Take a moment to exhale and then have a seat. Leonard Lipton, the writer of the poem “Puff the Magic Dragon,” was recently profiled in LA Weekly and answered an age-old question: Is “Puff the Magic Dragon” all about smoking pot? And much to the surprise of everyone who has heard the 1963 song by Peter, Paul and Mary that is based on the poem, it has nothing to do with smoking pot or pot culture. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It’s merely an uplifting story about a boy and a dragon. A boy named “Jackie Paper” and a dragon named “Puff.” Totally not about pot. Here is what Lipton had to say about the question he has been asked for the last 52 years:
“A song for little kids that advocates the use of drugs would not be appropriate. Advocating marijuana for little kids is not a good thing.
“My poem was directly inspired by a poem called ‘A Tale of Custard the Dragon,'” published by Ogden Nash in 1936. “Pirates and dragons, back then, were common interests in stories for boys. The Puff story is really just a lot like Peter Pan.”
We could give Lipton the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe all he ever wanted to write was a completely innocent story about a boy whose imagination was brought back to life by a whimsical dragon after a bout of depression. He wrote the poem back in 1959 when he was a 19-year-old engineering student at Cornell University, and before that he was a creative child who experimented with film projectors. Now, why would anyone like that have anything to do with marijuana?
Actually, Lipton went on to become a successful inventor and independent filmmaker. I don’t think I’ve met many potheads who are this productive:
A prolific inventor, with 68 patents and dozens more pending, Lipton has won a variety of awards, including one from the Smithsonian Institution which hangs in a hallway just off of his living room. While he beams proudly at the framed certificate and accompanying medallion, he is also quick to shrug and, with a resigned tone, say, “No one cares.”
“I invented the modern way to project a stereoscopic movie. Specifically, the REAL 3D system, a stereoscopic camera in the early ’80s for shooting movies. At that time, a patent lasted 17 years after it was granted, so it’s long gone but, as as far as I can tell, it became the basis for how people now shoot 3D movies with a camera.”
Lipton might even want in on the industry using that kind of technology. While he has steadfastly denied any allusions to drugs when it comes to “Puff,” he does credit the ongoing urban legend to keeping the hippie-dippie story relevant. A short animated special was made in 1978 (Burgess Meredith provided the voice of Puff for the first special and two sequels), but Lipton is holding out hope for a full-length feature.
I don’t know, a “Puff the Magic Dragon” movie now? Sounds like a pipe dream…