Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why the US is More Gosford Park Than Downton Abbey

The Colbert Report has picked up on Fox News's absurd praise of Downton Abbey and its job-creating serf system.

But that system was prettied up mightily for TV. The 2001 movie from which the series is based, Gosford Parkalso written by Julian Fellowes and, unlike the sanitized TV version, directed by VIP Robert Altman—paints quite a different picture of the aristocracy. 

An upstairs/downstairs story set in the same time period as Downton, Gosford Park also stars Maggie Smith as the blunt and bossy matriarch and also has three daughters--two beautiful, one not--plus a shy, stringy haired and obsequious servant intrigued by a nasty blue-eyed valet; a slim and stately blonde servant who knows her place; and a comely, earnest daughter with a brunette bob involved in an inappropriate clandestine affair. Even the sets are nearly identical, down to the candlesticks.

In Gosford, the Lord is rather a monster who so mistreats his help that he gets his comeuppance at their hands, doubly so. The Lady is not, in any sense of the word, a lady. Smith's character enjoys dishing with the servants, and uses them for spies. The help truly dislikes their overlords, knowing full well that they are unfairly treated workers.

Gosford Park won nearly every Best Director award worldwide and Fellowes picked up an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Co-producer was Bob Balaban, who plays the American movie director in the film, and also did a cute guest spot as a medical marijuana doctor on HBO's Entourage. The TV version of Gosford, with aristocrats who care about their servants, is a PBS fundraising monster praised for its authenticity of set and costume design. 

Americans have a warped view that all of us will be rich someday: boys want to be Michael Douglas in Wall Street and girls still believe in Prince Charming (hell, they're all dressing like slutty princesses now). Even during the Great Depression, the favorite board game was Monopoly, in which the winner takes all, to hell with the rest of the players. As I learned on Netflix recently, Monopoly was first invented by Lizzie Phillips in 1923 as The Landlord's Game, to illustrate the downside of concentrating land in private monopolies. If you doubt the inequities of our system, you can also see the 2006 documentary The One Percent on Netflix.   

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Remembering Janis

In a gentler world, Janis Joplin would have turned 70 today.

I just came across a Dick Cavett episode filmed only two months before her brightly burning candle burned out. Janis gives an astonishing performance of "Half Moon," showing she's in full control of her tight-as-a-drum band, the aptly named Full Tilt Boogie.

Afterwards, she stands up for pot to fellow guest Gloria Swanson, talking about repression in the 1920s when Swanson was making movies. "Back then you couldn't drink because they didn't like it. Now you can't smoke grass," Janis said. "Back then you couldn't be a flapper because they didn't like it, and now you can't play rock and roll ...It seems to me that people who went through all that prohibition and flapper times should realize that young people are always crazy, and to leave us alone." The audience applauded their agreement.

Just afterwards, Cavett promises his audience a lift from the following Pepsi commercial. Nowadays Beyoncé, whose daughter with Jay-Z was honored with a medical marijuana strain named for her days after she was born, has taken criticism for pushing Pepsi at the upcoming Superbowl. Too bad she can't promote something actually uplifting.

Joplin was at her blues-belting best in this song about Mary Jane, sung it in the style of her idol Bessie Smith. The song laments the high cost of pot: "When I bring home my hard earned pay / I spend my money all on Mary Jane." Sadly for Janis, heroin and Southern Comfort—whose maker reportedly gave her a fur coat in appreciation of her endorsement—were cheaper.

I saw this iconic picture of Janis at a Mill Valley record store once years ago, in front of which was planted a little girl demanding to know who she was.

At the 2005 Grammy Awards Joplin was honored by VIPs Joss Stone (who looked the part) and Melissa Etheridge (who sounded it). There will never be anyone, anywhere, like Janis, but her torch has been passed to a new generation.

UPDATE 2017: Hot Auction Going For Janis Joplin Pic With Michelle Williams

Monday, January 14, 2013

Did Richard Nixon Finger Louis Armstrong's Wife Lucille for a Pot Bust?

Louis and Lucille
On the evening of January 16, 1954 Louis Armstrong sat at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel at 631 O’Farrell Street in San Francisco and wrote what has been called “one of the most stunning documents Armstrong ever composed.”

"Mr. Glaser, you must see to it that I have special permission to smoke all the reefers that I want to when I want or I will just have to put this horn down, that's all," the letter says, addressing Armstrong’s manager. "I can gladly vouch for a nice, fat stick of gage, which relaxes my nerves, if I have any...I can't afford to be ...tense, fearing that any minute I'm going to be arrested, brought to jail for a silly little minor thing like marijuana."

The incident that prompted Louis to write about his love for marijuana was the arrest of his wife Lucille on marijuana charges in Hawaii on New Year’s Day, 1954. Lucille was nabbed by federal narcotics agents at her hotel in Waikiki Beach where a US Customs inspector found one cigarette and two stubs, totaling 14.8 grams of marijuana, in her eyeglass case.

The bust was a big deal: Louis almost lost a charity gig for the March of Dimes and was nearly barred from performing in Hawaii. Lucille posted $300 bail and appeared at a day-long hearing on January 5 with Louis sitting in the spectators’ section.  She pleaded guilty for expediency, she said, but protested her innocence. It was widely speculated that it was Louis's stash.

The judge reduced Lucille’s fine to $200 owing to her husband's good works. "At the start of 1954, he was at the peak of his popularity and was already being touted as an ‘Ambassador of Goodwill’ due to his tremendous popularity overseas," wrote Ricky Riccardi, who details the incident in his book What a Wonderful World.

An often-told story relates that Armstrong once prevailed on Richard Nixon to carry his valise containing pot through an airport for him. LA-based trumpeter Jack Coan, who toured the Midwest with Louis and Pat Boone in 1967, told me that that Satchmo laughed heartily every time he told the story, pinpointing the locale as Japan. Both Armstrong and then-VP Nixon toured Japan in late 1953, just before Lucille’s arrest. The timing begs the question: Did Nixon figure out he’d been used for a drug courier and fail to see the humor in it?

Louis hadn’t been in trouble with the law since 1930, when he was arrested outside the Cotton Club in LA while smoking a joint. That incident and his subsequent jailing ultimately lead to Joe Glaser, an Al Capone acolyte, taking over Armstrong’s career, and later suppressing his writings about marijuana.

Lucille Armstrong in 1983
Riccardi, who is the archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, credits Lucille with preserving Armstrong's letter to Glaser, and his taped audio version.  A former dancer at the Cotton Club, Lucille Armstrong went on to become a community activist after Louis's death, drafted by Gov. Rockefeller

"Can you imagine anyone giving Lucille all of those headaches and grief over a mere small pittance such as gage, something that grows out in the backyard among the chickens and so forth,” Louis emoted in his letter. “I just won't carry on with such fear over nothing and I don't intend to ever stop smoking it, not as long as it grows. And there is no one on this earth that can ever stop it all from growing. No one but Jesus--and he wouldn't dare. Because he feels the same way that I do about it."

Gage “ain't nothin' but medicine," Louis concluded, words that will resonate with medical marijuana advocates in the city where he wrote them. The medical marijuana movement began in San Francisco, where activist Dennis Peron rallied the HIV/AIDS community to fight for their rights in the early 1990s. The state Proposition 215 followed in 1996, making California the first state to legalize marijuana for medicine.

Those events and others will be marked by a conference happening January 26 & 27 at Ft. Mason Conference Center in San Francisco, sponsored by California NORML. The conference will take place at the 100th anniversary of cannabis prohibition in California. 

It’s high time to end the 100-Year War that has harassed and imprisoned so many of our citizens, including some of our best and brightest.

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Tokin Woman is proud to bestow 

the following “Tokey” Awards for 2012, 

in recognition of the achievement, 

courage and compassion of the awardees. 

Andrew Sullivan
The Daily Beast


"Breaking the Taboo"

Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom"

"Toke" and "Mary Jane the Musical"

VIDEO OF THE YEAR: What if Obama Called a Real Marijuana User?


Federal Policy Goes to the Dogs Over the Vapor Room SF

Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand

Too High to Fail


Phyllis Diller

Larry Hagman

Special recognition to: Cannabis Culture and the Smell the Truth blog for supporting original journalism in 2012.

First Pot Peace Candidate Had Reason in His Family

Teresa and George McGovern after he won
the Massachusetts Democratic Primary
I haven't had a chance in this busy election season to stop and reflect about the death this year of George McGovern. Among those who worked on Mr. McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign were Warren Beatty, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gary Hart. And, I'm proud to say, me.

My first political act, at the age of 13, was to campaign for McGovern. When Nixon won by a landslide, I was so disheartened about the cynicism of the neighbors I'd canvassed and the country I lived in that I didn't get involved in politics again until I found out about hemp in 1991.

Now I see that the laws against marijuana had a damaging effect on a member of McGovern's family.

According to Wikipedia:

In July 1968, George McGovern's daughter Teresa was arrested in Rapid City, SD on marijuana possession charges. Based on a recently enacted strict state drugs law, Terry now faced a minimum five-year prison sentence if found guilty. At the time McGovern was in the running for the Democratic nomination for president.

McGovern denounced as "police brutality" the Chicago police tactics against demonstrators at the convention in August and ended up supporting Hubert Humphrey's nomination that year. Again, Wikipedia:

McGovern returned to his Senate reelection race. While South Dakota voters sympathized with McGovern over his daughter's arrest, he initially suffered a substantial drop in popularity over the events in Chicago. 

McGovern won the Democratic nomination four years later in 1972, when he famously became tagged with the label "amnesty, abortion and acid," supposedly reflecting his positions. McGovern favored the decriminalization of marijuana (but didn't say the same for LSD). Ever since, McGovernism has come to mean the embracing of progressive social policies that make liberals easy targets for conservatives. See SF Gate's Obituary.

Teresa was 19 when her pot bust happened. The effect it may have had on her life is unknown. For one thing, it might have sent her to more damaging substances, like alcohol.

McGovern writes, "Embarrassed by her Rapid City marijuana arrest, Terry decided not to return to Dakota Wesleyan that fall." Instead she enrolled at the University of Dakota, which was "then a place where heavy drinking and pot smoking were common, and Terry steadily increased her intake of alcohol with some limited use of marijuana and amphetamines." In February 1988, she began occasional use of marijuana, calling it a "pot addiction."

In December 1994, at the age of 45, Teresa fell into a snowbank while heavily intoxicated with alcohol, and died of hypothermia.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Classics and Cannabis

VIP Bob Hope was perhaps the most beloved American entertainer with the most longevity, best known for entertaining US troops abroad and for his Christmas TV shows.

Tonight, TCM aired Hope's 1951 movie "The Lemon Drop Kid" in which he and Marilyn Maxwell sing "Silver Bells," a song written for the film. Based on a Damon Runyan story, the movie has Hope rounding up New York's petty crooks to dress as Santas and collect money for a phony charity.

While singing the song about 56 minutes into the movie, Hope is clowning around just after it's established a policeman can't shut him down because he's licensed. He stops to sniff a big meerschaum pipe smoked by a street corner Santa, after which he acts goofy, whistling and flapping his wings. (The tune is actually introduced by William Frawley as "Gloomy," who sings, "chunk it in/chunk it in/or Santy will give you a Mickey.")

Hope joked about pot on radio broadcasts in the 1940s and while entertaining troops in Vietnam in the 1970s. "I hear you guys are interested in gardening here," he quipped. "Our security officer said a lot of you guys are growing your own grass." Poignantly, he added that "instead of taking it away from the soldiers, we ought to give it to the negotiators in Paris." The jokes were censored from Hope's 1970 Christmas special (so much for Peace on Earth).

Hope, who admitted to trying pot in a Rolling Stone interview in 1980, gave a nod to his "Road" movie co-star Bing Crosby at the end of The Lemon Drop Kid. Crosby, whose recording of "White Christmas" is the best-selling single ever, was also a VIP.

Another beloved Christmas film, "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1942), edits out a scene from the 1939 play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman where absinthe is mentioned. In the film, Sheldon Whiteside, played by Monty Woolley, is the unwanted guest of staid Ohio industrialist Ernest Stanley over the Christmas holidays.

The original play has this scene:

JOHN (manservant): And Sarah has something for you, Mr. Whiteside. Made it special. 

WHITESIDE: She has? Where is she? My Souffle Queen! 

SARAH (cook): (Proudly entering with a tray on which reposes her latest delicacy) Here I am, Mr. Whiteside. 

WHITESIDE: She walks in beauty like the night, and in those deft hands there is the art of Michelangelo. Let me taste the new creation. (...swallows at a gulp one of Sarah's not so little cakes. An ecstatic expression comes over his face) Poetry! Sheer poetry! 

SARAH: (beaming) I put a touch of absinthe in the dough. Do you like it? 

WHITESIDE: (rapturously) Ambrosia!

Interestingly, the word "counterfeiting" in the play's line, "If that's for the Stanleys, tell them they've been arrested for counterfeiting," was changed to "dealing dope" in the film. Mr. Stanley brags of building ball bearings for the war effort, which is what the real Ohio industrialist Henry Timken did. Timken's son Harold H. ("Henry") also grew hemp in Imperial Valley, California in 1917.

Woolley also appeared in the Christmas movie "The Bishop's Wife" (1947), in which he plays a professor  who describes to the Bishop (David Niven) the never-emptying bottle of sherry that the angel (Cary Grant) bestows upon him thusly: "It warms. It stimulates, It inspires. But no matter how much you drink, it never's something you can't explain with all your Ecclesiastical knowledge." 

In his latest brilliant column on marijuana, VIP Andrew Sullivan skewers David Frum and NIDA for their backwards words and policies. He writes,

"The whole point of marijuana use is to disrupt settled ways of thinking and feeling, to offer a respite, like alcohol, from the deadliness of doing. But for reasons we don't quite yet understand, marijuana, like other essentially harmless drugs in moderation, can prompt imaginative breakthroughs, creative serendipity, deeper personal understanding, and greater social empathy and connection. People need these things and have always sought refuge in them, especially at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere."

True, even at the movies.