Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Annie Ross: Twisted and Terrific

Born into a Scottish vaudevillian family, Annie Ross was known as "Scotland's Shirley Temple" as a child performer. An aunt, actress Ella Logan, bought Annie her first record—Ella Fitzgerald's "A Tisket, A Tasket"—and at the age of four she knew she wanted to be a jazz singer.

In 1952, she penned and sang scat-style lyrics to saxophonist Wardell Gray's composition "Twisted" and it was an underground hit, resulting in her winning Down Beat magazine's New Star award.

My analyst told me
That I was right out of my head
But I said dear doctor
I think that it's you instead
'Cause I have got a thing that's unique and new
It proves that I'll have the last laugh on you
Because instead of one head, I've got two. 

See Annie performing "Twisted" on Hugh Hefner's "After Dark." 

Ross was interviewed for the book Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan by Leslie Gourse, which says, "As a very young woman, Annie, like Sassy, had enormous energy for a life in the fast lane; together they stayed up all night, drinking and smoking. Sassy liked marijuana and cocaine. Later Annie would switch to herbal tea, but in the 1950s, she too liked to get high."

Ross performed with Louis Armstrong and idolized Billie Holiday, about whom she spoke on a recent BBC interview. She recorded seven popular albums with the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross between 1957 and 1962. During that time, she descended into heroin, and had an affair with Lenny Bruce. According to Jet magazine (11/6/69), she was arrested for drugs, as was Anita O'Day.

She also had an acting career, appearing in Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993) and providing vocals for other actresses.

"Twisted" has been covered by a myriad of artists, including Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell (complete with a cameo from Cheech & Chong). In 1996, Ross recorded "Marajuana," the Arthur Johnston/Sam Coslow song first performed in the 1930s by Gertrude Michael and also covered by Midler.

At the age of 81, Ross sang "Twisted" at the 2011 MAC Awards, where she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. A documentary about Ross's life, titled No One But Me, premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2012.  She is reportedly working on her autobiography and still singing. See Annie's website.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

10 Years After: Pot-Puffing Professor Tells Her Truth

On January 6, 2008, the Dallas Morning News picked up Cal State Long Beach professor and novelist Diana Wagman’s column: What my cancer taught me about marijuana, subtitled Why I – and a surprising number my friends – smoke pot. 

Among other things learned during chemotherapy treatment, like that eyelashes really do have a purpose and how wonderfully helpful her friends are, Wagman wrote, “What really shocked me was how many of my old, dear, married, parenting, job-holding friends smoke pot. …People I never expected dropped by to deliver joints and buds and private stash. … The poets and musicians were not a surprise, but lawyers? CEOs? Republicans?” 

Pain was the #1 reason Wagman’s 40- and 50-something friends still get high, she wrote, adding, “We're all beginning to fall apart, and a couple of tokes really take the edge off the sciatica, rotator cuff injuries, irritable bowel syndrome and migraines.” 

Wagman’s oncologist told her pot’s antinauseant properties were discovered 25 years ago, and that patients seem to like it today “because they would rather support a farm in Humboldt County than a huge pharmaceutical conglomerate.” When modern medicine’s anti-nausea drugs didn’t work for Wagman she lit up, finding it helped “a lot” but shocking her 15-year-old DARE-educated daughter. 

“I had come full circle in my life,” Wagman wrote. “The next time I had a toke, I stood in my bathroom with the fan on, blowing smoke out the window, but instead of my parents, I was scared my kids would find out I was smoking dope again.”

Wagman hasn't slowed down in the last decade, recently publishing her first young adult novel, Extraordinary October, “complete with trolls, fairies, intolerance, talking dogs...

Visit Wagman's Website

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Nikola Tesla, His Mother, and Hemp

Someone tweeted out this meme (right) and, not being one to spread false information when there is so much verifiable hempen history (and herstory) to be found, I did a little digging.

In Tesla's autobiography My Inventions, he wrote of taking apart the clocks of his grandfather as a boy. "Shortly there after I went into the manufacture of a kind of pop-gun which comprised a hollow tube, a piston, and two plugs of hemp," he wrote. "The art consisted in selecting a tube of the proper taper from the hollow stalks." Hemp does indeed have hollow stalks, so it seems the young Nikola was familiar with the plant.

A bag made by Tesla's mother
(Source: http://www.teslasociety.com)
Tesla called his mother Georgina-Djuka "a woman of genius and particularly excelling in the powers of intuition." He wrote, "My mother descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors....she invented and constructed all kinds of tools and devices and wove the finest designs from thread which was spun by her. She even planted the seeds, raised the plants and separated the fibers herself....When she was past sixty, her fingers were still nimble enough to tie three knots in an eyelash."

It is quite probable that the seeds Djuka planted were hemp. Nikola was born in 1856 in a mountainous Serbian village in what was then part of the Austrian empire and is now in Croatia. Some of my ancestors happen to have lived during that time in a similar village only 200 km away, and I have confirmed that the national costume of the Gottschee people, as they were called, was made from hemp.

According to Gottschee and Its People (John Kikel, 1947):

Being separated from the mother country [Germany], the Gottscheer developed his own national dress. He obtained wool from the sheep which he raised himself, and the hemp which he planted, supplied him with the yarn from which he spun his own linen, which was known as ‘Konig.’ On Sundays and holidays, the men wore linen trousers that went just above the shoes, a jacked made of coarse material and a broad-rimmed large black hat.

The women’s apparel was very colorful and picturesque. They wore snow-white pleated linen aprons and, around their middle, they wore a bright red or brightly embroidered belt with long fringes hanging down their backs. Around their shoulders, they wore a colorful shawl. There was always a great deal of competition amongst the women as to who would have the prettiest dress when they made their next “Kirchgang” since they all made their own dresses . . . Until the latter part of the 19th century, this type of national dress predominated. 

Hemp is still grown and processed throughout Eastern Europe.

Djuka and Nikola didn't necessarily make rope and paper from it, but quite likely she spun and wove the hemp she grew and processed, and her young son played with the stalks and fibers. One can only speculate as to whether Djuka's "genius" and intuition, and that of her son, were enhanced by hemp.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tallulah the Tosspot and Her Reefer Binge

Catching a still-sharp Tallulah Bankhead guesting on an old Merv Griffin show clued me in to the fact that she'd written a book, Tallulah, My Autobiography, which was the #5 nonfiction best-seller of 1952, according to a New Yorker profile by Robert Gottlieb.

The daughter of an Alabama Senator, Bankhead won a beauty contest at the age of 16, and headed to New York City to start an acting career around 1918. She starred in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat and had a "calamitous" stage run in "Antony and Cleopatra" in 1937, around the time when she tried "reefer." She achieved stage success two years later with her "commanding performance" in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” (She lost the film role to Bette Davis, who later imitated Tallulah in All About Eve).

In addition to her acting, Tallulah was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable and known for her wit. One witticism was, "Only good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don't have the time." She also said, “I'm the foe of moderation, the champion of excess. If I may lift a line from a die-hard whose identity is lost in the shuffle, 'I'd rather be strongly wrong than weakly right'."

Chapter 4 of her autobiography, titled "Flirtation with Sin" begins, "You've heard, I'm sure, about Tallulah the tosspot!" But she claims that her party girl reputation happened mostly because of jokes she made at parties. For instance, her association with cocaine, she claims, came from a joke she told at parties shortly after she arrived in New York with acting ambitions. Writing that she had become "numbed and nauseated" and full of remorse after drinking, "Thereafter when offered a drink at parties, I'd say, 'No, thank you. I don't drink. Got any cocaine?' Thus did I start the myth that I was an addict."

After repeating the line at one party, the host offered her some "glistening crystals" of coke, and she felt compelled to try it, feeling "no sensation save that born of another achievement." Months later she was given heroin instead of cocaine and, "The effects were pleasant and dreamy. The world seemed uncommonly rosy, but not for long." She soon became "actively ill." "I've never touched either since, except medicinally," she claimed.

She then wrote of a physician in London who sprayed cocaine in her throat to help with laryngitis. Filling his prescription for pills labeled "Cocaine and Menthol" at a London pharmacy, and "obsessed with a desire to shock people, I whipped the vial out at every opportunity." When asked, "Isn't it habit-forming?" she'd reply, "Cocaine habit-forming? Of course not. I ought to know. I've been using it for years." She then continues:

"Since I'm in my narcotic phase I might as well let you in on my reefer binge, if a handful of reefers spread over four weeks can be so classified. I was carrying on a lopsided duel with Cleopatra when I first tested marijuana on the cue of a friend who swore reefers were the next thing to ambrosia."

"They may have been ambrosia to him, but my first one only brought on a fit of giggles and an overpowering hunger. Hunger is something I can't afford to create artificially, since I'm always either dieting or about to start. At the time I was deep in theosophy, and Madame Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled and Secret Doctrine. My giggles over, unreliable witnesses report I started to spout poetry of my own coinage. Very good it was, swore those perjurers.

"What with Cleopatra, back income taxes, a lost love and other considerations too gruesome to set down here, I was depressed, not to say broke. The reefer consumed, I felt that I had the key to the universe. Never more need I fret and worry. The complexities of my life became crystal clear. For a few moments so vivid seemed my comprehension of the things that conventionally haunt me I felt kinship with God." 

Quite the experience! However she then goes on to say, "In retrospect I distrust my emotions. Perhaps it was the spell of Madame Blavatsky. Perhaps I'd fused Poe and his laudanum with me and my reefer. Thus exalted, shortly I repeated the experiment. It didn't come off. I was closer to the pawnbroker than to God." She says those two experiences were "the sum of my trifling," and concludes, "Fortunately my skirmished with forbidden fumes and philters never created in me any craving, physical or mental, any desire to promote an experience to practice."

On drinking, she wrote, "Tippling? That's something else again. I enjoy drinking with friends, even though I know it occasionally leads me to conduct not easy to condone....I'm not a compulsive drinker. I'll drink what and when I damn well please." Later in her life, she mixed alcohol with prescription drugs, reportedly to her detriment.

Tallulah may have been the model for this 1937 cartoon, published the year that the Marijuana Tax Act effectively made marijuana illegal in the US. In it, a woman who resembles Bankhead is literally being kicked out of a pharmacy by federal inspectors (up until then, cannabis had been available in pharmacies in various formulations).

In 1948, Bankhead and other cast members were accused of using marijuana during the New York City production of Noel Coward's play "Private Lives." She contacted the FBI and requested an FBIHQ tour for John Emory, her husband, and Director Robert Sinclair. She also corresponded with Director Hoover.

In late 1951, Bankhead fired her personal secretary, Evyleen Cronin, for stealing money from her. In a public trial over the incident, Cronin's lawyers alleged that Cronin's job included "paying for marijuana, cigarettes, cocaine, booze and sex." Cronin also testified that Bankhead taught her to roll marijuana cigarettes. Because of this, Bankhead may have been the inspiration for the Alexandra de Lago character in Tennessee Williams's Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), whose young male companion (played by Paul Newman) tries to blackmail her over her use of hashish. She is also said to be the inspiration for Cruella de Vil in Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmations.

Rumored to have had an affair with Billie Holiday, Bankhead once said to a stranger at a party, “I’m a lesbian. What do you do?” She was friendly with Eleanor Roosevelt, campaigned for Truman and Kennedy, and in the early fifties, during McCarthysim, she said, “I think Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin is a disgrace to the nation.” Her final public appearance was on the “Tonight Show” (where she chatted with Paul McCartney and John Lennon).

Tallulah Bankhead died in 1968 when a bout of Asian flu was more than her emphysema could tolerate. Before slipping into a coma after being hooked to a ventilator in a New York City hospital, her only discernible words were barely audible requests for codeine and bourbon.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Grace and Frankie and Ruth and Maria

Season 4 of the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie" starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, is now available for binge watching, preferably while stoned.

The pot jokes begin in Episode 1, when Grace's daughter Brianna (June Diane Raphael) gets "buzzed" with Frankie (Tomlin), while Grace (Fonda) drinks martinis with her other daughter Mallory. Afterwards, Grace asks Brianna, "Why don't you take after your mother and drink, instead of smoking doobies with your burned-out Aunt Frankie?"

At least Grace notices that Mallory is drinking earlier than usual (while swigging a mid-day martini herself). Her advice about her daughter's hurt feelings over her ex-husband is to hurl her anger at him, as she acts the angry drunk herself. In a later episode, Brianna is told by her boyfriend that she's using marijuana as a coping mechanism, like her mother uses booze. Since she'd been smoking since breakfast, that may have been true. Nobody in the series gets high like people really do: having insights or meaningful conversations after expanding their minds.

While their ex-husbands ponder having more sex with other people, Grace does all she can to rebuff a younger suitor (Peter Gallagher) and Frankie leaves her lover man in Santa Fe so she can return to her family. The women fear that one of their vibrators-for-the-elderly product has sent a little old lady to more than her "little death."

"You're famous for not being able to multitask," Grace tells Frankie. "You can't even task." Pot-loving Frankie is portrayed as so unreliable that she can't be left alone with her granddaughter. Meanwhile, Grace's ex-husband reveals she has only "not drank" a few times, and delineated the three terrible stages of her alcohol withdrawal. Grace pops pain pills to deal with a knee problem (which could lead to overdose, given her alcohol intake) and we get to see her horrible scar after her knee surgery. Oh, and Frankie's daughter-in-law must have her baby without an epidural. But the men have no health issues at all except for feeling fatigued after being arrested while protesting for gay rights. (Judge Hempstead gets them out of jail.) It's the women (not their husbands) who are sent to live in assisted living, which they manage to escape by season's end. I liked Fonda as this Grace much better.

It's nice that the season came out on Women's March weekend because there's a mention of Susan Faludi's Backlash, which is a great book. The stoner "Friend" Lisa Kudrow guest stars in the first two episodes, and no less than Talia Shire plays Frankie's long-lost sister Teddy who used to give her a hard time about her "reefer."

Netflix has also brought back "Disjointed" starring Kathy Bates as a pot dispensary operator for 10 more episodes. The season opener, a 4/20 special, starts with a sweet musical number and has Bates's character Ruth confronting her earlier activist self. She decides to convene a cannabusiness women's empowerment group, where the women fight among themselves until Dabby (Betsy Sodaro as womankind's answer to Cheech & Chong) saves the day (in a way).

The writers haven't gone anywhere with the tension established in last season's pilot between Ruth's hippie values and those of her son, an MBA who sees the dispensary more as a business. Instead they did the whole thing in parody, complete with poop jokes and a rip-off of "The Help."

There are some genuine scenes with Bates's love interest (played by of Peter Riegert of Animal House), and with Maria (Nicole Sullivan), wherein Ruth introduces the concept of "Grasslighting" to her friend.

Budtender Jenny (Elizabeth Ho), a young Chinese woman, must deal with her mother's disapproval when she chooses to heal with herb instead of staying in medical school. (Too bad she couldn't do both.) She does a nice segment on Chinese hempen history, which could be good for awareness because the show is available with Chinese subtitles.

Season 2 of "High Maintenance," co-created by Katja Blichfield, is now showing on HBO.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Her-Storic Golden Globes Ceremony

"It's 2018. Marijuana is finally allowed and sexual harassment finally isn't," announced Golden Globes host Seth Meyers to begin a her-storic night when the stars wore black or "Time's Up" pins in solidarity with women everywhere.

Everyone's now abuzz with the thought of Oprah Winfrey running for President, following her monumental acceptance speech as the first black woman to take the Cecil B. DeMille award, and Meyers's joke about her running.

If it happens, Oprah wouldn't be the first candidate, or President, with a pot past.

As TokinWoman reported in 2013, Winfrey was asked when she last smoked marijuana on Bravo TV's "Watch What Happens Live" and replied "Uh...1982." Host Andy Cohen then said, "Let's hang out after the show" to which she replied, "Okay. I hear it's gotten better."

In a crowded field including perennial winner Meryl StreepFrances McDormand took a Best Actress Globe for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The film also won for Best Motion Picture, Drama (and co-stars Woody Harrelson, who missed the ceremony).

McDormand, who's also won an Oscar (for Fargo), appeared smoking a joint on the cover of High Times magazine in 2003. "I'm a recreational pot-smoker," she said, revealing she first smoked marijuana as a 17-year-old freshman at Bethany College in West Virginia in 1975. She added, "there has never been enough of a distinction between marijuana and other drugs. It's a human rights issue, a censorship issue, and a choice issue." Bravo!

Rachel Brosnahan accepted a trophy from Carol Burnett for portraying a stand-up comedienne in the Amazon series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," which won Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy. In the series, Brosnahan's character tokes with Lenny Bruce (a stoner girl's dream date). Her character is based in part on Joan Rivers.

Allison Janney won a Supporting Actress prize for her role in I, Tonya, for which Margot Robbie was nominated for playing Tonya Harding. Robbie appeared in a pot-leaf-motif skirt on "Saturday Night Live" and smoked pot onscreen with Tina Fey in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Nicole Kidman, who played Tokin' Woman Gertrude Bell onscreen, won for her role in HBO's Big Little Lies, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was the hottest MILF ever shotgunning her young date in The Rebound (2009), wore green earrings and gave tribute to her father-in-law Kirk Douglas for hiring Dalton Trumbo to write Spartacus.

Susan Sarandon co-presented with her Thelma and Louise co-star Geena Davis, which reminded me of the scene in that movie when the rasta bicyclist gets the cop high.

Erstwhile Tokin' Woman Natalie Portman stated upon presenting for Best Director, "And the all-male nominees are...." which was especially ironic when Lady Bird won for best actress and best comedy film, but its female director Greta Gerwig wasn't nominated. Barbara Streisand (also a Tokin' Woman) was the final presenter, and remarked after she was introduced as the only woman to have won a Golden Globe as best director (for Yentl in 1984), "That was 34 years ago. Folks, time's up." Indeed.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Top Ten Christmas Cultural References to Marijuana

Yes, kiddies, Jesus was a Mushroom and so was Santa Claus. Until mankind can fully come to grips with our true drug-fueled history, here are some interesting references that have snuck through at Christmastime:

 1. The Night Before (2015) written by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) and starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt features Dickensian pot dealer Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) manifesting marijuana's three vision quest abilities: to put you squarely in the present, to illuminate a future you fear, and to come to grips with a past you have buried. To the character who protests paranoia, Mr. Green replies, "Sometimes it's good to be uncomfortable." Packed with the usual party boy insanities, this one at least has cameos from Mindy Kaling and Ilana Glazer (Broad City) as Scrooge.

2. A Bad Moms Christmas, now in theaters, stars Susan Sarandon as a grandmother who parties with her daughter, played by Katharine Hahn, in a nice contrast to the other uptight grandmas.

3. In the 2005 film The Family Stone, Diane Keaton munches special brownies as the cancer-stricken family matriarch, and Sarah Jessica Parker plays the uptight Meredith, whose freak flag flies under the tutelage of her fiancĂ©'s brother Ben Stone (Been Stoned?), played by Luke Wilson.

4. In Scrooged (1998), Bill Murray finds his soul with the help of his pot-puffing girlfriend, played by Karen Allen.

5. To deal with his sudden change in fortune, Eddie Murphy jumps into the john to take a toke, and Dan Aykroyd lights up a spliff in disguise as a Jamaican in Trading Places (1983), set at Christmastime.

6. In The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), the unwanted visitor's host is based on H.H. Timken, the Ohio industrialist who planned to bankroll hemp production in the US.

7. In the 1951 movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope sniffs Santa's pipe and acts high while introducing the song "Silver Bells":

8. A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas (2011) must be mentioned. Best moment: when Danneel Harris (Vanessa) convinces Kumar not to stop smoking.

9. In Happy Christmas (2014) Anna Kendrick (pictured) plays an insecure woman who puffs pot from a joint and a pipe, and does fine unless she mixes it with alcohol. It's not very Christmassy, insightful, or fun, but Kendrick is good (as always). I'm still waiting for the well done women's pot movie or TV show that isn't just trying to imitate the boys.

10. A tie between these two TV episodes: The 2008 ER episode, "The High Holiday," which features Charlotte Rea (who played the housemother TV’s staid sitcom "The Facts of Life") accidentally dosing the staff at their Christmas party with her pot brownies, made for a friend in chemotherapy. And the a 2009 Friends episode, in which Monica is baking Christmas cookies, and Phoebe comments, "A plate of brownies once told me a limerick." "Were those funny brownies?" she is asked. "Not especially," is her response, "but you know what, I think they had pot in them."

And for you kids in town without a Christmas tree, the "smoke your marijuanaka" line in Adam Sandler's original Hanukkah Song always gets a big ovation whenever he performs it live. His newest version #4 of the song, shows he's still smokin: