Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How Paulette Goddard Turned on Fred Astaire?

I just learned that Petula Clark "outed" herself and co-star Fred Astaire as smoking marijuana during the filming of 1968's Finian's Rainbow. "There was a lot of Flower Power going on," she told the BBC.

The movie, directed by pot-puffing Francis Ford Coppola, is set on an agricultural cooperative where a character played by Al Freeman Jr. attempts to develop a pre-mentholated tobacco. The plot has co-star Don Francks trying hard to get a hand-rolled cigarette to produce smoke, and ends with the whole cast blissfully doused in smoke.

The Canadian-born Franks—a jazz singer, poet and Native American—used to perform a song called Smokin’ Reefers. "A smoker of weed in his younger years, he was a fan of the plant. He gave up drinking when he was 21, using the First Nations term 'firewater' when referring to alcohol." Source.
Hermes Pan with Ann Miller in "Kiss Me Kate"

I can't find any other reference to Astaire and marijuana, but the choreographer most closely associated with him, Hermes Pan, is described in a biography as offering both tobacco and marijuana cigarettes to guests at a 1949 dinner party at his home in Coldwater Canyon.

Astaire called Pan his "ideas man" and the two began their collaboration on "The Carioca" number for "Flying Down to Rio" (1933) (probably the most humorous dance duet ever). Pan also suggested Astaire dance with a hat rack in "Royal Wedding," and advised him how to do it. He continued to collaborate with Astaire right up until his last musical picture, Finian's Rainbow.

Pan's career began with an appearance as a chorus boy in the Marx Brothers' 1928 Broadway production of "Animal Crackers." At that time, marijuana was still legal, and Chico Marx told an interviewer in 1959 that Groucho took his name from the "Grouch bag" they'd wear around their necks in their Vaudeville days, adding, "In this bag we would keep our pennies, some marbles, a couple of pieces of candy, a little marijuana, whatever we could get...because, you know, we were studying to be musicians."

Pan was also close to VIP Diego Rivera, who may have turned him on to pot in Mexico, if Errol Flynn's account of his own experience with Rivera serves. Pan and Rivera met at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1940, introduced by actress Paulette Goddard, who appeared in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" and "Modern Times" as well as "The Women."

In 1943, Pan visited Rivera at his home in San Angel near Mexico City where Rivera asked Pan to pose for him dancing, so that he could work out techniques for depicting motion in his paintings. He also painted a portrait of Pan

Flynn wrote in his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways that he visited Rivera in 1935, introduced by another actress, Dolores Del Rio (who also appeared in "Flying Down to Rio"). Rivera offered Flynn marijuana, which he smoked, and afterwards he could hear the paintings singing.

"Pan found life in Hollywood even more superficial and insignificant after his return from San Angel," wrote his biographer John Franceschina. Maybe the two-week posing process included puffing something mind expanding and if so, he shared some with his friend Fred.

Detail from Rivera's "Pan American Unity" mural
seems to depict a love triangle with Frida Kahlo,
himself and Goddard before the Tree of Life.
Goddard traveled to Mexico in 1940 for Look magazine ("Paulette Goddard Discovers Mexico"), where she reportedly met Rivera while living in the San Angel Inn across from his studio. She was "pursued" by Rivera and was a model for a mural he painted on San Francisco's Treasure Island. She accompanied him to California when he fled Mexico following death threats and attacks on him for his political activities. (Source: Pete Hamill, Diego Rivera, 1999.) A follow-up story in Look (July 20, 1940) is titled "Adventure and Mexico – Paulette Goddard helps Diego Rivera." The FBI soon put the actress under surveillance to investigate her political opinions and activities.

UPDATE 9/20 - Rivera's mural "Pan American Unity" was scheduled to be exhibited at SFMoMA in late 2020, but it seems that has been delayed although the museum will soon be reopening. UPDATE 11/22 - The mural is now viewable for free at SFMOMA through 1/23. 

As for Kahlo, a retrospective of her work was recently held at San Francisco's DeYoung museum. This drawing of hers from a letter that may indicate a medical use. More on Frida


AminahDiamonds2009 said...

I love paulette!

Anonymous said...

Paulette Goddard introduced Hermes Pan to Diego Rivera in 1940, not 1943.
They all met in San Francisco , at the
time Rivera was completing the Pan American Unity Mural ……
Pan travelled to Mexico City in 1943, where Rivera painted his portrait.

Tokin Woman said...

Thanks for the careful read and correction. I was able to verify and made the changes.