Saturday, September 20, 2014

Myrna Loy and Marijuana

Loy (with back to camera) talks to a pothead with Columbo looking on. 
The 1972 season premiere of the popular TV show Columbo has an interesting exchange about marijuana, featuring movie queen Myrna Loy.

Loy plays a society lady who heads the local symphony board, interviewing a horn player who's been implicated in a murder. Asked about his shady associations, he says of his friends, "Well some of them have been busted for grass...I smoke grass sometimes, just like you drink gin. Didn't you ever have a drink of gin during prohibition when gin was illegal?" Her only response was, "Let's not get smart about how old I am."

Loy's earlier, exotic look in the pre-code days.
Born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montana in 1905, Loy was 28 when alcohol prohibition ended in 1933. She began her career as a dancer during the pre-production code silent film days when she played exotic femme fatales. According to Wikipedia, she was an extra in 1925's Pretty Ladies, in which she and fellow newcomer Joan Crawford entered hanging from a chandelier. In 1929, she played Princess Yasmani, who heads a band of muslim rebels in The Black Watch, and a dancer named Azuri in The Desert Song, which was scrubbed of its sexual innuendoes and homosexual themes before it was re-released later.

Loy is most known for playing the urbane Nora Charles in The Thin Man movies of the '40s, opposite William Powell as a hard-drinking, smooth-talking detective. In the 1932 film Jewel Robbery, Powell plays a thief who sends his marks into giggly submission by offering them his "herbal" cigarettes. "Now inhale deeply," he says to one victim. To another he says, "Two puffs and you'll be hearing soft music... the world will begin to revolve pleasantly."

Loy wasn't necessarily a pothead, but as demonstrated by her willingness to discuss grass (wearing bright green) in the Columbo episode, she was a human rights advocate. She was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and stood up against the HUAC Hollywood witch hunt. In later life, she assumed an influential role as Co-Chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. In 1948 she became a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, the first Hollywood celebrity to do so.

Columbo, which had a 13-season run, was conceived and written by Richard Levinson and William Link. In 1970, Levinson and Link penned the teleplay for the TV movie "My Sweet Charlie," starring Patty Duke as a bigoted, unwed pregnant teenager who encounters Charlie Roberts, a militant African American attorney falsely accused of murder, during a demonstration in rural Texas. The film was made on location in Port Bolivar, Texas.

According to Duke's autobiography, her friendship with Al Freeman Jr., who played Roberts, led to rumors of an affair. Marijuana was planted in Duke's Galveston hotel room by locals, though it was quickly determined not to belong to Duke. Texas governor John Connally intervened with local authorities to stop harassment of the production company and Duke (Source: Wikipedia). Freeman also appeared in Finian's Rainbow which Petula Clark said was fueled by "flower power." 

“Code of the West,” a documentary on the Montana medical marijuana debate that took center stage in the 2011 legislative session, premiered at the Myrna Loy Center in Helena, which sponsors live performances and alternative films for under-served audiences.

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