Prescribe it again, Sam

We tend to think of Prozac as the first ‘fashionable’ psychiatric drug but it turns out popular memory is short because a tranquilizer called Miltown hit the big time thirty years before.

This is from a wonderful book called The Age of Anxiety: A History of America’s Turbulent Affair with Tranquilizers by Andrea Tone and it describes how the drug became a Hollywood favourite and even inspired its own cocktails.

Miltown was frequently handed out at parties and premieres, a kind of pharmaceutical appetizer for jittery celebrities. Frances Kaye, a publicity agent, described a movie party she attended at a Palm Springs resort. A live orchestra entertained a thousand-odd guests while a fountain spouted champagne against the backdrop of a desert sky. As partiers circulated, a doctor made rounds like a waiter, dispensing drugs to guests from a bulging sack. On offer were amphetamines and barbituates, standard Hollywood party fare, but guests wanted Miltown. The little white pills “were passed around like peanuts,” Kaye remembered. What she observed about party pill popping was not unique. “They all used to go for ‘up pills’ or ‘down pills,'” one Hollywood regular noted. “But now it’s the ‘don’t-give-a-darn-pills.'”

The Hollywood entertainment culture transformed a pharmaceutical concoction into a celebrity fetish, a coveted commodity of the fad-prone glamour set. Female entertainers toted theirs in chic pill boxes designed especially for tranquilizers, which became, according to one celebrity, as ubiquitous at Hollywood parties as the climatically unnecessary mink coat…

Miltown even inspired a barrage of new alcoholic temptations, in which the pill was the new defining ingredient. The Miltown Cocktail was a Bloody Mary (vodka and tomato juice) spiked with a single pill, and a Guided Missile, popular among the late night crowd on the Sunset Strip, consisted of a double shot of vodka and two Miltowns. More popular still was the Miltini, a dry martini in which Miltown replaced the customary olive.

Andrea Tone’s book is full of surprising snippets about how tranquilisers and anti-anxiety drugs have affected our understanding of ourselves and our culture.

It’s very well researched and manages to hit that niche of being gripping for the non-specialist while being extensive enough that professionals will learn a lot.

Link to details for The Age of Anxiety book.

2 thoughts on “Prescribe it again, Sam”

  1. I actually would have guessed Valium or else the “little yellow pill” referenced in “Mother’s Little Helper” (which Wikipedia tells me was a barbiturate called Nimbutal) as the first modern fashionable psychiatric drug, though I’m sure many of the patent medicines from years past had similar tranquilizing effects. Prozac was following in their footsteps, as far as I’m concerned. I’d never heard of Miltown, though — interesting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: