On this day in 1886 morphine addicted, Civil War veteran John Pemberton brewed his first batch of Coca-Cola. The rest, as they say, is history, so I guess we should look at a little bit of that, being all about the history, but before we go into the future, a little of Mr Pemberton’s past.
John Pemberton was a Confederate veteran, which makes sense as he lived in Atlanta, Georgia. He was injured at the Battle of Columbus in 1865 and like many of his contemporaries he became addicted to the morphine that was prescribed for his pain. He was a bit worried about being a smackhead, so sought for ways in which to rid himself from the grip of it. At that time there was a drink around called Vin Mariani. It had been created in France and was a mixture of wine and coca leaves. It was very popular and Pemberton must have come across it because he produced his own version called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. He marketed it as a medicinal tonic which could help cure morphine addiction, headaches, depression and alcoholism. It was also marketed to Southern Belles who were a bit highly strung with the blurb: “ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels and kidneys, who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusable stimulant.”
It proved a big hit and why wouldn’t it. Part wine, part cocaine, who needed morphine? And of course it “cured” alcoholism, unless one counted the wine in it as alcohol, which clearly people didn’t. It’s a little like saying you can cure a broken leg by breaking it, but such quibbles did not prevent big sales of Pemberton’s wonder tonic. What did prevent further sales of it was a temperance law that came into effect in Atlanta and Fulton County in 1886. French Wine Cola became verboten.
Not wanting to kill his golden goose while it still had many eggs to lay, Pemberton worked on finding a way of producing his tonic without the need for wine. He turned to a pharmacist called Willis Venables, who helped him to perfect and test a new recipe. Eventually they came up with their cola syrup which would be diluted in carbonated water, gave it the alliterative name, Coca Cola and thus it was that because of temperance we all got ourselves a soft drink that still sells like a bastard today.
Pemberton’s involvement in his creation did not last for long, but the Coke we know today was due to him, Venables and Frank Mason Robinson. The latter came up with the name and wrote out the first labels and adverts, in the Spencerian Script that still adorns them today. The following year the business was bought by Asa Candler who started to create the multinational corporation that Coca Cola is today. Although he bought the rights, there were some shenanigans at first. Pemberton sold to him and a couple of others, including Charles Ney Pemberton, his own alcoholic son (one gets the idea that the family was a little dysfunctional given its reliance on drugs and alcohol), but this was eventually all sorted out in Candler’s favour, probably with a bit of forgery and skullduggery on Candler’s part.
The cocaine thing? When it was first produced the recipe – the part we’re allowed to know anyway, minus Merchandise 7X (the secret
ingredient) – called for three parts coca leaves to one part cola nut. Coca leaves are where we get cocaine from. The amount that was in it was called negligible in later years, but it was probably a little more than that. Cocaine was popular at the time in a variety of medicinal beverages and thought of as pretty harmless and a good substitute or beer. Unfortunately in the 1890s feelings toward cocaine took a bit of a downward turn and in 1903 there was an article in the New York Tribune linking cocaine with “black crime” and calling for legal action against Coca Cola. This led to a slight change in the recipe and a major change in the marketing. From then on the leaves used in the recipe were spent coca leaves, i.e. after the cocaine has been extracted from them, rather than fresh ones and Coca Cola was no longer advertised as a medicinal tonic, but purely as a refreshing beverage.
Pemberton was long dead by this time. He died in 1888, two years after he’d created one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks the world has ever known and one year after selling it all for a mess of pottage, relatively speaking. Coke has gone on to conquer the world, there’s even a word – Coca Colanization – which describes how it has been an instrument of US colonisation without the need for arms or force. It’s also been involved in a lot of anti-union disputes, bad working practice reports and possibly the death of union activists in countries outside of the US. This all sits very badly with me, because anyone who knows me, knows what a Coke fiend I am. I hate to support a corporation that is, whatever way you want to cut it, pretty bloody cuntish, but what can I do? Truth is it might not contain cocaine any longer, but those bastards have still found a way to make it addictive. Maybe one day I’ll do the whole twelve steps things and rid me of its syrupy evil. Until then, my name is Almaniacal and I am a Coca Cola-holic.
Today is the birthday of myopic hotty, Christophe Lambert, better known as Lord Greystoke or Connor MacLeod.
Lambert (please pronounce it in the French way, to show that you have some culture, darlings) first came to the attention of the English-speaking public when he appeared in Hugh Hudson’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. He was an instant hit and why wouldn’t he be. He spent much of the film half-naked and when he wasn’t, he was all poshed up and cuter than a very cute thing from the capital of cute. He then went on to make Subway with Jean Luc Besson, which was a pretty good film. To be fair to Greystoke, I loved it, but you could hardly call it quality. I can’t say much more about it, because that would involve me getting in to the bit near the end where his “father” dies and that’s too unbearably sad and I cannot type through tears, dammit!
Christophe’s biggest success came in Highlander, where he played the legendary Connor MacLeod. The best thing about that film was that he played a Scot with a French accent and Sean Connery played a Spaniard with a Scottish accent. That and the Queen soundtrack which was aces. It was both a very silly film and bloody marvellous and Lambert proved that he looked just as good in a kilt as he did in a loincloth, i.e. very good indeed. Since the heady days of the mid-eighties, it’s fair to say that his light has dimmed a little. He’s made a lot of very bad films, a handful of critically well-received but commercially unsuccessful ones and sort of disappeared from view. Mostly.
These days he still acts, also produces and like many a fine Frenchman before him, he owns a vineyard as well as a mineral water company and a food processing company. He’s not doing bad for himself all things considered. Bless him.
Other facts about this utterly gorgeous man: he is gorgeous; his myopia is severe, he can’t wear contacts, so when he does act on film,
he’s pretty much blind, which lends him that odd gaze which many think has made him so attractive to women. I can’t contest that as the first time I saw him looking all bog-eyed in Tarzan I was a total goner for him. I used to have the film poster up in my flat. Readers, I loved him.
So, Christophe, I know you’re all loved up with Sophie Marceau and that and you’re not in the first flush of that stunning youth any longer, but I still would so … Happy birthday, you gorgeous man. You can monkey around with me (yes, I’m groaning too) any time!