the earliest days of hollywood and drug addictions -- 12/14/18

Today's selection -- from Tinseltown by William J. Mann. Hollywood in the early 1920s, the era of silent movies, was already the scene of rampant cocaine and morphine addictions, nowhere more than at Famous Players Films (later Paramount):

US Attorney Tom Green, [was] invited onto the Famous Players Studio lot [in Hollywood] by general manager Charles Eyton. Green was the federal attorney in charge of alcohol and narcotics control for the Los Angeles district. That Eyton had asked Green, a law enforcement official, to nose around inside their operation was an extraordinary move. Clearly the dope situation had gotten out of hand.

"In the more innocent days before the war, dope had been a source of humor on the screen. Douglas Fairbanks had played a jolly opium­-smoking detective in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. Everyone par­took. [Reporter] Adela Rogers St. Johns recalled [famed director] Cecil B. DeMille handing out a psychedelic combination of hyoscine and morphine at parties. But the war had institutionalized the drug traffic, and the prohibition of alco­hol had only made illicit drugs more popular -- a recipe for widespread addiction.

Silent film star Wallace Reid in a publicity portrait from the Famous Players-Lasky Studio, 1920.

By going to Green, Eyton was clearly trying to take care of the prob­lem before the press got wind of it. At Famous Players, dope had be­come a serious problem. [Silent film star] Wally Reid, he of the McFarlands and dashing public profile, was what the press commonly called a 'dope fiend.' The studio knew all about Reid's addiction and was paying for treatments from a string of doctors and therapists to get its big moneymaker off the stuff. Originally Reid's supply of morphine had been delivered by his chauffeur, who'd gotten it from a ring so deeply infiltrated into the studio that Charles Eyton was forced to call in Tom Green for help.

"And when Green showed up, one of the people Eyton suggested he speak to was [director] William Desmond Taylor.

"The director offered to tell the investigator everything he knew. 'It was then Green learned the extent to which the drug traffic had injected itself into the motion picture industry,' a newspaperman would report. Right away Green could see that for Taylor, this fight was personal. The problem went well beyond Famous Players, Taylor explained. 'One woman in particular,' working at another studio, 'was being pressed in every way' to keep up her expensive habit. This woman was 'a film star of the first magnitude,' Taylor told Green; it was clear that he cared a great deal for her. Taylor's determination, Green surmised, was 'not so much to wipe out the ring generally but to save the actress from the clutches of these parasites.' "



William J. Mann






Copyright 2014 by William J. Mann


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