Angelinos awoke to art student Douglas Finegood’s interpretation of the Hollywood sign on January 1, 1976, the day marijuana was decriminalized in California. Another “vandal” altered the sign in the same way on January 1, 2017 to celebrate the passage of Prop. 64, legalizing adult recreational use.
Los Angeles has had a remarkable relationship with marijuana, from Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon to the Pineapple Express.
-by Ellen Komp
The seminal novel of Hollywood, The Day of the Locust, was written by Nathanael West in 1937, the year that marijuana was effectively made illegal in the U.S. Discussing the book’s title with his editor Bennett Cerf, West wrote, “I rather like ‘THE GRASS EATERS.’ Quite a few intelligent people agree on that one.”
In The Day of the Locust, West’s autobiographical character Tod Hackett is an artist working on a painting titled “The Burning of Los Angeles.” He calls himself an unwilling prophet of doom, a Jeremiah. In the bible, Jeremiah is chosen by God to portend disaster for Jerusalem because its people were burning incense called kaneh bosm to the pagan god Baal, or Bel. Some scholars think kaneh bosm, the fragrant cane, is mistranslated in modern Bibles as calamus instead of cannabis.
Jeremiah 51:14 says (in one translation): “The Lord Almighty has sworn by himself: I will surely fill you with men, as with a swarm of locusts, and they will shout in triumph over you.” Mentioned throughout Jeremiah is Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who re-named the Jewish captive Daniel “Belteshazzar,” meaning “worshipper of Bel.” After Daniel triumphs, Nebuchadnezzar’s fate is to become a “grass eater,” like cattle.
In Locust, the central, widely desired female character Faye Greener (not Redder, or Bluer) sleeps with a Mexican named Miguel just after she sings five verses of the Stuff Smith tune “If You’re a Viper”:
I’m the queen of everything
Got to get high before I can swing…
Sky is high and so am I
If you’re a Viper.
A viper was slang for a pot smoker in 1920s Harlem, inspired by the hissing intake of smoke.
Faye, who appears on film riding a magic flying carpet, also sings Johnny Mercer’s “Jeepers Creepers”:
where’d ya get them peepers
where’d ya get those eyes?
Gosh oh, git up
how’d they get so lit up
Gosh oh, gee oh
how’d they get that size
when you turn them
Woe is me
got to put my cheaters on
where’d ya get them peepers
Oh, those weepers
how they hypnotize
Where’d you get those eyes?
“Where’d you get those eyes” might well have been the 30’s vernacular for “what have you been smoking?” The song was recorded by marijuana enthusiast Louis Armstrong, who was arrested in November 1930 while smoking marijuana outside the Cotton Club in Culver City.
The Day of the Locust ends with a riot at the imaginary Kahn’s Persian Palace Theatre, under a sign “Mr. Kahn a Pleasure Dome Decreed,” a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” which was inspired by a medicinal dose of opium. Marijuana considered an Oriental as well as a Mexican pleasure at the time.
The Mexican Connection
According to USC Professor Curtis Marez in his book Drug Wars, in early Hollywood, Mexicans were depicted in movies as pot-smoking desperadoes and targeted for arrest by the LAPD.
The production and distribution of marijuana was an important source of income for Mexican peasants since the revolution of the 1860s when other industries were disrupted, Marez writes. Drugs on the border “first appeared as a pressing U.S. problem during General John Pershing’s punitive expedition in pursuit of Pacho Villa (1916-17), when it was estimated that thousands of the general’s soldiers used narcotics while in Mexico.” This was a situation similar to Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt, which brought hashish to France.
“La Cucaracha,” a song sometimes banned for its marijuana references, is as much about the social status of the lowly cockroach as the pot he smokes. Louis Armstrong recorded a rumba version of the song in 1935.
A white judge named Charles W. Fricke, who was particularly hard on Mexicans, formed the Narcotic Research Association (NRA) and lectured to groups about the “epidemic” of marijuana use among Mexican laborers. The NRA was housed at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Building, along with The Hollywood Hussars, a paramilitary group formed to suppress communism. One member of the Hussars was actor Gary Cooper. Actress Lupe Velez, Cooper’s former girlfriend, was unjustly targeted as a communist and committed suicide.
The national hearings that brought about the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 solidified the image of the dangerous, pot-puffing Mexican male; it is likely Nathanael West was reading accounts of those hearings as he began The Day of the Locust. In the book, Miguel and Faye dance provocatively to a rumba, which her white cowboy actor boyfriend Earl is unable to join, so he flies into a rage and clubs Miguel over the head.
Fitzgerald, Gatsby and Stahr
While West was writing Locust, F. Scott Fitzgerald was at work on his last, unfinished Hollywood novel, The Last Tycoon. One of the characters in Fitzgerald’s book calls Hollywood “a mining town in lotus land,” a reference to the Land of the Lotus Eaters from Homer’s The Odyssey, where explorers get lost in a drug-induced stupor to forget the horrors of war.
Of a scriptwriter on the movie lot, Fitzgerald writes:
Out the window Rose Meloney watched the trickle streaming toward the commissary. She would have her lunch in her office and knit a few rows while it came. The man was coming at one-fifteen with the French perfume smuggled over the Mexican border. That was no sin—it was like a prohibition.
Who smuggles French perfume over the Mexican border, and calls it a prohibition? Rose is a flower like marijuana, which was called Santa Rosa or Santa Maria in Mexico. Her surname that starts with an “M,” like marijuana.
The reference to knitting may have come from Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s 1857 book The Hasheesh Eater, wherein he describes a hashish-induced vision of a crone knit of purple yarn. In Food of the Gods, Terrence McKenna connects the expression “spinning a yarn” to hemp’s dual purpose as a fiber and an intoxicant leading to flights of fancy.
Tycoon’s main character, producer Monroe Stahr, first sees love interest Kathleen Moore floating on a studio-made head of Siva that had become dislodged from a set in an earthquake. To this day, worshippers in India drink bhang (a drink made with cannabis) to celebrate Siva’s birthday.
When Stahr goes to Kathleen’s door, she says, “I’m sorry I can’t ask you in. Shall I get my reefer and sit outside?” (A reefer is also the name of a sailor’s coat.) Stahr refuses. He tries to meet her halfway when they go to his house, where he’s had a strip of grass brought in from the prop department. Kathleen laughs and asks, “Isn’t that real grass?” Stahr replies, “Oh yes—it’s grass.”
The scene is reminiscent of one in Fitzgerald’s 1925 book The Great Gatsby, the first novel about a drug dealer. Gatsby is a man of wealth by unknown means, an associate of a character based on the original international drug smuggler, Arnold Rothstein. He speaks of “a little business on the side…a rather confidential sort of thing,” and offers the narrator Nick a piece of the action in exchange for setting up a meeting with Nick’s cousin Daisy. After Gatsby sends a servant to mow Nick’s lawn in anticipation of the meeting, Nick tells him, “The grass is fine.” “What grass?” asks Gatsby, before saying, “Oh, the grass in the yard.”
Hollywood & Hemp in the ’40s
A 1944 Bob Hope broadcast from an air force base in Yuma, AZ had Hope appeared in a cowboy skit with the Andrews Sisters. When asked how his legs got bowed, “Dragalong” Hope replied, “I smoked one of them Mexican cigarettes. And I had a bad landing.” In a later skit, Hope tried to interest a chum into visiting a Gypsy fortune teller (played by Zsa Zsa Gabor). “Then we can eat the tea leaves,” he said.
A Hedda Hopper item of April 18, 1947 read:
The telephone strike caused this amusing incident. Alan Ladd had a horse he’s to ride in “Whispering Smith” ready to be sent to the studio. Unable to telephone, he wired: “Marijuana ready to be picked up. Send for it.” If you don’t think that had repercussions–until Western Union discovered Marijuana was the name of Alan’s horse.
The same Hopper column contained an item about Motion Picture Association of America president Eric Johnston “defending Hollywood against charges of extensive Communistic doings….If Johnston really wants to know who the Commies are, it’s ve bery easy for him to get a list of their names.”
While HUAC was rounding up Commies, the cops were rounding up marijuana smokers. Young heartthrob Robert Mitchum, who’d earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a US captain in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), was by reports profligate in his marijuana use until he was made an example of in 1948 as part of a campaign to clean up Hollywood.
Mitchum and his wife Dorothy had fallen prey to an unscrupulous manager, Paul Behrmann, who ripped off the couple and threatened Dorothy. She went back East in protest, leaving her husband to his own devices.
According to Mitchum’s biographer George Eels, “Word had spread quickly that Dorothy was at least temporarily out of the picture, and Hollywood party girls descended from all directions. . . . These were girls who shared an elitist, contemptuous attitude toward any ‘square’ that didn’t use grass. Yet even they were taken aback by Mitchum’s increasing boldness. Never before had they seen a prominent star make himself such a high-visibility risk, strutting around as he did in a straw Stetson and cowboy boots, with a reefer tucked behind each ear or carrying a package of cigarettes in which the regular ones were alternated with hand-rolled joints.”
On the evening of August 31, 1948 Mitchum and his friend Robin Ford went to visit young starlet Lila Leeds and her roommate, dancer Vicki Evans, at their three-room bungalow at 8334 Ridpath Drive in Los Angeles.
Unbenownst to them, two officers, A.M. Barr and J.B. McKinnon of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Narcotics Division, were hiding in the yard. The two had been conducting surveillance for eight months on members of the film industry and their hangers-on. Barr and McKinnon scratched at the back door like Leed’s boxer dogs, and Evans let them in to find a pot party in progress. Mitchum’s cigarette pack had fifteen more joints inside.
At L.A. County Jail, Mitchum greeted newspaper reporters and photographers with, “Yes, boys, I was smoking a marijuana cigarette when they came in,” adding, “I knew I’d get caught sooner or later.” He was stripped and shackled, and left stark naked to be questioned by a psychiatrist. The next morning he cancelled a speaking engagement scheduled for the steps of City Hall to celebrate National Youth Day.
At that point, the film industry, already battling the incursion of television, had around $5 million worth of investment tied up in Mitchum’s unreleased films. Hearst newspaper chain’s syndicated motion picture columnist, Louelle O. Parsons, laid out a psychiatric defense for Mitchum, much to his ire.
A moralistic press offensive starting in Indisnapolis that spread nationwide, but didn’t effect the box office receipts for Mitchum next film, Rachel and the Stranger. According to Eels, “In Los Angeles, sustained, lusty applause greeted Mitchum’s first appearance in the movie. In Minneapolis audiences applauded the film at the end of each showing. In New York, Denver, Providence, Chicago. Omaha, Cincinnati, Kansas City–from border to border and coast to coast–Rachel and the Stranger was a robust hit.”
Mitchum, Leeds and Ford stood trial in January 1949 and were pronounced guilty of conspiracy to possess marijuana. Evans jumped bail and was apparently never convicted.
On February 9, Mitchum and Leeds were each sentenced to two years probation and 60 days in jail. Mitchum was immediately taken to Los Angeles County Jail and later transferred to an honor farm in Castaic. There, on several occasions, Mitchum found marijuana in his cell, hidden by fellow prisoners setting him up for a snitch so they would be rewarded. Each time, he reported the find to guards. On March 30, he was released from the farm, which he called, “just like a weekend in Palm Springs…only you meet a better class of people.”
Jane Greer, who appeared in Mitchum’s next film, The Big Steal, reported that locals were constantly trying to foist joints on him while filming in Mexico. The same happened to him in the states. Howard Hughes hired Kemp Niver, a former LAPD officer, to keep Mitchum out of trouble, and he took care of such incidents.
Lila Leeds didn’t fare as well as Mitchum. The 20-year-old Lana Turner look-alike had appeared in a few films, including Turner’s vehicle Green Dolphin, where she plays a Eurasian woman who drugs the leading man and rolls him. Leeds was engaged to Turner’s ex-husband, restauranteur Stephen Crane, at the time of her arrest.
Cheryl Crane, Stephen and Lana’s daughter who gained notoriety when she stabbed mobster Johnny Stompano to death to defend her mother, wrote of Leeds in her book Detour: A Hollywood Story:
“Dad knew that Lila had smoked pot ever since she tried it at a St. Louis party three years before with members of the Stan Kenton orchestra, and sometimes she overdid it….She was often stoned, and his friends cautioned Dad that she had a problem, but he knew pot was no enslaving ‘devil’s weed,’ as it has been painted in the unintentionally hilarious 1936 cautionary film Reefer Madness.”
After Leeds was arrested, Stephen Crane fled to Europe rather than become entangled in scandal. There he tried his hand at writing a gossip column titled, “Champagne and Vinegar.” In his debut column he wrote about the Mitchum bust, saying, “Yet if Mitchum should come to Paris he could attend a small private jive club on the Left Bank where waiters come around to the tables and roll the marijuana cigarettes for you.” No less than three Hollywood stars, he noted, were “seen entering” the place the previous week.
Crane writes that Leeds said she was introduced to heroin by fellow inmates at LA County Jail, and it lead to addiction. Other than the Reefer Madness-style anti-drug film She Shoulda Said No, Leeds never had another film role. She became so destitute that she hocked the three-carat diamond ring Stephen had given her for $750. In the 70s, she worked as a faith healer for addicts in Hollywood.
In a police deposition, Leeds accused Evans of being a police informer, and said that Mitchum was framed for the offense. The DA’s office convened a grand jury to investigate ganster Mickey Cohen’s activities and heard from Paul Behrmann, who was also Leeds’ former agent and had by this time been convicted on grand theft charges.
Behrmann offered evidence of a “big-time sex-and-extottion crime ring” headed by Cohen, naming Leeds and Evans, both of whom denied being involved in the racket.
On January 31, 1951, just days after the completion of Mitchum’s parole, the Los Angeles Supreme Court issued a legal reversal of his charges.
According to Lee Server’s biography Baby, I Don’t Care, Mitchum continued to smoke marijuana throughout his life. He brought out a bag of marijuana provided to him by his driver while flying to London from India for filming on “The Winston Affair” (1963). He grew pot at his some in BelAir and also in Ireland during the long filming period of “Ryan Daughter,” where he turned on costar Sarah Miles’s mother and the local constabulary. A 1973 Rolling Stone profile of Mitchum described him as passing the hash pipe and giving away joints like calling cards.
British actress Jean Simmons, who appeared with Mitchum in Funny Face, told her husband Stuart Granger (a heavy drinker) she wished he were more laid-back like Mitchum. Simmons and Granger divorced, and she signed a 2005 petition to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to not to upgrade cannabis from a class C drug to a class B.
The ’50s and Beyond
Elizabeth Taylor was 19 when she was cast in A Place in the Sun (1951) opposite Montgomery Clift. She had a lifelong devotion to Clift, who smoked marijuana (as did James Dean). According to Amburn, “Elizabeth sometimes ditched [second husband Michael] Wilding to slip off to Oscar Levant’s Beverly Hills house with Monty, where the pianist serenaded them with Gershwin tunes as they whiled away afternoons and early evenings.”
A recent biography of actor Sal Mineo reveals he was introduced to marijuana while filming Rebel Without a Cause (1955), when he grew his own plants in his backyard to save money. Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud recounts tales of Mineo having philosophical discussions on pot with one friend, and taking mushrooms with another. Mineo played the title role in 1959’s The Gene Krupa Story, which depicts Krupa’s 1943 bust for marijuana.
The McCarthy Era of the 1950s, with its associations between marijuana and Communism, was masterfully depicted Sweet Smell of Success (1957), in which Tony Curtis played a swarmy PR hack who tries to smear a jazz guitarist as a pot-smoking commie. In Sweet Bird of Youth, the Tennessee Williams-based movie from the same era, a young grifter (Paul Newman) tries to bribe aging movie actress Alexandra Del Lago over her use of hashish. The Susan Hayward vehicle I want to Live (1958) depicted marijuana smoking in the opening scenes, to demonstrate the depravity of Hayward’s character Barbara Graham. The real-life Graham admitted to experimenting with marijuana and laudanum, and was executed in 1955 after being found guilty of murder.
Documentary maker Keya Morgan released a film in 2009 he claims to be a home movie of Marilyn Monroe smoking a joint in late 1959. Morgan says the pot party happened in New Jersey and that the filmmaker, named Gretchen, rolled the joint that Marilyn toked. During this time Marilyn lived in New York while her husband, playright Arthur Miller, was targeted by anti-communist committees.
Monroe’s friend Jeanne Carmen confirmed through her son and biographer that both she and Monroe smoked marijuana. An actress, pin-up girl, and trick-shot golfer, Carmen lived next door to Monroe in the years before she died in 1962. Carmen died in 2007, but her son Brandon James wrote me, “My mom was not a ‘pot smoker’ but she did smoke pot on occasion. Marilyn was the same way.”
The 1960s saw the first “beatnik” depicted on TV: Maynard G. Krebs, the swingin’ cat who was buddy to the title character in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” (1959-1963). Actor Bob Denver played the role, doing battle weekly with Dobie’s money-grubbing father for his friend’s soul, and inspiring imitators like Shaggy in the Scooby Doo cartoons.
After the Kennedy assassination of 1963, the networks erased Dobie, transformed Gillis into Gilligan, and set culture on the Right track once more with “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-1967). Instead of Hip Maynard, Denver now played Gilligan the Pop-eyed sailor under the thumb of the Bloatocracy, with no spinach around to put in his pipe and fortify him.
The whitewash was so complete that when Denver was arrested for having a shipment of marijuana delivered to him at his home in West Virginia in 1998, every major news outlet missed the obvious connection, remembering him only as poor Gilligan. Rumors that the pot was sent by Dawn Wells, who played wholesome MaryAnn on “Gilligan’s Island,” rang truer when Wells herself was arrested with pot in her car in 2008.
Billy Gray, who played the all-American son “Bud” from 1954-1960 on the TV series “Father Knows Best” was arrested in 1962 for possession of marijuana. The small bust (for seed and resin) nearly ruined his career. “I got busted for grass, and they said I was a heroin addict,” Gray told SF Weekly in 1997.
On January 18, 1968 Eartha Kitt, who had just hit it big as Catwoman on TV’s Batman, stood up to express herself at a White House conference on juvenile delinquency. She told the First Lady that boys don’t want to behave for fear of being sent to Vietnam. “No wonder the kids rebel and take pot,” she said. “And Mrs. Johnson, in case you don’t understand the lingo, that’s marijuana.” Within hours of the event, Kitt was blacklisted after LBJ put the word out to the media that he didn’t want to see “that woman” anywhere.
By 1969 the lid was blown off the clampdown with the film Easy Rider, starring Henry Fonda’s son Peter as a pot dealer who takes off on an “On The Road”-style motorcycle journey. Along the way, he teaches Jack Nicholson (and all of the country) how to smoke pot. That the son of a movie icon like Fonda would choose to portray a different kind of hero said it all about where the culture was moving.
Henry’s daughter Jane asked Rex Reed, “You don’t mind if I turn on, do you?” before puffing some of “the real thing” on New Years Eve, 1969, the day she found out she won a NY Film Critics Award for her performance in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Jane was recently spotted at a post-Oscar party puffing something sweet smelling.
The Swinging ’70s
In his 2008 autobiography, Tony Curtis says marijuana was very popular in Hollywood around the time of his 1971 bust for carrying pot through Heathrow airport. Elizabeth Taylor reportedly hit hot spots like Candy Store in Beverly Hills with Peter Lawford and his son Christopher in the 70s. Peter’s friend Arthur Natoli recalled, “[Lawford] and Elizabeth used to turn on together. They were high on pot a lot.” [Lawford has now cofounded a group called SAM, which attempts to force marijuana users into “treatment.”]
Director Hal Ashby beautifully depicted marijuana’s ability to open the heart in his beloved film Harold and Maude (1971). After Maude offers Harold a hookah, he is finally able to tell someone the source of his strange behavior. A lifelong smoker, Ashby was busted for pot in Canada while scouting locations for Nicholson’s vehicle The Last Detail (1973).
At a McGovern rally organized by Warren Beatty on April 15, 1972 at the LA Forum, Barbra Streisand stopped to talk to the crowd after her second standing ovation. Saying she didn’t like liquor or pills to combat her stage fright, she took an exaggerated drag of what appeared to be a joint. After huge laugher and applause, she made a confused face and asked, “It’s still illegal?” Streisand performed the same act at her shows in Vegas during the 70s, leading groups like Little Anthony and the Imperials to send her pot.
An October 2007 article in the New Yorker by Steve Martin says he saw legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus, Roman Holiday) “sorting the seeds and stems from a brick of pot” during the 1970s while he was dating Trumbo’s daughter Mitzi. She explained, “Pop smokes marijuana with the wishful thought of cutting down on his drinking.”
Trumbo was called in to write a part for Dustin Hoffman in the 1971 film Papillon. He traveled to Jamaica for the filming, writing just ahead of production and appearing in the film as the prison warden. Bruce Cook wrote in his authorized biography of Trumbo, “The ganji was, as always, plentiful there in Jamaica, and it was readily available to the company. Some were not content to smoke the stuff, however; they boiled a batch of it up and mixed it secretly into the drinks at a party. Everybody got high but a few got sick as well.”
Even Bob Hope’s old “Road” movie partner Bing Crosby surprised interviewers in the 70s by saying he thought pot should be legal. Like his buddy Louis Armstrong (a lifelong marijuana enthusiast), Crosby smoked “jive” before it was made illegal. His son Gary argues that Crosby’s laid-back style was influenced by his early marijuana use. When Gary began to drink, Bing told him, “Oh that booze, it killed your mother…why don’t you just smoke sh—t?”
One of Bob Hope’s jokes while entertaining the troops in Vietnam was “I hear you guys are interested in gardening here. Our security officer said a lot of you guys are growing your own grass.” He also joked, “instead of taking it away from the soldiers, we ought to give it to the negotiators in Paris.”
According to Bob Hope: The Road Well-Traveled by Lawrence J. Quirk, Hope admitted to trying pot during his vaudeville days, then later said he hadn’t sampled it until around 1975. “To more conservative publications he’d say he knew pot wasn’t good for people, but to more liberal ones, like Rolling Stone, he’d say, ‘It’s just like liquor; it all depends on dosage and frequency, you know.’”
Bette Midler reportedly planned to put a joint underneath every seat of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles for her New Year’s Eve show in 1975/76, to celebrate California’s pending decriminalization law. Instead she dropped her top at midnight. California did enact decrim on January 1, 1976, saving the state $1 billion in the next decade.
Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Diane Keaton, who starred in the title role. The original title was “Anhedonia,” meaning the inability to experience pleasure. Alvy tells Annie that her whole body is an erogenous zone, and soon it is revealed that she insists on smoking pot before they make love. Annie tells him if he’d only smoke with her, he wouldn’t have to see a therapist.
Comedians Cheech and Chong created the stoner film genre with their wildly popular Up in Smoke (1978), but by the end of the 70s, the tide was turning again. Ashby’s Vietnam War film Coming Home, starring Jane Fonda, was up against The Deer Hunter for Best Picture at the 1979 Oscars. Protesters picketing The Deer Hunter’s racist portrayal of the Vietnamese leading to a “brief but bloody battle” with police that left 13 arrested, according to Variety. Fonda and co-star Jon Voight won Best Actor Oscars, but The Deer Hunter’s director Michael Cimino beat Ashby, and an ailing John Wayne handed The Deer Hunter the Best Picture Oscar.
The 1980s Until Today
The 1980s, with its Regan-era “Just Say No” campaign, ushering in drug testing and harsher penalties, were just around the corner. But not before Jane Fonda appeared as a woman empowering herself while smoking pot with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in the charming film, Nine to Five (1980) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) brought us Sean Penn’s memorable performance as Jeff Spicolli, the quintessential surfer/stoner.
A pot-puffing character played by Craig T. Nelson got a frightening comeuppance that year in Poltergeist. In 1983 Meryl Streep smoked pot with Cher and Kurt Russell in Silkwood, in the same car where her character meets her demise.
Dave Chappelle’s 1998 entry Half Baked brought humor back to the topic; it’s #81 on Bravo’s list of 100 Funniest Movies. In an alternate ending on the “Fully Baked Edition” DVD, Chappelle dives after a joint he’s thrown off a bridge.
The Dreamworks trio of Stephen Speilberg, George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg teamed up for their first production, American Beauty in 1999. In it, the aptly-named Kevin Spacey plays a middle-aged man who rediscovers the beauty of life with some marijuana sold to him by his neighbor, a high-school student. “You’re my hero,” Spacey tells him when the boy tells his boss to go to hell. He soon does the same, and meets a moralistic end.
Traffic (2000) broke many molds, with Michael Douglas (the son of another Hollywood icon) playing a macho US drug “czar” who can’t cope with his daughter’s drug problem, or his own alcoholism. James Brolin shined in a cameo role, but the Mexican violence was gratiutous.
In 2000, Bette Midler shamanically imbibed cannabis on film as Mel Gibson’s psychotherapist in What Women Want, but you won’t see that part of the scene today on TNT, where it is censored. Craig Ferguson’s charming film Saving Grace, in which Brenda Blethyn portrays a widow who must grow pot to save her home in a small English town, doublessly was the inspiration for the Showtime series “Weeds”.
Before it was released in 2002, the Scooby Doo movie was scrubbed of its marijuana references in an act reminiscent of the last-minute attempt to remove the marijuana pseudonym “muggles” from promotional materials for the first Harry Potter movie.
Arnold Schwarzenegger publicly encouraged the director of Pumping Iron, the documentary that launched him in Hollywood 25 years earlier to re-release it unedited — including a scene where he takes a drag off a joint. “I did smoke a joint and I did inhale,” he admitted, just before running for Governor of California.
Schwarzenegger regularly joked with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” about pot and in 2007 he told Britain’s GQ, “That is not a drug. It’s a leaf.” Still, he vetoed every pro-pot bill that passed his desk until he signed one that made possession only an infraction just before he left office.
In 2005, Keaton fittingly appeared as the matriarch of The Family Stone, in which Craig T. Nelson and Luke Wilson smoke together, and Wilson helps the uptight Sarah Jessica Parker to loosen up with a bit of the holy herb.
The 2006 film version of the John Fante novel Ask the Dust has Selma Hayek portraying a marijuana-smoking Mexican waitress, and Midler was back in 2008 for The Women, starring Meg Ryan. Ryan plays a woman who discovers her husband is cheating on her, and goes to a yoga retreat where she encounters Midler — who has procured a joint. Though Meg does imbibe in the movie proper, you’ll have to go to the deleted scenes on the DVD to hear her saying “I’m really stoned.” After this scene, her character finds her way to her own center.
The Women is a re-make of a Clare Booth Luce play. In the 1939 movie based on her play, the Midleresque character, played by Marjorie Main, often exclaims, “Smokin’ Oakum!” Oakum is made of the small fibers of the hemp plant and used to plug holes in the planks of ships.
Today’s crop of “bromances” featuring pot-puffing antiheroes are widely popular. Pineapple Express combined stoner comedy and “action” films for a monster 2008 hit by the talented Seth Rogen. Edward Norton, who’s made a career exploring the dicotomies of characters, followed in 2009 with Leaves of Grass about a pair of Oklahoma-born twins, one a classics professor and the other a pot dealer.
When the film Humboldt County was released in 2008, its poster was amended after MPAA censors objected to the lit “joint” depicted. It’s Complicated (2009) with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alex Baldwin, was rated “R” because it depicted pot smoking “without negative consequences.” In it, Streep and Martin smoke their first post-child-rearing joint and have a great time. (Martin calls it “feelin’ groovy.”)
More cannabis-consuming psychotherapists have been played by Anjelica Huston (Showtime’s “Huff”), F. Murray Abraham (The Wackness, 2008) and Kevin Spacey (Shrink, 2009).