Sunday, December 3, 2023

Tokin' Women and Others We Lost in 2023

Sadly, this page will be updated throughout 2023.

Ana Ofelia Murguía (12/31)
Known for voicing Grandmother Coco in the 2017 Pixar/Disney film Coco, Murguía was an acclaimed Mexican actress. In 2010 she appeared in Las Buenas Hierbas (The Good Herbs), where she plays an herb dealer with Alzheimer's. 

Tommy Smothers (12/26) 
The Smothers Brothers' groundbreaking television hour ushered in the topical comedy of Laugh In and Saturday Night Live, and so much more. David Bionculli's book Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour reveals that some of the comedy on the show was fueled by weed. Tommy said in the 2002 documentary Smothered that he and headwriter/"Classical Gas" composer Mason Williams would "sometimes torch a joint" while working on scripts. Singer Jennifer Warnes recalled one road trip on which she and Tom dropped acid, and Williams remembered mistakenly eating a batch of cast member Leigh French's "specially enhanced" brownies. During the trial that resulted in a settlement for breach of contract after the show was cancelled by CBS, 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.  Tommy testified at the 1968 trial of impresario and restauranteur Frank Werber who was accused of possession and cultivation of marijuana, saying he'd known Werber for years and "before he started smoking pot, he was a real a-hole." Smothers played the second guitar on John Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance," performed at Lennon's honeymoon/war protest and mentioning Tommy in the lyric.

Alice Parker (12/24) 
Parker was a composer, arranger, conductor and teacher who authored over 500 pieces of music (operas, cantatas, choral suites, hymns) along with a wealth of arrangements based on folk songs and hymns. Her 1984 composition "Songs for Eve" is from an Archibald MacLeish poem; her "Echoes from the Hills" and "Heavenly Hurt," among others, are inspired by Emily Dickinson. In the 2020 documentary Alice: At Home With Alice Parker she tells how, when she was born in 1925 she was held up to the window for the neighbors to see on Christmas Eve. She died on that day at the age of 98. 

Ruth Seymour (12/22)
A broadcasting executive known for her innovative work in public radio, Seymour's first venture into radio came at KPFK in Los Angeles from 1961 to 1964. From 1971 to 1976, she worked as program director there. She was fired in 1976, after the FBI raided the station in search of a tape KPFK had aired from Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, which the station manager refused to turn over. Seymour broadcast the raid live, as it occurred. She joined the staff of KCRW at Santa Monica College in 1977 as a consultant and was named manager a few months later, in 1978. She retired from there in February 2010 after having helped the station "transcend its basement location to shape the culture in Los Angeles," bringing programs to the station such as "Le Show" (hosted by Harry Shearer); "Left, Right & Center"; "Morning Becomes Eclectic"; and "Which Way L.A.?" In 1996, KCRW became the first station other than Chicago's WBEZ to air "This American Life." She also supported programs that brought literature to the radio, including airing radio dramas adaptations of Babbitt and Ulysses. Known in Washington, D.C. as a fierce defender of public broadcasting funding and issues such as licensing and royalties for streaming, in 1997 she received Amnesty International's Media Spotlight Award.  

Rose Ann Fuhrman (December 2023)
When few were covering the topic, Sonoma CA-based author Fuhrman wrote lively and accurate articles like “Cliffhanger in California” about Prop. 215, the 1996 initiative that made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana. When Prop. 215's spear-Head Dennis Peron died in 2018, she wrote on her Facebook page: "The passing of Dennis Peron feels like the closing of one chapter as another one struggles to write itself....A little less than 30 years ago I learned that marijuana prohibition was based on racist and other lies and had nothing to do with public safety. I hadn't given it much thought prior to that and had never tried it, automatically defaulting to the common view. Being a passionate advocate for justice, my new knowledge made activism for decriminalization or legalization inevitable.... I don't remember what led to my writing for Cannabis Canada (now Cannabis Culture) but a friend and neighbor took me to the original Cannabis Buyers' Club in San Francisco for a meeting, which was my access point. Intelligent, peaceful people who did (and many still do) great work."

Cari Beauchamp (12/14)
I had just written to Beauchamp after re-reading the Vanity Fair article she co-wrote with Judy Balaban about Hollywood's experimentation with LSD. I also picked up her book, Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood and found a couple of marijuana references there. Beauchamp was an award-winning author and historian who was a resident scholar at the Mary Pickford Foundation. She also wrote books about screenwriter Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and Joseph P. Kennedy's influence on Hollywood, as well as editing and annotating Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s by Valeria Belletti. She wrote and co-produced a documentary film in 2000 based on Without Lying Down, also wrote the documentary film The Day My God Died about young girls of Nepal sold into sexual slavery, which played on PBS and was nominated for an Emmy in 2003. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1990, she worked as a private investigator and a campaign manager, and served as Press Secretary to California Governor Jerry Brown

Ryan O'Neal (12/8)
The cocaine/meth/alcohol monster got him, leading to accusations of abuse from his kids and spouses, but in the end his daughter Tatum, who remains the youngest actor to win an Oscar for "Paper Moon" in which she starred with her Dad, had nice things to say about him, as did co-stars Ali McGraw, Barbra Streisand and others. Born on 4/20/1941, O'Neal was married to Leigh Taylor-Young, who baked pot brownies in "I Love You Alice B. Toklas," and was with Farrah Fawcett when she died of cancer, an even sadder Love Story. 

Norman Lear (12/5)
Prolific screenwriter and producer Lear was most known for the breakthrough sitcom All In the Family. Its spinoff, Maude, was about a liberated woman (Bea Arthur) who, in one episode, protested a young man's marijuana arrest by scheming to get herself arrested too. Lear also produced One Day at a Time about a divorced woman living on her own with her two daughters, and its recent reboot with a Latina cast starring Rita Moreno (shown), which aired a thoughtful episode about cannabis. Lear filed a First Amendment lawsuit against TV's "family hour" censorship, and founded People for the American Way (PFAW), a progressive advocacy organization formed in reaction to the politics of the Christian right.

Sandra Day O’Connor (12/1)

The first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, O'Connor was born Sandra Day in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of a cattle rancher. In her youth, she participated in cattle roundups as the group's only female rider, latter calling it, "my first initiation into joining an all-men's club, something I did more than once in my life." Day enrolled at Stanford University  at the age of 16 and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in economics in 1950. At Stanford Law School she served on the Stanford Law Review with future Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist, who proposed marriage to her (she declined). After graduating from law school, because of her gender, she could only find employment as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California after she offered to work for no salary and without an office. She eventually became a judge and an elected official in Arizona, serving as the first female majority leader of a state senate as the Republican leader in the Arizona Senate. While serving on the Supreme Court from 1981-2006, she was one of three co-authors of the lead opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Court upheld the right to have an abortion as established in Roe v. Wade, and argued in favor of President Obama naming a replacement for conservative justice Antonin Scalia (before the Senate scandalously held up Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, until Trump could be elected and name Neil Gorsuch, assuring the Court's conservative majority).  She also joined the dissenting opinion in Gonzalez v Raich, in defense of state marijuana laws. After retiring, O'Connor succeeded Henry Kissinger (who died two days before her) as the Chancellor of the College of William & Mary. In 2003, she wrote a book titled The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice and in 2005,  a children's book, Chico: A True Story from the Childhood of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice, was named for her favorite horse. In 2009, Justice O'Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.       

Shane MacGowan (12/30)

Born on Christmas Day in 1957, the "peerless and fearless" MacGowan was the co-founder, frontman and chief songwriter of the Pogues, which brilliantly and energetically combined punk rock with traditional Irish music and politics. In 1972, MacGowan was expelled from the school he was attending on a literary scholarship after being caught smoking pot in public, and at age 17, he spent six months in a psychiatric hospital due to drug addiction, where he was also diagnosed with acute situational anxiety. He struggled with drugs and alcohol throughout his life, and was dismissed from the Pogues for unprofessional behavior after missing concert dates, including opening for Bob Dylan. "Fairytale of New York," which MacGowan co-wrote and performed with Kirsty MacColl, remains a perennial Christmas favorite. Sadly, he died of complications from pneumonia at age 65 just as the Christmas season started this year. At the end of his life, “We used to go to Shane’s house and roll joints for him. We would watch Netflix with him,” said Andrew Hendy of Dundalk balladeers. "Shane will be remembered as one of music’s greatest lyricists. So many of his songs would be perfectly crafted poems, if that would not have deprived us of the opportunity to hear him sing them," said Ireland's President Michael Higgins in a statement. 

Clay Jones

Henry Kissinger (11/29)

Paul Sorvino brilliantly plays Kissinger in the Oliver Stone movie "Nixon," nailing indelibly the scene in which he prays on his knees with Nixon on the eve of impeachment. In the opera "Nixon In China" Kissinger is shown whipping Chinese workers into submission to the semiconductor. “People are a little shocked when he appears as the sadistic overlord,” director Peter Sellars told the New York Times. “But obviously he’s the man who’s responsible for Chile and for the secret bombing of Cambodia — the list of atrocities and acts of unspeakable violence is long. And that lurid stuff is behind the jolly and well-spoken diplomat. The surprise is, as always, no one is just one thing. That is one reason you make operatic characters.” My first political act, at the age of 14, was to campaign for George McGovern against Richard Nixon in 1971. After Tricky Dicky with Kissinger at his side won by a landslide, and bombed Cambodia by Christmas, I was disillusioned for decades. That Kissinger lived to be 100 while chewing on the cud of human misery just adds to the sickeningness of it all. 

Dale Spender (11/21)
Australian feminist scholar Spender was co-founder of Pandora Press, the first of the feminist imprints devoted solely to non-fiction, committed, according to the New York Times, to showing that "women were the mothers of the novel and that any other version of its origin is but a myth of male creation." Her book Man Made Language (1980), based on her PhD research, argues that in patriarchal societies men control language and it works in their favor, drawing parallels with how derogatory terms are used to maintain racism. She was a co-originator of the database WIKED (Women's International Knowledge Encyclopedia and Data) and associate editor of the Great Women Series (United Kingdom). Particularly concerned with intellectual property and the effects of new technologies, for nine years she was a director of Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) in Australia and for two years (2002–2004) she was the chair. Spender consistently dressed in purple clothes, a choice she initially made for its symbolic reference to the suffragettes.

Rosalynn Carter (11/19)
Asked by Katie Couric what was the most exciting moment in his life, winning the Nobel Peace Prize or being elected President, Jimmy Carter replied that it was when Rosalynn said she would marry him. The couple were married for 77 years, and the former president called her “my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished.” The eldest of four children born to a bus driver/farmer father and teacher/dressmaker mother, Rosalynn helped raise her younger brothers after her father died when she was 13. After helping Jimmy win the governorship of Georgia in 1970, she was appointed to the Governor's Commission to Improve Services for the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped, and mental health became a lifelong cause. As the first of all First Ladies to have her own office in the White House, she attended Cabinet meetings and major briefings, served as the President’s personal emissary to Latin American countries, and led a delegation to Thailand in 1979 to address the problems of Cambodian and Laotian refugees. She was honored by the National Organization for Women with an Award of Merit for her vigorous support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and joined other First Ladies at the Houston conference celebrating the International Women's Year in 1977. In 1982, she co-founded The Carter Center in Atlanta to promote peace and human rights worldwide. Her autobiography, First Lady From Plains, was published in 1984. She and her husband contributed to the expansion of the nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity, and they received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Rosa Vertner's Hashish Dinner Party

Vertner depicted in A Woman of the Century
Jumping off from a CBS news report about cannabis dinner parties in Maryland, cannabis author Isaac Campos's recent Substack newsletter recalls a newspaper item describing such a party in the 1860s. At the center of the story was the poet Rosa Vertner, “in the hey day of her youth and beauty, and at her father’s magnificent home in Lexington, which was the resort of all the cultured and brilliant men who visited Kentucky.” 

According to Campos, on the occasion of Vertner’s wedding to Claude Johnston, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, “there was a grand dinner party to which thirty guests sat down,” among them various prominent citizens. 

As described in a news account: 

Mrs. Vertner Johnston conceived the idea of having [hashish] served as a cordial at the dinner party, thinking that its effect, of which she had but the vaguest idea, might entertain and amuse the guests. Everybody drank of the peculiar greenish liquid, and many who found the taste pleasant drank more than they had any idea of. Within an hour the laughter and wit was running high. Then the excitement began to grow. Handsome matrons and beautiful young girls snatched the floral pieces from the table and pelted with flowers and [fruit gravy] dignified statesmen and lawyers who stood upon the chairs grinning and gesticulating like mountebanks. The host and hostess were themselves as much under the influence of the insidious drug as any of their guests, and could do nothing to quell the excitement, which now raged fast and furious. 

Things went downhill from there, Campos writes. "Physicians were called in, various guests ended up laid out in death-like stupors, and so forth. But Vertner wound up with plenty of material for her poem “Hasheesh Visions.”

Saturday, November 18, 2023

"Leslie F*cking Jones" Is F*cking Dope

Leslie Jones is doing another bang-up job hosting The Daily Show this week, prompting me to check out her new book Leslie F*ing Jones on Audible, and it's even funnier than I expected. She reads the book in her energetic and no-nonsense, straight-ahead style like she's having a conversation with the listener.

"When Leslie Jones walks into a room, she's always out of breath and mad about something," writes Chris Rock in the book's foreword. Rock suggested Lorne Michaels give Jones a tryout when he was looking to add a Black woman to the cast of SNL in 2013. "She's too funny not to be everywhere, in every movie, on every TV show, with ten Netflix specials," Rock opines, adding she should also play a Marvel villain and Harriet Tubman. 

Jones writes in the introduction, "Some of the stories about my childhood are vague because a bitch is fifty-five and I've smoked a lot of weed." Her stories about weed all start with NOT using it, since it seems that was more unusual for her. When asked if she was would mind rooming with some Rastas, Jones writes, "OK with Rastas? I would never not have weed." 

Starting with the opening story about how she insisted on being paid as a headliner at clubs when male comics made excuses to put her on last so that they didn't have to follow her, the book is full of illuminating and empowering stories from her many years on the road. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Albert Brooks's Moment of Marijuana Acceptance

The new Max documentary "Albert Brooks: Defending My Life" is directed by Brooks's highschool chum Rob Reiner and features interviews with comics like Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman and Nikki Glaser talking about Brooks's breakthrough "alternative" comedy and his enduring influence. At one point, Tiffany Haddish appreciatively says Brooks was, "The first dude I'd ever seen at least make a marijuana joke and, like, light it up on TV—and he was sitting next to Johnny Carson."

A clip is then shown of Brooks from his 7/25/1979 Tonight Show appearance where he pulls out what looks like a joint from his pocket and says, "You know Johnny, this is my 10th year on the show, and I brought something to celebrate." Carson explodes with laughter as Brooks lights the "joint" and hands it to Ed McMahon, who takes a hit before passing it to Johnny. 

Carson takes a whiff and pronounces it not to be marijuana (how he knew the smell is a good question). Brooks admits that the joint is "ersatz," saying, "I can prove it (takes a whiff). Look, I still got memory!" He then tells a story about being on the road in the late 60s or early 70s when, performing in Seattle, he was offered a hit of a joint by the road manager for the headliner. "I still remember it with some degree of fondness," Brooks recalled, pronouncing it "industrial marijuana," the strongest he'd ever smoked. He opined that it's good when either the comic or the audience is stoned because "if you're both straight there's a good chance for physical violence." Johnny added that 10 or 12 years earlier you couldn't even make a joke about marijuana on TV, because the networks wouldn't permit it. So this was another Moment in Marijuana Acceptance, courtesy of Mr. Brooks. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Of Melissa and Madonna, and Marijuana

UPDATE: Barbra Streisand's new memoir also mentions marijuana. Read more.

Melissa Etheridge, who is currently performing a one-woman show on Broadway, is out with a book, her second memoir titled "Talking to My Angels." She reads the audiobook, which features groovy guitar breaks and a performance of her book-title song. 

Etheridge, our 2015 Tokin' Woman of the Year, starts the book in Chapter 1 with a description of eating a "heroic" dose of cannabis via a batch of chocolate chip cookies baked by a girlfriend. She called it, "an experience that jump-started me into a wholly new way of living a daily practice that has helped me heal." 

"We were kicking back, listening to music, and enjoying the cookies. Then I began to feel a shift—not an earthquake. More like a slow inner spin. I began to laugh as the room slowly melted away and I felt keenly present....I'd enjoyed cannabis before, but this night was different. Something big was happening....

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise

I expected the new documentary about Joan Baez, "I Am a Noise," co-produced by Tokin' Woman Patti Smith, to be a celebration of Baez's stellar career. 

That it is, but with an unexpected twist: Baez opens up in the film about how she has suffered from severe anxiety attacks all of her life, including when she burst on the international stage at the age of 18 as a voice from heaven, practically the new Virgin Mary.

Replete with footage of Baez's performances and actions as a folksinger and activist, the film also features excerpts from hours of audiotapes, home movies of her childhood, her drawings, and her diaries. 

Her connection with Bob Dylan, who supplied the protest songs that her voice demanded, is covered, including how deflated she felt when she was basically rebuffed by him while touring Europe, as documented in the 1967 film "Don't Look Back." 

As Baez tells it, she "couldn't" participate in the drug taking that the Boys in the Band were doing on the tour, and she was soon excluded in other ways. Since Dylan turned the Beatles onto marijuana, one wonders why he didn't do the same for Baez. Perhaps because she was a woman, she wasn't invited to the boys' pot parties.  

Friday, November 3, 2023

Frances Marion and Marijuana

After writing an obituary for Judy Balaban, who tried LSD back in the day when Cary Grant was doing it, and co-wrote an article interviewing Grant’s wife Betsy Drake and others for Vanity Fair in 2010, I looked up her co-author  Cari Beauchamp, a film historian currently at the Mary Pickford Foundation. 

Beauchamp’s book: “Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood” details Marion’s illustrious career during the years of the Fatty Arbunkle trial etc. and the coming of the Hays code.

After Marion (who was also a painter and sculptor) painted a portrait of actress Kitty Gordon showing off her much-admired back to promote Peg O’ My Heart, posters for the play were vandalized and leaflets signed by “Conscientious Citizens" went out shouting, “We must protect our innocent little children from seeing such pictures of half-nude women. And we keep them away from the evil influence of the nickelodeons and the lawless people who have forced themselves upon our beautiful city to make what they call movies. Only if we all unite can we drive them out.” Marion and a friend attended a meeting of the group, dubbing them “The Constipated Citizens.” (p. 27). 

Marijuana is mentioned twice in the book: