Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller): [in the car listening to "Puff the Magic Dragon"] “Who would've thought it wasn't really about a dragon, huh?”
Jack Byrnes (played by Robert DeNiro): “What do you mean?”
Greg: “You know, the whole drug thing?”
Jack: “No, I don't know. Why don't you tell me?”
Greg: “Some people think that to 'puff the magic dragon’ means to- They're really, uh - to smoke - to smoke - a marijuana cigarette.”
Jack: “Puff's just the name of the boy's magical dragon.”
Jack: “Are you a pothead, Focker?”
Greg: “No! No. What? No, no, no, no, Jack. No, I'm - I'm not - I - I pass on grass all the time. I mean, not all the time.”
Jack: “Yes or no, Greg?”
Greg: “No. Yes. No.”—Meet the Parents (2000), story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clark, screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, directed by Jay Roach
Oh, my….Ol’ CIA hand Jack thought he’d heard everything, till his daughter’s fiancé Greg innocently blurted out the not-so-innocent interpretation of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” If you were in Jack's shoes, wouldn't you want to hook him up to the wires in these photos, just to clear up that little problem with the truth that Greg's just displayed?
The only problem was, the Peter, Paul and Mary hit—which reached its top position (#2) on the Billboard charts in the U.S. on this date 50 years ago—really was about childhood innocence lost, as claimed by trio member Peter Yarrow, who composed the music to a set of lyrics left on his typewriter by Cornell classmate Leonard Lipton in 1959.
Not that it’s completely impossible to understand how the drug interpretation of the song ( popularized in a 1964 Newsweek article) came about. Consider the Beatles, for instance.
John Lennon, known to have sampled more than a few mild-altering substances in his time, always adamantly denied that “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was about LSD, and I tend to believe him, since he didn’t give a damn whom he ticked off. On the other hand, Paul McCartney ‘fessed up that “Got to Get You Into My Life” was about the need to incorporate drugs more into his daily routine. In its way, the latter song, with its ebullient vibe, was far more insidious than his bandmate’s controversial tune—and certainly more than Yarrow’s.
Well, without those creative (mis)readings of some of the seminal pop tunes of our time, we would never have had the exchange between Greg and Jack--which alone, as far as I'm concerned, made Meet the Parents worth the price of admission all by itself.