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Robert Mitchum

Hollywood bad boy Robert Mitchum was born on August 6, 1917 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He appeared in more than 100 movies from 1944-1995. Mitchum’s best-known for his roles in The Story of G.I. Joe (his only Oscar nomination); River of No Return; The Night of the Hunter; Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison; The Enemy Below; Thunder RoadHome from the Hill; The Sundowners; Cape Fear; The Longest Day; and The Friends of Eddie Coyle. He was named the Most Uncooperative Actor of 1950.

Robert Mitchum and Lila Leeds during the 1948 pot bust.

Mitchum’s rebel reputation had a lot to do with what happened to him on Aug. 31, 1948 when he, actress Lila Leeds and two others were “booked on suspicion of violating state and federal narcotics laws” at Leeds’ Laurel Canyon house on Ridpath Dr., where a “marijuana smoking party” was taking place, according to a newspaper report. Los Angeles police staked out the tea pad “for two and half hours through a rear bedroom window.” During the raid, they confiscated 13 “reefers” (joints) from Mitchum, who was 31 at the time. Mitchum was eventually charged with possessing and conspiring to possess marijuana.

He allegedly told the police after the bust: “Yes, boys, I was smoking the marijuana cigarette when you came in. I guess it’s all over now. I’ve been smoking marijuana for years. The last time I smoked was about a week ago. I knew I would get caught sooner or later. This is the bitter end of my career. I’m ruined.”

Mitchum in court with Lila Leeds at left, 1948.

Mitchum and Leeds received 60-day sentences, plus probation. Both were locked up first in the L.A. county jail. After the trial, Mitchum (he pled no defense) served 59 days at a prison farm in Castiac, California jail and was released in 1949. That year, Leeds played the lead in the anti-pot film She Shoulda Said No.

This was not Mitchum’s first arrest. After running away from home, he was busted for vagrancy in Savannah, Georgia and then escaped from the chain gang when he was just 16. “I learned about the fuzz and the inside of jails,” he told The Saturday Evening Post in 1962. “When I was too cold and hungry, I’d check in at the local police station. They’d put me in a cell overnight.”

Mitchum on weed: “The only explanation I have for the use of marijuana is the fact that when you are in the company of people who use it, it is easier to go along with them than not to."

Mitchum first tried pot in 1936 when he was 19. “It was an isolated instance when I was working in Toledo, Ohio,” he said. By the time he got married and moved to California, he started smoking regularly in 1947 and 1948.

“I was never a confirmed smoker of marijuana and never purchased any marijuana for use by myself,” he explained. “The only explanation I have for the use of marijuana is the fact that when you are in the company of people who use it, it is easier to go along with them than not to. I was absurdly naïve.”

Mitchum famously mops in prison, 1948.

Mitchum went into great detail about the 1948 pot bust in The Saturday Evening Post article: “Miss Leeds handed me a lighted cigarette. I looked up and I was sure there was a face in the window. The next thing I knew there was a crash and in came two men. I thought they were hold-up men, but then they shouted, ‘Police officers!’ They grabbed me.” He was handcuffed and taken to jail with the others.

Clearly, the raid was a set-up to get Mitchum, an opportunity for the police to create a scandal and show they weren’t ignoring celebs who liked to toke. “Why were the newspapers tipped off before I even arrived at the Leeds house that a big-name movie star was going to be picked up on marijuana charges that night?” he wondered. “Why didn’t the police raid the Leeds house earlier, since they testified they had seen Miss Leeds smoking long before I arrived?”

Mitchum on the raid: "The next thing I knew there was a crash and in came two men. I thought they were hold-up men."

After an investigation by the DA in 1951, it was determined “[Mitchum's] verdict of guilty be set aside and a plea of not guilty be entered and that the information or complaint be dismissed.”

While this whole travesty didn’t ruin his career, Mitchum noted, “It took me from 1948 to 1951 to get back on my feet again financially again."

It was actually just the beginning of what would be a long career for Mitchum on the silver screen, playing rogues and tough guys, like the scary psychopath Max Cady in Cape Fear.

Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential in 1997 tells a similar story with police Sgt. Jack Vincinnes (Kevin Spacey) getting a tip-off from tabloid publisher Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) that some celebs were getting stoned in a house and a raid ensues.

A longtime cigarette smoker, Mitchum succumbed to lung cancer and emphysema in 1997 at 80. His wife Dorothy passed in 2014. They’re survived by two sons and a daughter.

 

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.