From the Archives: Getting Stoned within the Haut Monde (1979)

On a London tv program some years in the past, Rex Harrison was requested if he had been quoted appropriately in a press interview as saying that he used to smoke pot again within the ’30s. He hesitated earlier than he answered, then smiled and mentioned diplomatically, “Let’s simply say that it was smoked within the ’30s.”

It certain was. At the moment I used to be an editor of the Condé Nast journal Self-importance Honest. I used to purchase marijuana cigarettes, then known as reefers or weed, from a hunchback Harlem hustler nicknamed Cash. They price $1.50 a joint and had been much more potent than the tatty, adulterated stuff you usually get immediately. A part of my job on the journal was to go to all of the theater opening nights and to the modern nightclubs and events. I used to get to the workplace round 8:30 within the morning, and ceaselessly I didn’t go away till simply in time to sprint residence, bathe and get into night garments. I stored a provide of reefers in my house and would often have a smoke earlier than going out to face the trials of the night time. It removed any fatigue and rallied my stamina for the dancing and the revelry, which frequently lasted till daybreak.

Though the stuff was authorized then (it wasn’t outlawed till 1937), I doubt if I ever noticed it smoked in public locations, as one does immediately in discotheques, in parks, at pop concert events and comparable gatherings. After it grew to become unlawful, I’d usually get a whiff of that candy, unmistakable odor within the powder rooms of sensible nightclubs and eating places; Tallulah Bankhead and I as soon as shared a joint within the women’ room of the Waldorf throughout some society ball. Tallulah smoked all the pieces, took all the pieces, did all the pieces. She by no means made any secret of her habits. Marijuana, cannabis, cocaine and opium had been as a lot in vogue then as they’re now—as I suppose they all the time have been—with musicians, artists, poets, theater and movie individuals, in addition to with many members of what was known as “café society.” It was from private information that Cole Porter wrote, not essentially honestly, “I get no kick from cocaine,” a line barred from radio stations of the time besides when modified to “I get no kick from champagne.”

I had my first pot expertise in 1933 at a celebration in Havana. I noticed this cigarette being handed from individual to individual, and though I didn’t perceive the ritual, I took my flip when it got here my manner, tentatively imitating the heavy inhaling and slurping. I requested what it was speculated to do to me. The college professor who was my escort mentioned that when he smoked it, it made him really feel so highly effective that he would be capable of tear the taps out of the toilet, ought to the notion seize him. I kept away from commenting that almost all Cuban rest room fixtures had been so shaky they fell off if you happen to touched them.

In fact, all of the cigarette did was give me the giggles, which is identical response I get immediately, 46 years later. I don’t imply that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pothead, however I’ve been smoking, on and off, all through the years, and I’m residing proof that it isn’t dangerous and doesn’t routinely result in heroin, a lifetime of crime, and an inevitable grovel within the gutter. The explanation I don’t preserve it at residence or carry it round with me is as a result of it’s unlawful, which is the one confirmed hazard about it. I’m by nature law-abiding and might be cowed by indicators like DONT SPIT ON THE FLOOR, DÉFENSE DE FUMER, and KEEP OFF THE GRASS. Nicely, to be frank, it’s not a lot that I’m lawabiding as that I’m a coward. I’m afraid of the police, and I actually don’t need any of these rattling educated canine charging into my house and sniffing round.

Though I actually have caught to pot, presumably on the belief that what was ok for the Phoenicians and the Scythians 3,000 years in the past is sweet sufficient for me—however extra seemingly due to my timidity—a lot of my acquaintances within the ’30s and ’40s had been extra adventurous. Cecil Beaton, whom I knew when he, too, was working for Condé Nast, has written in his diaries that he smoked opium with Jean Cocteau, and so, apparently, did everybody else in that worldwide coven of literary and creative highfliers, together with Coco Chanel, whom Cocteau favored to name “a bit black swan.” I used to come back in on the aftermath of those periods. Vogue editors in Paris would say to me, “My expensive, it’s best to have been at Bebe Berard’s final night time. All of us smoked opium and it was too divine!”

I appear to have breezed by way of these days assembly individuals earlier than or after. I knew the sensible author Emily “Mickey” Hahn earlier than she went to China in 1935, the place she began smoking opium and cherished it, though she now provides that she was cured of dependancy by way of hypnotism after which switched to cigars. I met Aldous Huxley at a luncheon assembly within the Self-importance Honest workplace. No mushrooms on the menu. It was a number of years later that he found the fascination of the mindbending fungi. Nevertheless, I did know a phenomenal red-haired trend mannequin who spent a month in Mexico and Guatemala making an attempt them out. In Mexico alone, she advised me, there have been 250 totally different sorts of natural hallucinogenic mushrooms, however she was obscure in regards to the quantity she had sampled. She later married a titled foreigner of ambiguous background and thenceforth known as herself Princess. Again residence once more, she made fairly a splash, getting impressionable native society spaced out in such assorted cities as Detroit, Akron and New York, in every of which she was acquired with that sickening sycophancy (attempt to say that whenever you’re stoned!) People show when confronted with any title, even a spurious one.

Throughout the identical interval, I additionally knew a younger English photographer who was visiting New York and who was taken up by the so-called Good Bohemian Set of the time. He advised me he went to a celebration with Libby Holman, who mentioned she was tired of reefers and coke and needed one thing new. The hostess had some peyote. “I used to be frightfully eager to strive it,” the photographer mentioned, “as a result of I’d heard and examine it. Nevertheless it was so powerful. It was like making an attempt to chew a rubber shoe sole. We lastly solved the issue by slicing it into little items and stirring them into Jello. After it was within the fridge for a number of hours it was okay to eat.”

I didn’t meet Errol Flynn till the early ’50s, after I went to Mexico to do a profile of him for Esquire. Together with Ava Gardner, Tyrone Energy and Mel Ferrer, he was filming The Solar Additionally Rises. The corporate was in Merida, however all journalists had been persona non grata. I discovered later that the explanation was as a result of Errol was charging his head with all the pieces he might get, and each time the corporate physician bought him partially detoxified he would take off and begin flying once more. Lastly, they bought him comparatively underneath management and the corporate moved to Mexico Metropolis. Errol was staying at my lodge. The movie’s press agent took me to his room to fulfill him. The press agent knocked on the door and gave his identify. He was clearly shocked to listen to Errol shout cheerily, “Come on in. I’m taking a piss and the previous dong is longer than ever!”

When Flynn opened the door and noticed me, he didn’t raise an eyebrow. He bowed and gallantly kissed my hand, an excessive amount of a pure aristocrat to be abashed—or possibly too stoned. He provided us a alternative of tequila, vodka, marijuana or cocaine, ignoring the panicky expression on the face of the press agent, who regarded as if he was present process an incipient assault of apoplexy. I mentioned I’d have some tequila, whereas the press agent murmured weakly, “Errol’s a fantastic kidder.” Flynn checked out him benignly. Our go to that day was quick, however I noticed Flynn alone a number of occasions, and though we did share a few smokes, I refused the opposite goodies he provided.

He will need to have had a remarkably sturdy structure. Women, dope, liquor—often on the similar time. I used to be speaking about him in London with Trevor Howard, who was telling me in regards to the filming of Roots of Heaven in French Equatorial Africa, now Chad. “It was one in all my happiest footage,” Trevor mentioned. “Flynn and I despatched a cable to Fortnum & Mason, ordering large quantities of caviar and smoked salmon despatched out to us. We had some jolly occasions. All of us slept in tents, and there was a local woman who used to enter sure tents at night time. She’d give a sign by mewing like a cat. So Errol and I used to creep up close to Darryl Zanuck’s tent and go meow-meow, and he’d come out wanting throughout. We nearly choked laughing … Errol managed to get all of the morphine from the closest hospital. Cleaned them out. I don’t understand how he did it. Had the corporate physician requisition it or one thing, I suppose. Great chap, Errol. Solely individual I ever knew who took dope and drank like a fish. The 2 don’t often go collectively. A really splendid man.”

No, they don’t often go collectively. That is most likely why I’ve solely smoked pot. I began to drink throughout Prohibition, and I had no need for different types of stimulation. Most individuals I knew who took cocaine within the ’30s weren’t heavy drinkers. I by no means knew anybody who might have been known as an addict, or anybody who skilled antagonistic reactions. Medical doctors immediately are starting to confess that it isn’t as harmful as they as soon as thought, and that it does have respectable medical makes use of. My pals took it for a similar causes I drank or smoked pot: to get excessive, overcome fatigue, relieve melancholy, make individuals and dialog extra fascinating, really feel euphoric. Additionally, in some instances it was used to reinforce intercourse by making use of it to the tip of the penis, a customized recognized in Latin America as “la vida actual” (“the royal life”), though in Cuba it was claimed they might get the identical impact with Baum Bengue.

Like all the pieces else, it was a fantastic deal cheaper then than now. It was additionally a lot purer. We known as it snow. The place now the verb is “to snort,” it was then “to smell.” There have been few of immediately’s fancy frills. No silver spoons or gold straws, simply odd straws, the type soda fountains offer you. No rolled-up $100 payments, both, though a number of big-spender sorts used $10 payments. They had been thought-about showoffs.

I met Peter Lorre shortly after he got here to this nation. He was Hungarian, born within the Carpathian Mountains area that later grew to become a part of Czechoslovakia. He had been making movies in Germany, of which probably the most well-known was M, based mostly on the true story of a psychopathic assassin in Dusseldorf. It had a fantastic success each in Europe and right here, and his efficiency remains to be considered one of many nice ones within the historical past of the cinema. I had him come to the Condé Nast studio to be photographed for Self-importance Honest.

Afterward, we went out for a drink, in order that I might get materials for the caption I used to be going to write down. I ordered a Scotch and soda. He mentioned he would have espresso. “You don’t desire a drink?” I requested. He checked out me with these mournful, staring eyes. “I’m a dope,” he mentioned. His English was removed from good, so I believed he meant the equal of “I’m a dumbbell,” or some comparable slang of that interval. It turned out that what he meant was that he took dope. I reassured him that this was okay and that a few of my greatest pals had been dopes.

About ten years in the past, after I was residing in London, I had lunch with Caresse Crosby, and afterward we spent the remainder of the afternoon smoking pot in her lodge room. I used to be 60 and she or he was in her mid 70s. She had come up from Rome, the place she lived in a citadel and was often known as the Princess something-orother—some Italian identify I’ve forgotten—and spent all her time and vitality soliciting funds for an bold plan for One World Citizenship.

I suppose most individuals immediately by no means heard of Harry and Caresse Crosby. If I point out the identify Crosby, they assume I imply Bing. They find out about Scott and Zelda, and about Hemingway, however they don’t find out about Caresse and Harry, who had been the ’20s’most far-out couple, greater than a match for any of immediately’s Stunning Individuals. They’d have thought Studio 54 a bore and Plato’s Retreat too plebian.

Caresse, whose unique identify was Mary Phelps Jacob, was a descendent of the Plymouth Colony’s Governor Bradford, who came visiting on the Mayflower. Born in New York, she lived in a mansion on Fifth Avenue at 59th Avenue, now the location of the Plaza Resort. Her father apparently had no occupation however was supported in excessive type by his father. The latter’s home was the place Rockefeller Heart is now. Caresse, then often known as Polly, was introduced up in luxurious, despatched to the most effective non-public ending colleges, offered at courtroom in London, the one American debutante to curtsy to King George V and Queen Mary. She wore a white brocade satin robe with a prepare eight yards lengthy, and three white ostrich plumes in her darkish hair.

She knew all people within the higher echelons of society and was anticipated to comply with the principles and preserve her place within the Social Register. So she married Dick Peabody of the Boston Again Bay Peabodys, a product of Groton and Harvard. All payments had been paid by their grandparents (each units of them), they usually lived together with her father-in-law, penniless themselves, like her dad and mom, however residing expensively, a sponsored golden couple. When her kids had been born, her husband’s godfather, J.P. Morgan, the banker, chipped in to pay the payments.

Her life might need gone on this manner, had she not met Harry Crosby in 1919, J.P. Morgan’s nephew. “It was love at first sight,” she usually mentioned. She divorced Peabody and married Crosby. He was 21. She was 27. J.P. Morgan, “Uncle Jack,” gave Harry a job within the Paris department of his financial institution; the bride and groom sublet Princess Bibesco’s flat on the Fauburg St. Honore; and the dizzy merry-go-round started. Harry all the time wore a black gardenia in his buttonhole (he had them made particularly for him at a spot on the rue de la Paix), and Caresse purchased her garments at couture homes and her diamond necklace at Cartier’s. Her kids by Peabody had been despatched to Swiss boarding colleges. She was accompanied all over the place by her pet black whippet, Narcisse Noir. The canine wore a gold necklace and his toenails had been lacquered gold. The Crosbys entertained continually—princes, dukes, duchesses, counts and different titled visitors mingling with sculptors, painters and writers. Harry stop work on the financial institution as a result of, he mentioned, life was too quick to work. And Uncle Jack footed the payments.

Life was a gala of champagne, cocaine, marijuana, cannabis and opium smoked in pipes with porcelain bowls and jade handles. Caresse and Harry took a flat of their very own within the rue de Lille, the place they generally entertained in mattress, with small tables arrange for visitors, or within the rest room, which had an open fire, a white bearskin rug and a sunken marble tub. The bathtub might maintain 4—and ceaselessly did.

Their thought of a fantastic get together was the Arts Ball. Reminiscing as we sat in her London lodge room, Caresse described one such occasion: “I feel it was in 1927. I went as an Inca princess. I wore an extended blue wig and was stripped to the waist. I sat within the mouth of an enormous papier mache dragon. First, we marched up the Champs Elysees. The women had been nude to the waist, the boys fully nude. I rode on a child elephant, and folks crowded round me to kiss my painted knees. Harry wore a collar of useless pigeons and carried a bag of dwell snakes. Once we entered the ballroom, I used to be carried in my dragon’s mouth by ten good-looking nude younger males. I received first prize. My breasts helped me win, I’m certain . . . After I went residence I discovered Harry within the bathtub with three fairly ladies. We slept seven in our mattress that night time.”

When not indulging in excessive jinks that make the ’70s appear tame, the Crosbys had been each writing poetry. It was at the moment that she adopted the identify Caresse. In 1927 they began the Black Solar Press with a view to publish their very own poems. (She was charmingly obscure about any monetary sources.) Later, they branched out, printing a group of Proust’s letters, poems by their shut good friend Hart Crane, tales by D.H. Lawrence and Kay Boyle, a part of Joyce’s work in progress. Their very own literary abilities had been restricted, to place it politely, however their exuberant personalities and weird methods made them probably the most sought-after couple in Paris. Everybody visited them, from Schiaparelli, the designer, to Aldous Huxley, Andre Gide, Max Ernst, Giacometti. Even Eva Braun dropped in for a drink, introduced by some Viennese acquaintance, and signed the Crosby visitor e-book.

In 1928 they took a fateful journey to Egypt, fateful as a result of Harry grew to become enraptured of Ra, the solar god. He had a solar tattooed between his shoulder blades, and from then on he grew to become more and more bizarre till, on a New York go to in 1929, he dedicated suicide, believing that he was going to fulfill the solar.

Caresse was manufactured from more durable fiber. She married a pair extra occasions, and wherever she was—New York, Paris, London—she was a focal point, the fascinating lode star of the wilder worldwide set. Even after I final noticed her, she was energetically campaigning for her World Citizen thought, a spunky previous girl, loaded with attraction and vitality. “I’ve had a fantastic life,” she mentioned to me. “I don’t see why individuals make such a fuss about dope. It by no means did me any hurt. I used to hate pot as a result of it made me choke, however I bought over that. Everybody we knew in Paris smoked it and sniffed cocaine, so Harry and I did, too. However whenever you sniff cocaine it will get into your garments, down your neck, underneath your nails. Opium was extra enjoyable, I used to assume. It’s no extra habit-forming than tobacco. Nicely, in fact, tobacco is habit-forming, isn’t it? It’s rather more dangerous. It kills you.’’

I didn’t know her within the ’20s, when she was driving excessive and quick. Maybe it’s simply as effectively I didn’t. She was too far out for me, though I loved listening to her discuss in regards to the previous days.

My heyday was within the ’30s. Pot smoking was not as widespread as it’s immediately, which solely proves the stupidity of outlawing it. In fact, if you happen to lie round and smoke pot all day, you don’t get the rest executed. However if you happen to lie round and drink espresso all day, you don’t get a lot executed, both. There are all the time individuals who do issues to extra, whether or not dope, alcohol or gluttony. These are individuals who would have an issue anyway. I anticipate that marijuana will ultimately be legalized. Some six years in the past the Younger Ladies’s Christian Affiliation, throughout a three-day conference in Michigan, handed a decision calling for legalization. With such help from an irreproachably healthful group, whose official coverage has by no means been to foster depravity, I feel it’s about time to place a authorized finish to the parable that blowing grass makes you a dope fiend.

Excessive Instances Journal, June 1979

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