Saturday, February 12, 2011

Share a Little Tea with Leigh

Leigh French in her "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" sketch.
David Bionculli's book Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour reveals that some of the comedy on that show was fueled by a dangerous weed. The groundbreaking television hour that ushered in the topical comedy of Laugh In and Saturday Night Live featured writer/performers Steve Martin, Don Novello ("Father Guido Sarducci"), Rob Reiner, Pat Paulsen, and Albert Brooks's brother Bob Einstein. Musical acts included Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Cream, Donovan, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more.

Pot was a topic of the show's comedy. Pat Paulsen, performing a shadow puppet routine, joked, "This one won me a blue ribbon up at the Seattle Pottery and Marijuana Festival." Comedienne Leigh French (pictured) had a recurring segment called, "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" [tea being, of course, a jazz-age slang for marijuana]. 

"She was the hippie character whose original name was Mary Jane Roach, but the censors made me change it," French told Popgeeks in 2020. "From then on, I was appointed a personal censor to catch anything I might try to slip through. I wrote in double entendre all the time, so that certain things the censors thought meant something, our contemporaries knew meant something else (laughing)."

French began her career at the San Francisco improv group The Committee, when "there were only two women in the company at the time. There were always six or seven men, so the women who could improvise and hang with the guys had to be incredibly versatile, and really had to fight for all their stuff, frankly. It wasn’t particularly women-centric."

After an improvised appearance in Season One as of the Smothers Brothers Show as an audience member, Leigh was invited onstage by Tommy in Season Two to introduce her character Goldie Kief (later changed to O'Keefe at the insistence of those insistent censors). "Thanks for coming down," says Tom. "I didn't come down. I never come down," replies Goldie. The segment is shown in Maureen Muldaur's 2002 documentary, Smothered.

In January 1968, French debuted her "Share a Little Tea" sketch with, "I'd like to greet you ladies as I usually do—high!" She then thanks her viewers for getting rid of all the unsightly roaches in their homes—by sending them to her (years before Chevy Chase did the bit). In another sketch, Don Knotts plays a nervous guest too paranoid to accept tea with a sugar cube—a popular way of dispensing LSD.

French's mock weather forecast (above), notes that the Mexican government is "confiscating and burning large amounts of a peculiar weed," and predicts "northerly winds will push an overall high into [California]...As usual there is also a definite mass of heat which is trying to bring the high down." The bit ends with an expression of hope for more "sunny and human" conditions that would "change the entire climate of our nation. Wouldn't that be wonderful!" Yes, indeed. 

Tom Smothers said in Smothered that he and headwriter/"Classical Gas" composer Mason Williams would "sometimes torch a joint" while working on scripts, and told Bionculli that they smoked pot together while listening to an album by the composer of "Gentle on My Mind." Tom said, "We started listening to Johnny Hartford's first album while we were smoking some weed, and said, 'Hey, this is great!'" Glen Campbell and his signature song were soon a part of the show.

Rob Reiner remembered that during the writing of the Smothers Brothers show, "everybody was high, smoking dope and doing stuff like that." Einstein said, "It was not a stoned office, but, I believe grass was smoked." Singer Jennifer Warnes recalled one road trip on which she and Tom dropped acid, and Williams remembered mistakenly eating a batch of French's "specially enhanced" brownies.


During the trial that resulted in a settlement for breach of contract after the show was cancelled, French's skit where she played country singer "Kentucky Rose" who said, "I used to play bluegrass, but a couple of weeks ago I started smoking it" was entered into the court record. French did a segment playing that character with Campbell and Jonathan Winters (above). Tokin' Woman Tallulah Bankhead was among the show's diverse guest stars. 

French (center) with her "Tip O' The Teacup" award
presented in April 2015 by Cal NORML
French played a San Francisco hippie named Cobalt Blue in a 1968 episode of I Spy, and she and fellow Committee member Rob Reiner also played hippies in the 1969 "Flower Power" episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. She also supplied the boho vibe to 1970's W-USA with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and appeared in The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977) with Henry Fonda and Susan Sarandon. But although Dinah Shore picked French to be her sidekick, she was blacklisted from television for eight years. She has had a long career doing voice-overs for films like Shrek III and working as an ADR coordinator for films by Reiner and others. 

Another Leigh, Leigh Taylor Young, appeared as a pot-brownie maker in I Love You Alice B. Toklas.

A tip of the teacup to this pioneer pothead, Leigh French.

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