Monday, February 3, 2014

Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and Jenny Reefer



Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
Born on February 3, 1874 was the hostess with the mostest, art collector extraordinaire, avant-garde writer and wit Gertrude Stein.

Much has been made of Stein's longtime companion Alice B. Toklas and her hashish brownies, a recipe for which appears in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. When Toklas's American publisher objected to the "illegal" recipe, she feared many would assume Stein's writing happened while under the influence (which certainly seems possible, if you read it).

Toklas disavowed knowledge of the recipe, writing in a letter to Donald Gallup on 12/19/21, "I hope you were as shocked as I was by the notice in Time of the hashish fudge. I was also furious until I discovered it really was in the cookbook! Contributed by one of Carl's most enchanting friends, Brion Gysin, so that the laugh was on me. Thornton said that no one would believe in my innocence as I had pulled the publicity stunt of the year, that Harper had telegraphed from London to the Attorney General to see if there would be any trouble in printing it."

It's possible that Stein and Toklas were more conduits for a younger generation of partakers, like Gysin and his friend VIP Paul Bowles, who lived with Stein and Toklas for a time. The Lost Generation was, after all, mostly lost in liquor. However, among Stein's art purchases was the first painting ever sold by Marie Laurencin, which appears to be a painting of a hashish party held in 1908.


Robert Indiana's costume for Jenny Reefer.
An interesting character by the name of Jenny Reefer appears in "The Mother of Us All," a 1947 opera about the life and career of suffragette Susan B. Anthony for which Stein wrote the libretto. Reefer is described as "a mezzo-soprano; a comical feminist, outspoken and opinionated." Sounds like a pothead to me.

Stein and Toklas's greatest significance was in bringing expatriate writers and artists together at their Parisian salon. That tradition was carried on by 1970s superagent and pot lover Sue Mengers, of whom CBS President Leslie Moonves said,  “She was the modern-day Gertrude Stein. People would gather and exchange ideas and talk about things that were not talked about anywhere else in town.” Tokin' Woman Mama Cass Eliot was also compared to Stein. 

Kathy Bates played Stein in Midnight in ParisPat Carroll played her in the one-woman show Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein.

Agnes Moorehead as Endora in TV's Bewitched
In the 1968 film I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, Leigh Taylor-Young turns Peter Sellers onto pot brownies, causing him to transform. An episode called "Tabitha's Weekend" that aired on TV's Bewitched on March 6, 1969 has this interesting exchange:

Endora (the grandmother witch) is offered cookies by Darrin's (straight) mother. "They're not by chance from an Alice B. Toklas recipe?" Endora asks. When told they were not, "Then I think I'll pass," is her answer. Tabitha, the junior witch, then turns herself into a cookie. (Mrs. Stevens suffers from headaches and gulps the more prosaic sherry.)

No comments: