Is Hollywood’s biggest Bad Boy of the time, young Robert Mitchum cemented his rebel reputation when he was caught reefer-handed, with three others, in a Hollywood dope raid on Aug. 31, 1948. Released on $1,000 bail, the actor claimed a ”frame-up,” while at the same time bragging with typical candor that he had been ”smoking marijuana for years.”
In 1948 most Americans knew practically nothing about marijuana, and newspapers across the nation pounced on the surly he-man. ”Now we have a young swoon actor, the idol of teen-agers, caught in a marijuana party,” sniffed the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Some called for Mitchum’s movies to be banned. Fearing more raids and scandals, the Motion Picture Industrial Council released a solemn statement in Hollywood’s defense, and it looked like a career was going up in smoke.
Amazingly, it didn’t, although it did go up the river briefly. After a short trial in February 1949, Mitchum was found guilty of criminal conspiracy to possess marijuana and was sentenced to 60 days (reduced to 50 for good behavior). He did his time in an L.A. county jail and the Wayside Honor Farm in Castaic, Calif., where, as a brickmaker, he was voted ”Mr. Cement Block of 1949” by his fellow inmates. Released in March, he called his stay at the farm an ”experience every taxpayer should go through.”
Mitchum’s studio, RKO Pictures, stood by him, counting on his hordes of female fans (called Droolettes) to remain devoted, and he emerged from the pen as popular as ever. After a two-year probation, his felony conviction was expunged from the record. He went back to his Bad Boy ways-barroom brawls, on-the-set high jinks — but kept on winning praise from directors for his professionalism, and from critics for such noir films as The Night of the Hunter and most recently for a cameo in a remake of Cape Fear (he played the Robert De Niro role in the 1962 version).
Now 75, Mitchum has made an amazing 106 films. He is currently shooting a TV series, African Skies, for the Family Channel (yes, times do change). As for the weed that almost nipped his career in the bud, he once said he opposed legalizing pot ”until there (is) a hell of a lot more study,” and these days he doesn’t talk about it at all.