Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Of Shamans and Charlize: Pot at the Oscars

Once more the Oscar ceremonies seemed to be dominated by weed lovers, starting with host Seth MacFarlane. Noted for his "Family Guy" series with segments like "Bag o' Weed," MacFarlane did better with his musical numbers than he did with his jokes.

Charlize Theron shone in a dance number at the show's opening, nearly rescuing MacFarlane—as she did a security guard who had a seizure on the red carpet. Theron was caught on camera smoking pot out of an apple in 2002. [Update 2018: Theron now admits she was "a wake-and-baker for most of my life."]

Jane Fonda, who was spotted last year smoking pot at a post-Oscar party, wowed everyone at the age of 75 in her sleek Versace gown. She co-presented with Michael Douglas, who urged the U.S. to consider legalizing the use of marijuana in 2009.

Another bright spot was the surprise appearance of Barbra Streisand, singing "The Way We Were" in a tribute to the late Marvin Hamlich. According to David Crosby's book Stand and Be Counted, her role in that movie was dependent on her appearing at a 1972 McGovern rally planned by Warren Beatty, at which she appeared to take a toke from a joint onstage.

Anne Hathaway, who smoked pot onscreen in "Havoc" (2005), took home a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress trophy for Les Miserables.  As is now de rigueur, she thanked everyone including her publicist, but failed to recognize the story's author Victor Hugo, a member of Le Club des Hashishins.

Daniel Day Lewis did give a nod to Abraham Lincoln, who inspired his Oscar-winning performance. Depicted in that movie were Lincoln's secretary John Hay, who took cannabis while a student at Brown and went on to become Secretary of State; and Mary Todd Lincoln, the daughter of hemp farmers in Kentucky. (Reports remain unconfirmed that Abraham Lincoln smoked a hemp pipe, although he did play a harmonica.)

Ang Lee, who won Best Director for "The Life of Pi," said he'd tried marijuana while being interviewed in Cannes for his movie "Taking Woodstock" in 2009. Quentin Tarantino, who took Best Original Screenplay for "Django Unchained," recently compared the drug war to slavery. He's pictured on the Craig Ferguson show wearing a Lifted Research Group T-shirt with pot leaves. (See Lifted's Ladies T: Don't Do Drugs, Smoke Weed.)

Presenting the Best Picture prize of the night was the incomparable Jack Nicholson, who says he still smokes weed, and Michelle Obama, who's married to a former enthusiast. It went to "Argo," co-produced and directed by Ben Affleck, who graduated from stoner movies like "Dazed and Confused" and "Chasing Amy." George Clooney, also a producer, has said he liked acid and mushrooms in college.

"Every day through engagement in the arts, children learn to dream big," said our First Lady. "If a film crew is a tribe, the cinematographer is the shaman," said Robert Downey Jr. It seems like there are a whole lot of shamans in Hollywood, and we're all the tribe.

The entire ceremony is now online.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Two Tokes for Sister Sara

I just viewed the 1970 film Two Mules for Sister Sara with Shirley MacLaine in the title role. I'm not the first who wonders if it was pot she was puffing in a scene where she steps away to have a smoke. After deeply inhaling, she gets a beatific look on her face and has another toke. She wears a wonderful smile when she walks back to co-star Clint Eastwood.

MacLaine admits to trying pot brownies provided by VIP Robert Mitchum (with whom she had an affair) in one of her books, where she also says she tried smoking pot in a London hotel room.

Two Mules was filmed in Mexico and written by director Budd Boetticher, who lived there. According to Wikipedia, Boetticher had planned on using Mitchum as the male star of the film, and the part of Sister Sara was originally offered to Tokin' Woman Elizabeth Taylor.

Directing the movie was Don Siegel, who directed the 1949 movie The Big Steal, the first film Mitchum made after his bust for marijuana. It was also filmed in Mexico, where co-star Jane Greer reported locals were always trying to foist joints on Mitchum.

The Two Mules film score was composed by Ennio Morricone, who's named as a pot smoker on the web, although I have not found confirmation. Since he's the brilliant composer of "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" as well as "The Mission" and other masterpieces, it would be nice to know!

In 1960, Boetticher departed from Westerns to make The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, a film loosely based on the lives of Jack Diamond and Arnold Rothstein, the US's first major drug dealer (who appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as well as Damon Runyan stories). Boetticher had a role in the 1988 Robert Towne movie Tequila Sunrise, starring Mel Gibson as a man who has a connection with a Mexican dealer (Raul Julia).

MacLaine played an Indian widow rescued from death on a funeral pyre by the heroes of the 1956 film version of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days (pictured). In the book, the woman is stupefied to her sorry fate with fumee d'opium et de chanvre  (smoked opium and hemp). 

Shirley is now playing the American grandmother going toe-to-toe in Downton Abbey with matriarch Maggie Smith (who starred in Travels with My Aunt, based on Graham Greene's story about an eccentric woman with a marijuana connection).

Also recently seen: Bunny O'Hare (1971), starring Bette Davis as a widow who heads to Mexico on the back of a motorcycle driven by Ernest Borgnine as the two pose as hippies to pull off a string of bank robberies. Ernest puffs in the movie and Bette refuses when offered, but asks some intelligent questions about it. She gets the last word, and it's a doozy.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black Herstory Month

In honor of Black History month, Tokin Woman celebrates some African American women who celebrated marijuana. First and foremost is Bessie Smith (left), who smoked and sang about "reefers" throughout her career.

Born to a large, poor family in Chatanooga, Tennessee, Bessie joined a traveling minstrel show at age 14. Bessie was soon performing on stages all over the country as The Empress of the Blues. In 1933, Smith recorded "Gimmie a Pigfoot," featuring Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden, for John Hammond's Okeh record label. In the last verse Smith sings, "Gimmie a reefer" in this video.

"[S]he was more than merely famous, she was a living symbol of personal freedom: she did what she liked; she spoke her mind, no matter how outrageous her opinion; she flouted bourgeois norms and engaged in alcohol, drugs, and recreational sex," wrote Buzzy Jackson in A Bad Woman Feeling Good (2005, W.W. Norton & Co., New York).

On September 26, 1937, weeks after the Marijuana Tax Act made marijuana effectively illegal in the US,  Smith was in a traffic accident on US Highway 61 and died from her injuries. Some say Smith was turned away from a "whites only" hospital for treatment. Her funeral was held in Philadelphia on October 4, 1937 and was attended by about seven thousand people.

VIP Louise Cook, nicknamed "Jota" or "Snake Hips," was an exotic dancer in Harlem who appeared in Oscar Micheaux's breakthrough 1931 film The Exile. She also turned comedian Milton Berle onto marijuana.

Louis Armstrong wrote of her, circa 1929, "I shall never forget her, and her Dance. She was so wonderful in her 'Shake dance she would take 5 and 6 Encores."

In his 1974 autobiography, Berle says of Cook, "She was known as one of the greatest belly dancers in the world, and her act was sensational, with everything going like a flag in a hurricane. She was one of those rare women that men had only to look at to want. And that was even standing still. She was slender, and light-skinned like the color of coffee with too much cream in it, and she had her hair in an Afro, which wasn't standard gear then. When she worked, she covered her body with oil that made it shiny and sexy-looking." Cook is the featured dancer in this clip

World-famous dancer and activist Josephine Baker indulged in marijuana, according to Josephine: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase. Phillip Leshing, who was then a 23-year-old bass player in Buddy Rich's orchestra, recalls in the book, "I remember once Josephine invited several of us to come to her dressing room and try some very good reefer. I went down with Harry 'Sweets' Edison, the trumpet player, and Buddy Rich, and we smoked pot with Josephine Baker...but the marijuana didn't affect her performance. Never." (p. 295) 

According to Leshing, Baker "had this gorgeous gold loving cup made for Buddy and the band, a trophy, like an Academy Award, with our names engraved on it. And it was filled with marijuana. She gave it to us after the last performance at the Strand [the New York club at which they were appearing in March 1951]." The authors speculate that Baker may have first smoked marijuana with her lover Georges Simenon, who used to mix hashish with tobacco in his pipe, or with the Prince of Wales in Paris, in the days when he would come to Le Rat Mort had to be taken out "feet first every night--dead drunk and stoned," according to another lover, Claude Hopkins.

Baker adopted more children than Angelina Jolie and was decorated by France for her work for the Resistance. See a video of Baker's famous banana dance.

Two other African-American dancers who rose to prominence and are associated with marijuana are Lucille Armstrong and Maya Angelou (pictured). Singers Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday were marijuana fans, and Ella Fitzgerald recorded "When I Get Low, I Get High" in 1936.

Modern Tokin' Women include Michelle Obama, Kamala HarrisOprah WinfreyWhoopi Goldberg, Grace Jones, Rihanna, and Queen Latifah. And when dancer Carmen de Lavallade was bestowed a Kennedy Center Honor in 2017,  Stella Abrera performed "Soul Bossa Nova/Dear Quincy" (with pipe) in tribute.

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.