitting that on the Day our Democracy Died we also lost Kirk Douglas, who helped break the Hollywood blacklist by hiring Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay for the 1960 film "Spartacus," telling the enduring story of the 73BCE Gladiator/slave revolt against the Roman empire.

I rented the movie, and was struck by the depictions of the communal nature of the former slave army: people pulling together, women making candles and weaving, etc. I was also struck by the lack of power among the women in the film: Spartacus's love Varinia (Jean Simmons) is a slave forced into submissive prostitution who ends up back in Roman clutches in the end.

The herstorical facts are different: Spartacus, who came from Thrace, was married to a priestess from his tribe who inspired and aided in the revolt. According to history professor Barry Strauss writing in The Wall Street Journal:

Neither her name nor the name of their tribe survives. Only one ancient source mentions her existence, but he is Plutarch, who relied on the (now largely missing) contemporary account by Sallust. In his "Life of Crassus," Plutarch writes: It is said that when he [Spartacus] was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him. (Plutarch, Crassus 9.3) 

Plutarch, and Strauss, pin her as worshipping Dionysus, the god of wine and liberating "frenzies"; but long before his cult appears, the snake was a symbol of the goddess religions. Scholars think the wines of ancient times may have contained entheogenic plants as well as alcohol.