Opium parties were supposedly the "highest" form of entertainment among the Hollywood set. Story after scandal story recounted orgies of drug taking - not just "dope," but sometimes marijuana and cocaine were included in the nights of forbidden pleasure. Not surprisingly, the story of foreign influences did not concentrate solely on what the stars were ingesting. Tales of drug dealing exposed fears not just of addiction but of literal foreign influence - corruption by the wiles of the East and south of the border ensnaring American bodies and minds.
Even a favorable investigation of the Hollywood scene could not avoid discussing drug rumors and legends. The New York Herald's Thoreau Cronyn attributed most of the drug use in Hollywood to extras and various "movie parasites." (Taylorology, v. 13) Still, his account goes into detail over the many different kinds of substances that could be consumed from the Hollywood drug market.
Cronyn attributed such behavior to a comedian who had never risen above a "low" moral start in life. (The article emphasizes that the comedian in question is no longer an active player in the movie business.) The rest of the article takes the same tone - attempting to debunk myths of "dope cults" while still admitting enough evidence to prove that, for the willing, Hollywood was a pretty good place for debauchery. Consider this denial of a "snow party":
An investigator whose word I have no reason to doubt told me he had
definite evidence of four of the more extreme parties. Three of them were
staged in Los Angeles hotels, the fourth in a private residence in Hollywood.
The first one brought together ten men and ten women. Some of them were drug
addicts. Liquor was provided by the host for everybody, and morphine and
cocaine, with hypodermic syringes, for those who craved them.
(Taylorology, v. 13)
This in 1922 - the heart of the Prohibition years.
A while ago we thought we had a good one when we heard of 'snow
parties' in an old country house in Hollywood which had been rented to a count
and sublet to others. The stars were supposed to gather there every night and
have a 'sniff' or two. We spent three or four nights around the house. There
were parties there, but it was only a mess of bootleggers."
(Taylorology, v. 13)
Most writers skipped to the "good stuff" instead of trying to confine drug abuse to the lower echelons of Hollywood. Ed Roberts basically listed every Hollywood star he knew of in a chapter called, simply, Dope! The list is preceded by the extremely thinly veiled story of "Walter" (really Wallace Reid, who actually died of his addiction), the man who throws wild dope parties while "snuffing" cocaine on the side.
Readers could enjoy the stories of the stars' orgies while looking down on their social evils. Even if they were not as successful as actors and actresses, they were morally pure at least - and they would avoid the end that Roberts penned for one of his addicts, whose "face is yellow as saffron."
There is a handsome home, closed temporarily, on a certain fashionable
street in Los Angeles, where if you could enter you would find the finest
equipped dope outfit in America.
Here come the players - mostly stars and near stars - to revel in
Poppyland; here are held high revels - or such was the case only a few months
ago - and here are the wildest of wild parties staged.
(Taylorology, v. 30)
Yet who was providing all this dope to the stars? Those
perfectly groomed gardens in Photoplay weren't growing rows of poppies. The supply of drugs was always attributed to foreigners. Since opium was the most popular drug (at least to write about), the Chinese were portrayed as the corrupters of Hollywood. China was already portrayed as a drug-ridden nation, and California's high Chinese population made it easy to pin all blame for drug consumption on the "mystic" atmosphere emanating from various Chinatowns. The lead to a story on Taylor's murder read:
||the exotic allure of opium|
Cronyn's Telegram article also brought Chinese ancestry into the debate on Hollywood immorality, mentioning the Chinese ancestry of opium. More salacious articles accused Chinatown dwellers of running "secret love cults" centered around opium consumption. Opium dealers were always referred to by their ethnicity - an example from the Chicago Tribune:
Sleepy-eyed mystic Chinatown awakened in a jabber of fright today as
sheriff's men and secret service agents swept through its narrow streets and
into its shadowy dens in search of the slayer of William Desmond Taylor.
(Taylorology, v. 26)
Mexicans were also influencing the drug culture. As cultures tended to be described by the (perceived) effects of their drugs, Chinese were "sleepy" and mystical. In the 1920s, the popular image of marijuana was that it made a user violent and supercharged - thus the "fiery" Mexican. Cronyn described Mexican involvement in the Hollywood drug trade.
"According to the Chinese, who was given immunity in exchange for his
information...The Chinese insists that these men had taken an oath of eternal love...With a further interview with the Chinese arranged, District Attorney
Thomas Woolwine announced that his aides would be ordered to call in every
moving picture star necessary to get at the truth of Taylor's death."
(Taylorology, v. 69)
Mexicans were not only peons, they were (by association) cowards who needed marijuana to work up their courage. They also seemed to have innate "evil propensities" that whites did not have (thus the "superior" race scorned the drug).
Marijuana is Indian hemp, sometimes called Mexican weed. It grows wild over much of the
Southwest as ragweed, which it resembles, does in the East...The Mexicans mix the dried leaves with tobacco and smoke them in cigarettes. The effect is inflammatory stimulation.
The marijuana excites the nerves, deadens fear, turns a coward into a
swashbuckler, accentuates evil propensities. It does not soothe or produce
pleasant dreams, and is scorned by the whites. Some cowboys have picked up
the habit from the Mexicans, and whatever use is made of marijuana in
Hollywood is restricted to punchers and peons.
(Taylorology, v. 13)
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the foreign drug trade was that it seemed to have become Americanized. The non-fully assimilated were, at least to the eyes of nativists, bringing in inferior influences to the nation.