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Alice B. Toklas

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Alice B. Toklas (April 30, 1877 – March 7, 1967) was a Jewish American writer who converted to Roman Catholicism in old age. She was the life partner of writer Gertrude Stein.

Biography

Early life, relationship with Gertrude Stein

She was born Alice Babette Toklas in San Francisco, California into a middle-class Jewish family and attended schools in both San Francisco and Seattle. For a short time she also studied music at the University of Washington. She met Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907 on the first day that she arrived. Together they hosted a salon that attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Matisse and Braque.

Acting as Stein's confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein's bestselling book. The two were a couple until Gertrude Stein's death in 1946.[1]

After Stein

After the death of Gertrude Stein, Toklas published her own literary memoir, a 1954 book that mixed reminiscences and recipes under the title The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. The most famous recipe therein (actually contributed by her friend Brion Gysin) was called "Haschich Fudge", a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and "canibus [sic] sativa" , or marijuana. Her name was later lent to the range of cannabis concoctions called Alice B. Toklas brownies. Some believe that the slang term toke, meaning to inhale marijuana, is derived from her last name, though it is more likely to originate in the Spanish verb tocar, meaning to touch or taste. The cookbook has not been out of print since it was published, and has been translated into numerous languages. A second cookbook followed in 1958 called Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present; however, Toklas did not approve of it as it had been heavily annotated by Poppy Cannon, an editor from House Beautiful magazine. She also wrote articles for several magazines and newspapers including The New Republic and the New York Times.

In 1963 she published her autobiography, What Is Remembered, which abruptly ends with Stein's death, leaving little doubt that Stein was the love of her lifetime.

Her later years were very difficult because of poor health and financial problems, aggravated by the fact that Stein's heirs took the priceless paintings (some of them Picassos), which had been left to her by Stein.

Toklas also became a Roman Catholic convert in her old age, as she had been told by a priest that in that way she may possibly meet Stein again in the afterlife. Toklas died in poverty at the age of 89, and is buried next to Stein in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France; Toklas' name is engraved on the back of Stein's headstone.[2]

In modern culture

Brendan Behan (died 1964) ended his poem about Paris and Gertrude Stein with:

"I absolutely must decline
To dance in the streets with Gertrude Stein
And as for Alice B. Toklas,
I'd rather eat a box of f****ing chocolates."[3]

Both Toklas and Stein are referred to in both the stage (1966) and film versions of Mame. In a lyric of the song "Bosom Buddies", Vera Charles declares: "But sweetie, I'll always be Alice Toklas, if you'll be Gertrude Stein."

The 1968 Peter Sellers movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas was named for Toklas' cannabis brownies, which play a significant role in the plot.

In 1969 on an episode of the ABC-TV variety show Hollywood Palace hosted by Diana Ross & The Supremes, member Mary Wilson tells Diana that show guest and comedian Soupy Sales has asked The Supremes to bake him a pie, to which Diana Ross replies to her group mates: "A pie, huh? Well, you better not use the recipe you got from Alice B. Toklas"!

A reference was made to Toklas in a 1969 episode of Bewitched called "Tabitha's Weekend". Endora (Agnes Moorehead) makes a joke about eating Mother Stephens (Mabel Albertson) raisin cookies when Tabitha asks if "Grandmama" would like one too. When offered one, Endora says "They're not by chance from an Alice B. Toklas recipe?" Mrs. Stephens says, "They're my recipe." To which Endora says "Then I think I'll pass."

The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, a political organization founded in 1971 in San Francisco, is a namesake of Toklas.

Samuel Steward, who met Toklas and Stein in the 1930s, edited Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1977), and wrote two mystery novels featuring Stein and Toklas as characters, Murder Is Murder Is Murder (1985) and The Caravaggio Shawl (1989).

Alice B. Toklas is pictured in the 1978 Swedish absurdist comedy film Picassos Äventyr (Adventures of Picasso), directed by Tage Danielsson. In this film she is played by Wilfrid Brambell (best known for playing Albert Steptoe in Steptoe and Son) A running gag is based on word play: Gertrude Stein often silences Alice B. Toklas with the phrase "Alice, be talkless."

Toklas is mentioned, along with Gertrude Stein, in Tim Curry's 1979 song I Do The Rock.

Toklas is played by Linda Hunt in the 1987 film Waiting for the Moon.[4]

Toklas appears in the book title and in one of the essays in Otto Friedrich's 1989 book "The Grave of Alice B. Toklas and Other Reports from the Past" (New York, Henry Holt). The chapter includes a sensitive interview with the elderly Alice.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in 1989 to rename a block of Myrtle Street between Polk Street and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco as Alice B. Toklas Place, since Toklas was born one block away on O'Farrell Street.[5][6]

The Toyes made mention of Toklas in their 1995 song "Monster Hash".

Toklas is mentioned in the Eric Schwartz song "Hattie and Mattie" on his 1999 That's How It's Gonna Be album. The song also appears on Holly Near's 2006 album Show Up.

Bill Richardson's 2001 book Waiting for Gertrude makes reference to Toklas and Stein's relationship.

Vietnamese American writer Monique Truong developed a marginal character, Toklas' Indochinese cook, in her bestselling novel The Book of Salt, published in 2003. The novel contains substantial citations and relays several scenes taken from the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book.

Melissa Manchester wrote the song "When Paris Was A Woman" which appears on her 2004 album "When I Look Down That Road". The song is from the view point of Alice B. Toklas.

References

  1. Alice B. Toklas Life Stories, Books, & Links
  2. Linzie, Anna (2006), The true story of Alice B. Toklas: a study of three autobiographies, University of Iowa Press, ISBN 9780877459859, http://books.google.com/books?id=XGqCcEtct2oC&pg=PA1 
  3. O'Sullivan, Michael (1997), Brendan Behan: a life, Blackwater Press, p. 249, ISBN 9780861216987 
  4. Howe, Desson (1987-04-25), "Waiting for the Moon", Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/waitingforthemoonpg13howe_a0b0ad.htm, retrieved 2009-11-08 
  5. Herscher, Elaine (1998-07-01), "Paving the Way for Gays: S.F. may name street for lesbian Alice B. Toklas", San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com/c/a/1998/07/01/MN25307.DTL, retrieved 2009-11-08 
  6. "Board of Supervisors : September 22, 1998". City and County of San Francisco. 1998-09-22. http://www.sfbos.org/index.aspx?page=2728. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Alice B. Toklas. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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