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Why Did Robert Mitchum Go to Prison?

Robert Mitchum was a prolific American actor who starred in over 125 films during his long career. Some of his most notable credits included classic films like The Night of the Hunter (1955), Cape Fear (1962), and The Yakuza (1974). However, in the late 1940s, Mitchum spent time in prison after getting caught up in a marijuana possession scandal. This article will examine the details and aftermath of Mitchum’s arrest and brief incarceration.

Background on Robert Mitchum

Robert Mitchum was born in 1917 and started acting in films in the early 1940s after working a variety of jobs during the Depression era. Some key facts about his career:

  • First major role was in war film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944).
  • Became known for playing anti-heroes and flawed but charismatic characters.
  • Major titles included Pursued (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957).
  • Known for musical calypso hits “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and “The Ballad of Thunder Road.”
  • Nominated for Academy Award for The Story of G.I. Joe (1945).

Mitchum had over 50 acting credits by the late 1940s when his arrest occurred. He continued acting regularly in films until the 1990s.

Arrest at Laurel Canyon Party

In September 1948, Robert Mitchum was arrested at actress Lila Leeds’ home in Laurel Canyon, California:

  • Police raided a party of about 15 people and found marijuana cigarettes being used.
  • Mitchum claimed the marijuana was not his and he did not know Leeds well.
  • Police charged Mitchum, Leeds, and two other partygoers with conspiracy to possess marijuana.
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The raid and Mitchum’s arrest made national headlines due to the actor’s fame. Possession of marijuana was more taboo at the time compared to alcohol use.

Trial, Conviction, and Sentencing

Mitchum immediately faced consequences from RKO Studios for tarnishing his star image with the drug arrest.

  • RKO cancelled his upcoming film Blood on the Moon and suspended him without pay for 6 months.
  • MGM also cancelled his role in their upcoming film.
  • Mitchum claimed he was framed and the marijuana was planted to set him up.

Mitchum opted not to take a plea deal and went to trial in November 1948.

  • Found guilty of conspiracy to possess marijuana by jury.
  • Sentenced to 60 days in the Los Angeles County Jail.
  • Also received 2 years probation.

The other three individuals arrested with Mitchum pleaded guilty and received similar sentences but without jail time.

Time Served and Aftermath

Robert Mitchum ultimately served about a month of his 60 day sentence at the Castaic Prison Farm:

  • Began serving time on November 9, 1948.
  • Was released on December 15, 1948 despite overcrowding.
  • Continued on probation for 2 years following release.

The brief prison stay did not dramatically impact Mitchum’s career long-term. He went on to appear in over 75 additional films over the next 40+ years. Some observers felt the arrest made Mitchum’s “bad boy” image even more appealing. But he still had to carefully rebuild his reputation after the damaging scandal.

Conclusion: Brief Jail Time but Long-Term Effects

In summary, screen icon Robert Mitchum served just a month in jail after his 1948 marijuana possession arrest and conviction. While his incarceration was relatively short, it still negatively impacted his career for several years due to the sensationalized drug charge. Mitchum had to work to rehabilitate his image and regain the trust of studios and the public. Nonetheless, the arrest remains just a minor footnote in Mitchum’s overall outstanding acting resume spanning more than 50 years. While earning him a “bad boy” reputation, the brief jail stint did not define Mitchum’s legacy.

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Timeline of Robert Mitchum’s Arrest and Conviction

September 1948Arrested for marijuana possession at party
November 1948Found guilty at trial, sentenced to 60 days
November 9, 1948Began serving sentence at Castaic Prison Farm
December 15, 1948Released after serving about 1 month
YearFilm Release
1948Rachel and the Stranger
1954River of No Return
1955Night of the Hunter
1962Cape Fear


In conclusion, screen legend Robert Mitchum served a brief but highly publicized jail sentence in late 1948 after being convicted for marijuana possession. While his incarceration was relatively short, it damaged his reputation for several years and nearly derailed his red hot acting career. However, Mitchum managed to recover and went on to have tremendous Hollywood success over the next four decades, appearing in over 125 feature films. His brief prison stint remains an interesting footnote in Mitchum’s overall outstanding resume but did not ultimately define his acting legacy.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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