Just a Little Joint-Rolling Lesson From 1950

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On this holiest of holidays, 4/20, let’s revisit how pot-smoking was packaged for postwar America.


The accompanying caption identifies this young woman as “Commercial artist Christine Vasey” and she is “rolling a marijuana reefer.” Taken circa 1950—just as America was ramping up the paranoia about anyone “deviant” and therefore possibly part of the “Red menace”—the blog Dangerous Minds says the pictures ran in Life magazine, which sounds about right. Who better to educate middle America on how those freaky beats go about “rolling a marijuana reefer”?

Of course the captions don’t directly identify Vasey as a beat, but it seems worth quoting from the November 1952 New York Times Magazine essay, “This Is the Beat Generation”:

Several months ago, a national magazine ran a story under the heading ‘Youth’ and the subhead ‘Mother Is Bugged At Me.’ It concerned an eighteen-year-old California girl who had been picked up for smoking marijuana and wanted to talk about it. While a reporter took down her ideas in the uptempo language of ‘tea,’ someone snapped a picture. In view of her contention that she was part of a whole new culture where one out of every five people you meet is a user, it was an arresting photograph. In the pale, attentive face, with its soft eyes and intelligent mouth, there was no hint of corruption. It was a face which could only be deemed criminal through an enormous effort of righteousness. Its only complaint seemed to be: ‘Why don’t people leave us alone?’ It was the face of a beat generation.

Here she is from another angle, in a shot titled, “Making a Reefer.” Please note the presence of publications from across the pond, including the British music magazine Tempo and Epoca, an Italian magazine along the lines of Life. Seems to be missing the requisite jazz records, though.

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And here she is rolling another, having put on a coat. Wouldn’t complete the beat picture properly if we didn’t get the impression the place was unheated. But is that.... a cat picture?

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Photos via Getty Images/Hulton Archive.



What exactly is an “intelligent mouth” in this context? Like can you just look at a mouth and say “Yep, deep thoughts about Foucault are happening!”