Monday, February 3, 2014

Gertrude Stein and Jenny Reefer

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, which was contributed by the author Brion Gysin.

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.

Also, 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. (Robert Indiana's costume for Jenny Reefer is shown at right.) 

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.” VIP 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

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