Cannabis Time Capsule, 1948: Robert Mitchum's Marijuana Bust

Robert Mitchell and Jane Greer in Out of the Past.
Robert Mitchell and Jane Greer in Out of the Past.

I mentioned the story of Robert Mitchum to a marijuana consuming friend recently, and he had no idea who I was talking about. It's a shame, because Mitchum is one of America's first admitted pot-smoking Hollywood badasses. See, Robert Mitchum was the dude. Ladies loved him, he was a star in awesome films like Undercurrent and Out of the Past (with an equally badass Kirk Douglas and smoking-hot Jane Greer) and he loved passing a reefer around with hot starlets. He made no secret of it and often walked around with doobies tucked behind his ears in public, bragging at one point that weed grew freely in the hills by his home.

Needless to say, he wasn't too popular with Johnny Law.

See also: "Has Denver's Homeless Sitution Gone to Pot?"

On August 31, 1948, Mitchum was toking up with local realtor Robin Ford, actress Lila Leeds and dancer Vickie Evans at a house rented by Evans and Leeds when the cops came busting in the door -- arresting the four. Immediately, Mitchum and Evans cried foul and called the whole thing a setup. It looked like one: By the time they arrived at the police station, reporters were already swarming. Mitchum was defiant, telling the press he'd been smoking pot for years and that, initially, jail for him was like being in Palm Springs.

And how does this figure into Colorado Cannabis History? Because Mitchum was one of the first nationally-recognizable rich white people to ever get busted for what was at the time considered a drug of the minorities and low-class. That was sensationally huge news at the time. So much so that even two months after the bust, minor quotes from those involved were making front-page news in Steamboat, as this article from the November 10, 1948 front page of the Steamboat Pilot shows.

Cannabis Time Capsule, 1948: Robert Mitchum's Marijuana Bust

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In it, you can see Vicki Evans, who'd apparently held a press conference in New York a few days prior. In it, she denied that the whole event was a setup, but Mitchum and Leeds kept up their insistence through their trials.

Mitchum was found guilty of criminal possession of pot. At the time, the offense carried a $1,000 penalty and three months in jail. Adjusted for inflation, that's nearly $10,000 in today's society.

Lila Leeds.
Lila Leeds.

Leeds also spent sixty days in jail, where she allegedly became addicted to heroin. She tried recovering her career by staring in anti-weed propaganda films, but ended up a failed actress who moved to the Midwest and worked in nightclubs before apparently finding Jesus and becoming a missionary. Marijuana didn't destroy lives back then, but marijuana prohibition sure did.

Interestingly, Evans didn't do any time whatsoever. She claimed to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ford also was acquitted of the pot charges, though he was jailed for an unrelated "legal dispute" according to one biographer.

The speculation at the time from Mitchum turned out to be pretty real. Mitchum had been targeted by the LAPD as a way to promote the department's anti-drug programs. In fact, the whole thing was strange. Ford and Mitchum had met Leeds a few weeks earlier on the beach. On August 31, Ford and Mitchum went to a house shared by Leeds and Evans to toke up -- but the cops were apparently already there waiting. They allegedly scratched at the back door to imitate Leed's dogs and when Evans opened the door, the two cops came storming in with guns drawn. At the press conference at the jail -- conveniently set up by the cops -- Sergeant A. M. Barr revealed the true motive to the L.A. Times:

"We're going to clean the dope and narcotics users out of Hollywood. We don't care who we have to arrest. There's a lot of 'stuff' being used in Hollywood. We have a number of important and prominent Hollywood screen personalities under surveillance. Many of the big shots, stars and other top names, do not patronize corner peddlers for fear of a shakedown. However, we have reason to believe there is an 'inside ring,' right inside the film industry, supplying a larger number of narcotics users."

Mitchum was actually one of many potential victims, but apparently the others all got tipped off and Mitchum and Leeds took the fall. History has shown that Evans was probably as clueless as she claimed to be. All signs now point to Ford being the narc.

A big part of the story that most people don't remember (if they know the story at all, it seems) is that three years later, Mitchum was exonerated of his crimes by the Los Angeles courts after the whole conspiracy came to light.

Side note: Mitchum's career was just fine. He was the darling of RKO pictures, which for a time was headed by gazillionaire and eccentric Howard Hughes. Hughes threw buckets of money to sway PR in favor of Mitchum, including photos shoots of him having coffee in jail and sitting around with his shirt unbuttoned. It worked, too. Ladies loved Mitchum until the day he died. Lee Server's biography of Mitchum, Baby, I Don't Care, details the whole thing beautifully.


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