TOMMY RETTIG INTERVIEW in the AUGUST 1981 Issue of HIGH TIMES
He was cute and a natural ham, so when a drama-teacher neighbor in his Manhattan apartment house suggested to Tommy Rettig's mother that he try out for the child lead in “Annie Get Your Gun,” it was no surprise that the five-year-old prodigy got the part. For two years he toured with Mary Martin from Peoria to Portland; typical accolades said the kid stole the show.
After that came a flurry of movie parts. His hair was dyed blond, and he got to show his stuff with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Van Heflin, Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum – 16 films in all, along with cameos in virtually every top TV show of the day. He was good, so good that Stanley Kramer cast him as the lead in “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” Now a cult classic, it was sandbagged by Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn because he wanted to punish Kramer for leaving the studio.
Rettig, meanwhile, managed to catch the eye of Rudd Weatherwax – the creator, owner and trainer of the canny canine, Lassie. Within weeks, Rettig was a star in his own right, as the boy sidekick to the fluffy heroine (though the dog was in real life a male – deus ex canina). The show "Lassie," was, for Rettig's four years on it, consistently near the top of the ratings. He had it made. Until... until he decided that he wanted to live the normal life of a '50s teenager and sued to get out of the series. He won the suit and became a world-champ drag-car racer, among other things. He married, sired two sons and tried to get back into show biz. It was a disaster – a crumb here, a crumb there – “I decided not to take it anymore. The casting calls, the cocktail parties where you hated everybody there, the meeting with agents, all of it sucked."
Rettig then took a dip into the pond of record producing and personal management. He was a mild success. Cashing in his Hollywood chips, Rettig moved his family to a farm in Northern California, seeking the idyll of farm life. Notoriety did not elude him, however: He was busted for growing pot in 1972. He pleaded guilty and got six months' probation; the IRS confiscated his property. The property was restored, eventually but the ordeal was costly, monetarily and psychologically. He lost his farm and, later on, his marriage dissolved. In 1975 he was arrested for conspiracy to import cocaine. Rettig and an associate were sentenced to five and a half years in prison. After a number of appeals, charges were finally dismissed in 1979; it seems the Drug Enforcement Administration had "exceeded the scope of the search warrant." In the meantime, Rettig held a series of menial jobs, while pursuing a career as a freelance photographer and aspiring screenwriter. In May of last year he was busted once again in an alleged “cocaine raid" near Los Angeles. Due to a lack of evidence, charges against him were never filed.
Currently a successful businessman in Los Angeles, TOM (“I've hated Tommy since I was thirteen”) Rettig is an avowed champion of “recreational drugs." Over several bottles of the exquisite Peruvian delectable, Pisco, Rettig discussed with High Times interviewer Ken Kelley his experiences as a child star, and his feelings about the state of drugs in America.
HIGH TIMES: You were, what, five years old when you started in show biz?
RETTIG: Yeah, "Annie Get Your Gun," 1947. Two years on the road, thirty-seven states.
HIGH TIMES: Was it fun?
RETTIG: Yeah, a ball I loved living out of a train, doing one-nighters, seeing the country, getting stuck in a flood in Oklahoma, being fawned on by everyone in the troupe.
High Times: What were your favorite gigs?
Rettig: When I was ten – we're jumping ahead a bit – I did “The 5, 000 Fingers of Dr. T.” Dr Seuss wrote it, Stanley Kramer produced it, and Hans Conried played the villain. I was the narrator of the film. There was this gigantic premiere in New York at the Criterion Theater. Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were there. I was escorted by Marilyn Monroe! A national tour was planned. Next night I got the call to fly home. That was it. It played a week and closed. That was my only starring role in a feature motion picture.
HIGH TIMES: Right after you shot it you did “River of No Return” with Monroe, right?
RETTIG: Yeah, and when I got the role I was a lot more excited about being with her husband, Joe Dimaggio, than her. Robert Mitchum, too. I was real worried about
Marilyn, worried that I'd get excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Or at least spend a whole lot of time in purgatory. I was still very, very Catholic. I was scared to death about it. I was too embarrassed to tell her that, but I did want to talk to a priest first – “Hey, Father, can I really do this script?" But it was great; I had a ton of fun. I was eleven at the time and she felt threatened by all the other adults in the show-biz world, or at least that's how it seemed to me. We used to travel for forty-five minutes a day in this train to go to location – she had the caboose so she wouldn't have to be with all the other people. This was way up north in the Bow River in Canada. I was the only one allowed in the caboose, because I was just a kid. We kind of hung out together during the picture. She'd always play with me.
HIGH TIMES: Oh yeah?
RETTIG: I'd go see her at night and we'd read scripts together and play cards and talk; we'd play word games. She was real smart, real nice, and real sweet. The first night I ever saw her without her makeup on, without any phoniness – she just had on this terrycloth robe, towel on her hair – she looked stunning, more spectacular than in any pictures I'd ever seen her in. They always piled tons of makeup on her to make her in a certain way, and she was really a beautiful, sensual woman in her own right.
HIGH TIMES: So you developed a rather special relationship with her?
RETTIG: Yeah. I took her side in all of the hassles on the set. I kind of felt that I was protecting her, you know. I had this terrible crush on her by the end of the picture.
HIGH TIMES: You stopped thinking about purgatory, did you?
Rettig: Yeah, I didn't keep too much in touch with her after that, because, after all, I was a kid, prepubescent and all. She did consent to be my date to the opening of “5,000 Fingers” though, and what a thrill that was. I'd call her up from time to time and she was always real glad to hear from me.
HIGH TIMES: So how did you get the "Lassie" tryout?
RETTIG: I got it off of “5,000 Fingers”. There was this little shaggy dog on it, and Frank Weatherwax was working the dog. One day we were all sitting around, and Frank said, listen, my brother Rudd just got the rights back from MGM for Lassie, and said have your agent check into it. I did, and I went for a screen test. Three of us came through the screen test. We each had to spend a week out at Lassie's ranch, and whoever got along best with the dog got the part.
HIGH TIMES: So Lassie selected you, in fact?
RETTIG: Yeah, dog was this man's best friend, for sure. We lasted on the show for four years. It was number two to "I Love Lucy" for at least two out of the four years, back and forth for the different weeks. We got an award during the show – an Emmy for "Best Children's Series" in 1955, and I got the Billboard Award for Best Actor in a Network Children's Television Show – Billboard wasn’t just musical back then, and it was a prestigious award.
HIGH TIMES: You also got to meet Nixon back then?
RETTIG: Yeah. It was great. My mom was a Democrat and I was scared to death that she was gonna blow it. First I was going to hell with Monroe, and now to Republican hell with Nixon. We were supposed to be guests of Eisenhower for the week – but Ike had his heart attack and so we got to be Tricky Dick's guests. The whole cast – me, Jan Clayton, George Cleveland... and of course, Lassie! I got this picture auto-graphed to me from Nixon, shaking hands with the bastard. I had it up in my house as a kid, and then, as I became more politically aware, I started hiding it deeper and deeper in my archives. When he got elected, I almost buried it. But when Watergate happened, I put it back on my wall.
HIGH TIMES: Was it tough having a regular relationship with your peers, you being a movie star and all?
RETTIG: A whole lot. The kids put you on a pedestal. I didn't like it. I wanted to have a normal childhood. Normal relationships. My mom really did a lot for that. She encouraged me to have friends out of the business.
HIGH TIMES: Why did you get out of "Lassie"?
RETTIG: We sued the producers of the show for four years in a row. One year they put out a Lassie doll with my picture on it and paid me no royalties. They owned the name Lassie and they owned the name of my role, Jeff Miller. We took them to court and they had to either take my picture off or pay me a royalty, so they took the picture off. Another year we took them to court because they told us they were going to pay my salary in savings bonds: "We owe Tommy ten thousand dollars so we'll pay him seventy-five hundred dollars and in three years it'll be ten thousand dollars." Unbelievable shit. So, in the last year, the whole cast sued for release from our contracts. It didn't upset the producer at all: "I've still got the dog, don't I" And he did. That's all it took. I'm now syndicated under "Jeff's Collie," and, of course, I make not one cent in residuals.
HIGH TIMES: Hooray for Hollywood. You did "Burns and Allen." What was it like?
RETTIG: Look, I did almost all the hit shows. They were all just another gig. You go there, you get your script, you say some lines, Gracie Allen says some lines, people laugh, George Burns says some lines, people laugh, show ends, you ask for their autograph, pick up your check and go home.
High Times: Fun?
RETTIG: It was work.
HIGH TIMES: Wasn't it something of a thrill, though?
RETTIG: Of course it was. It was a thrill to meet George and Gracie; it was a thrill to meet Jimmy Stewart, Victor Mature, and Bob Mitchum. All of 'em...
HIGH TIMES: Mitchum. He had been busted for pot in 1947. That was before you worked with him.
RETTIG: He also got busted on the set when we were doing “River of No Return”. He was driving to work one day and got popped. I don't remember that much about it except that he didn't show up for a couple of days. My mom reminded me that he'd been arrested for marijuana. Marijuana. Boy, I thought that was just terrible. How could this great man do this to his life? I pictured him laying in a gutter sticking a needle of very fine green powder up his arteries. When he came back to the set, his eyes weren't even red. Of course, he never talked about it, and I never mentioned it. I mean, what would I say? "Hey, Bob, got any good stash?"
HIGH TIMES: You did some guest appearances on talk shows then.
RETTIG: Yeah. I did Art Linkletter about four times. He gave me the Gold Star Milky Way Award for Best Child Actor – I got it four times in a row. It's somewhat ironic, you see, because his daughter, Diane, jumped out a window years later, and Art blamed it on the fact that she'd dropped LSD six months earlier. Ironic, to me, because of my later drug charges which we'll get into shortly, right?
HIGH TIMES: In time, right. But let's continue with the chronology. When you were with Lassie, you did some guest appearances with said dog, no?
RETTIG: We'd do all kinds of personal appearances. Hospitals, charities, The Canadian National Exhibition with Ed Sullivan, Jesus, all kinds.
HIGH TIMES: How many Lassies were there when you were on the show?
RETTIG: There were three dogs. Just like any actor. There was the actor you saw that did everything on screen. Then there was the double, who did the stuff like going through windows and off of trucks-he was always in bandages. And there was Laddie, the easy stand-in. Plus I had a stand-in and a double, who was a midget.
HIGH TIMES: A midget?
RETTIG: Who’re they gonna get, Wilt Chamberlain? Of course l had a midget they didn't want another kid they had to put through school.
HIGH TIMES: So by day you're this sweet little farm boy playing fetch with the dog and by night you're smoking cigarettes and getting drunk.
RETTIG: Yes, there was nothing else to do to get you high. I mean, there was, but white kids didn't hear about it. I wanted to go to regular high school- it looked like a lot of fun. We shot ''Lassie'' during the summer, six days a week, and I couldn't go to parties on Friday nights. I was just starting to get heavily into girls and cars and cigarettes and booze, and I wanted to have a normal chance to have fun.
HIGH TIMES: So what was your new high school like?
RETTIG: Well, I went to school with Jan and Dean, Ryan O'Neal, some of the Beach Boys we all use to party together. We raised a lot of hell. We had garbage fight our senior year. Two clubs at University High decided to have a fight one night, the night of the 1959 UCLA Homecoming. And it was all in good fun. You know-the '50s, very much a stereotype of what you think of the '50s as. Five years later it would have been called a riot and we would have all been put in jail. It was an enormous fight-we turned over a paddy wagon. We kind of demolished Westwood. It was fun. And they canceled homecoming for five years after that.
HIGH TIMES: Wasn't it about then that you met your wife, Darlene?
RETTIG: Yeah, I met her right after I graduated-1959. We got married that December I was eighteen, she was fifteen. My son Tom came in the first year. I wanted to live life as a normal guy I wanted to know what real life was like. I sold men's clothes, l delivered flowers.
HIGH TIMES: Why?
RETTIG: Because it was normal.
HIGH TIMES: So your idea of a good time was selling Fuller Brushes?
Rettig: I just wanted to have a chance at the real world. Then I found out through working a series of straight jobs that straight jobs suck!
HIGH TIMES: How could you not have known that?
RETTIG: I'd been told that, but how could l know that? In show biz, everybody took pride in their work-even the grips-and it seemed fascinating. You carry the wires, you lay 'em down right, you're part of the team and you can look at the movie once it's made and say hey I had a hand in that. But you sell fourteen pairs of Levis and you go home that night and it doesn't make you feel like cracking open the champagne.
HIGH TIMES: So you gave up the real world?
RETTIG: Well, l tried to. I've been pushed back into it at various stages, through necessity not choice.
HIGH TIMES: When did you try to get back into acting?
RETTIG: When I was about twenty. Once in a while there was some TV offer and I’d take it. I had prints made up of me in all different kinds of poses. Rick Nelson, James Dean, Elvis, Fabian-anything, I'd try it. But I was still the sweet young kid from “Lassie”.
HIGH TIMES: But no breakthroughs?
RETTIG: I turned down some sleazy features. I had a three-picture deal in Europe and turned that down. I didn’t want to be typecast. Anyway right after “Lassie” I got into the music business. I had some offers to make a record-Ricky Nelson was doing it, after all. But even in “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T” my voice was dubbed because l couldn’t t carry a tune.
HIGH TIMES: That never stopped Ricky Nelson.
RETTIG: Well, that's what they told me, but I've always been a perfectionist in my work and I wouldn't let them release what I'd cut. We cut like four or five tunes. The one they wanted to release was called “An Organ, a Candle, and a Bible.”
HIGH TIMES: Sounds like the background music to a Joan of Arc orgy
RETTIG: Well, it just sucked. Then l learned to play guitar and l started writing songs and my mother formed for me a publishing business, so we started publishing and managing artists. We had Jackie DeShannon, Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, Tommy Sands, the Tokens. Date Records, that was my label. The Tokens were an integrated group, and back then Vegas wouldn't touch 'em. They played clubs in Oxnard and things like that.
HIGH TIMES: So you gave up the music biz?
RETTIG: I was really bummed out, spending four grand on a session and making a dollar twenty-five. I had two kids and a wife I loved, but I couldn't get sufficient work in the business I'd trained for all my life-acting. I took it all very personally and it gave me a lousy self-image. I was still thought of as a kid actor even though I was in my mid twenties. I mean, the only reason you're here now is that I was the kid on “Lassie.” I'm still the ''Lassie Kid". And ten years ago it was worse. When they were doing beach party movies there had to be a degree of sexuality and a degree of delinquency that I had not portrayed. And though l knew I could-was, in fact, in real life, like that -I wasn't cast in those roles. I tried out for them, but I'd hear ''no'' a lot. It was the worst period of my life. I had all this gigantic acceptance as a kid, and all of a sudden there was this monumental rejection. They were rejecting this image of a kid on ''Lassie'', not me as an actor. It really pissed me off-producers had this general impression that whatever talent and gifts you had learned how to use as a kid, as soon as you were twenty-one it dried up. That was for boys. Girls were a different story. They can go from cute to gorgeous.
HIGH TIMES: So child acting is as bad as it's made out to be?
RETTIG: Yeah, it's the nature of the business. It's nobody's fault. My mother tried to protect and warn me, but even when you're warned, it's devastating. I was totally devastated for four years in the mid '60s when l tried to buck the tide. I was in my mid twenties. I'd been trying and trying to get some work. In 1965 I got a series, a daytime soap opera on ABC--"Never Too Younger". I bought a house with a swimming pool. I was making five hundred dollars a week-I'd made twenty-five hundred dollars a week the last year of ''Lassie", but it was still good bread. The show lasted nine months. By 1968 I was making a thousand dollars per week but only doing four weeks the entire year. But they were good weeks!
HIGH TIMES: When did you start getting into drugs?
RETTIG: That question, although I know what you're getting at, it peeves me. I don't like the term "drugs" period. It's not adequate. There's a big difference between somebody who does acid on weekends and somebody who takes downers every day. When somebody says to me! ''That guy's on drugs'' I want to know what he's on, and is he using or abusing.
HIGH TIMES: You mean it's like saying? "That guy's political". Does that mean he's a Republican or a Communist?
RETTIG: Exactly. Anyway after ''Never Too Young'' ended in 1966, it was really the pits for me.
HIGH TIMES: You still believed in God and martinis then?
RETTIG: Yes, I must say, but in reverse order. A lot of my friends were fooling around with drugs then. The Beatles had already been out for a few years, hair was growing longer and marijuana started to show up at parties and so on. I had always turned it down-to me, smoking pot was absolutely the worst thing in the world. I thought of it as an addiction, and all my friends who smoked it, I felt they really needed help. I felt they were sick.
Meanwhile, I'm downing eight scotches a night. It was, "Yeah, I just drink socially'' while throwing up on your shoes. It didn't make any sense, but it was what I’d been taught and I was scared to death of ''drugs''. To me, marijuana was the first step, and that's it.
HIGH TIMES: Did you think back to Bob Mitchum?
RETTIG: I thought more back to Huntz Hall. One of my “Annie'' reviews had been on the same page where, right beneath my review, there was an item about Hall getting busted for marijuana. He was one of the original Dead End Kids. And I remember looking at the review and then my mom pointing out, ''Look at this, this kid actor caught with marijuana and it ruined his life”. She didn't know enough at the time to say that the only reason everything was ruined was because of the laws- that it wasn't the ingredients in the pot that ruined his life.
HIGH TIMES: When did you begin questioning that attitude?
RETTIG: Well, stories about pot had been appearing more and more in print and I was a big fan of the Beatles ,.... But anyway aside from alcohol and nicotine, LSD was the first drug l ever took. I read a lot about it, and it wasn't illegal and it wasn’t just getting high and there seemed to be some reason for taking it. Some psychological growth could occur. I went to a lecture by Dr Barbara Brown, who first coined the term biofeedback and she was doing a lot with psychedelics back then. I volunteered to be in one of her experiments with LSD. It was the most beautiful experience of my life. The next day I sold my guns and bought a strobe light.
HIGH TIMES: You collected guns?
RETTIG: Just a few tiny little guns. (LAUGHS) I used to kill squirrels.
HIGH TIMES: Not narcs?
RETTIG: No comment. (LAUGHS) Anyway she suggested to me that I might want to try marijuana. So the next day I found myself with my ''addict'' pothead friends. I smoked about an ounce of pot in one of those floor hookahs. Shortly thereafter I built a kaleidoscope projector for film effects and we'd all sit around and listen to Sgt. Pepper while toking down. I became a ''drug addict'' myself. My career was already ruined. I had nothing to lose.
HIGH TIMES: Did you still believe in God after taking LSD?
RETTIG: Well, not as a Catholic, but sure. My experience was a very religious one. That's what I went into LSD looking for, having read Aldous Huxley's “Heaven and Hell” and Alan Watts's “The Joyous Cosmology”. Acid wasn't getting a whole lot of bad press at the time, and as I saw the whole bad-press thing happen, I became aware that the government had done a whole lie on all the other benign drugs as well. It became clear to me that the government wanted no real drug education.
HIGH TIMES: So how did acid and marijuana change your life?
RETTIG: About my fourth or fifth acid trip I had a really bad one, up against the wall for four days, four nights, paranoid introspective, bad self-image, fighting a lot with reality and unreality and wanting things to be one way versus the way they were. I made one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, and I said that's it, I'm going to stop acting for a period of time.
Out of necessity not choice, I wound up with my own production company, Potpourri Productions. I had that from 1967 to '71. Won a few awards for my quality, produced over a hundred TV commercials and business films-all L.A. stuff.
HIGH TIMES: So then what?
RETTIG: In 1971 I went to Peru with a couple of friends of mine.
HIGH TIMES: Why Peru?
RETTIG: Because cocaine was starting to happen then, and we envisioned it being like the very early days of marijuana, like going to Mexico in the 60’s. And in fact it wasn't like that. But I’d just always been involved in the cultural phenomena of drugs, ever since I took LSD. I got back from the Peru trip in early December. I turned thirty and my mother died. Boom-boom back to back. I sold my Porsche and with the money from that and some money I'd saved I bought a farm in San Luis Obispo.
HIGH TIMES: How'd you make money?
RETTIG: I raised organic crops. Several acres of walnuts alone. Contrary to popular belief the pot I was caught growing on the farm I wasn't growing for income.
HIGH TIMES: How much were you caught with?
RETTIG: About four hundred plants.
HIGH TIMES: Each of them personally useful, huh?
RETTIG: See, I'd never had any experience growing marijuana before, and . . . (laughs) I had a tractor and what can I say I grew rows of corn, rows of tomatoes and rows of dope. Anyway one day my younger son, Deane, comes into my room and says, ''Dad, there's a whole bunch of cops at the door who want to talk to you". He was thirteen at the time.
HIGH TIMES: What raced through your mind?
RETTIG: First thing? "Good. There goes the Lassie image." Really, they had a warrant, and they arrested me and Darlene. The kids are crying and it's like oh shit who can we call? So we called the neighbors next door- turned out later they were the ones who'd snitched us off to the cops. We didn't know until we came home, after they took care of our kids all night, and they told us. Two grand bail. I was just charged with cultivation, not sale.
HIGH TIMES: Cultivation of ten zillion pounds?
RETTIG: I have an enormous appetite. I copped a plea to possession, got a year’s probation and a five-hundred-dollar fine. But this was during Nixon's War on Drugs, remember. So one sunny day this IRS agent comes to the door and hands me a tax bill for fifteen thousand dollars. He said, ''Well this is December and you were caught with thirty pounds. We figure you had thirty pounds in Novembers and thirty pounds in October”, and so on. That's the way they computed it and they went all the way back for that year on a per-joint street-sale value. They towed my tractor, put a lien on my farm, and took my car off to storage. Nine months later they matter-of-factly said ''Sorry we're wrong, here's your tractor back”. It cost me about thirty-five hundred dollars to get it ironed out, not including lost revenue.
So then I moved to Morro Bay and set up a photography studio there. Photography had always been something of a living for me- I’m good at it and whenever l need a few bucks l can always earn a living at it. I shot weddings, portfolios, nature work. I paid my dues. And one of the guys I had met through these friends had been a pot smuggler. He was about to expand his operation by smuggling cocaine from Peru. I said to him, ''Hey you want to document this, you want to do it right? Let me go with you and I’ll document it.'' The cocaine trail still hadn't been covered, and I'd been to Peru before, and I was fascinated by it. I had an opportunity to travel with a smuggler and document the entire episode. I checked with a lawyer first who assured me that mere presence is not a crime.
HIGH TIMES: Who did you go with?
RETTIG: I'm glad you asked that, because the guy turned out to be a snitch. His name is Clifford Welsh. I've been waiting five years to get that name into print. I made two trips with him, one at the beginning of 1974, the other at the end of the year. I wasn't able to talk about this before because the case was pending. Clifford Welsh is tall, blond he's from Southern California and he's got a perforated septum.
I went down there the first time with him and his girl friend. He had this hollowed-out chessboard that his girl friend was gonna bring back with the coke inside. He was gonna buy the stuff, he had the connections. And as soon as we got down there the two of them just went crazy. They started tooting all the coke they could get, and they bought about two kilos.
HIGH TIMES: Did you indulge?
RETTIG: Well, of course.
HIGH TIMES: Did you like it?
RETTIG: Yes and no. l think it's overpriced and overrated. It's a pleasant feeling, but now I don't use it because I find I’m as high on coke as when I'm not high on anything. I have to tell you the truth: l feel better when I'm straight.
HIGH TIMES: Anyway Peru. .
RETTIG: We were all staying in the same room and they were taking a lot of downers, coke, and partying all the time. I went down there to work. We had had this understanding whereby no coke was supposed to be brought to the room at any time. ''Yeah we'll move it to another room tomorrow'' blah blah blah. After about a week I picked up my gear and split. It was just a horrible time.
Apparently there was a great deal of heat they'd picked up while they were down there, because the night I left for the airport I paid the hotel bill and I was held in the lobby while two men went up and searched the room and then went through all my luggage. Normally you get on a bus with a whole lot of other passengers; I was the only one on this bus. It was really ''Midnight Express'' except that I had no dope, only I sure had a lot of film. And there were pictures of everybody tooting and so on.
Then I got on the plane-I was really wired and tired at the same time-spaced out and feeling bad. I put my head against the window and I heard this conversation going on around me. ''Where do you think he's got it hid? I know he's got it on him. It wasn't in the camera case.” “Did you count his money?” ''Yeah, we did that.” Here I am under surveillance. After we were in the air, I asked to speak to the captain of the plane. I asked him what my rights were as a citizen.
I finally took all my film and asked the stewardess to watch me because l didn't want to get accused of doing something else and with the bathroom door open I flushed all the film down the toilet after exposing it to the light. There was a cursory inspection at customs with the DEA agents, or whatever agency was doing it, right behind. I got home and slept for a week.
Nothing much happened for the rest of the year. Near the end of the year those guys were going back down-
HIGH TIMES: Which guys?
RETTIG: Guys Clifford knew. They were more independent of Clifford but in the same business. They were going down on another run, and by this time I wanted to do more than document the smuggling trip. I wanted it to be a complete cocaine book.
Because during 1974 smuggling got a lot of press-how it was done et cetera. The government even released figures on the most common smuggling routes and which way they went and where there were computers and where there weren't. If anybody wanted to find out how to smuggle they had simply to read the government reports.
The DEA journal in particular-it would outsell HIGH TIMES if it were sold on newsstands. Anyway just before we left in late '74, the guy who put the deal together was approached by Clifford. Clifford told him he could get stuff for five-hundred-dollars- a-kilo less and the guy was only buying five or six kilos-three thousand dollars, certainly not worth jeopardizing the trip, but he agreed Clifford could come.
HIGH TIMES: Were you pissed?
RETTIG: I was against it the whole time, but I ended up going to Miami with him, to board a plane for Peru via Colombia. I really wanted to do what I saw as a pioneering book, and I'd already put so much effort into it.
I stopped off in Bogotá, and spent three days with some friends of mine who were teaching down there. I was planning to stay two weeks or so in Lima-everybody who goes down spends time there so it doesn't look suspicious. By the time I got to Lima, they'd already sent Cliff home. The government guys who were going to deal the coke told our people that if Clifford was involved, there was no deal. So I never even saw him in Peru on that trip-an important point, because it later became count five in my indictment.
I get home without a hitch, and like five months later I get this call at home. ''Hey if you got any shit in the house, better get rid of it. The feds are on their way right now”. April 3, 1975, a date I'll never forget. It was a setup-they expected me to come running out of the house with fifty kilos of coke. Two minutes later the feds kicked my door down and found me flushing a pound of marijuana that I had just bought down the toilet. As you may know a pound of marijuana doesn't just go down the toilet-it sits on the water.
HIGH TIMES: What had happened?
RETTIG: Turns out Clifford had come back and gotten busted off of another deal. He was a courier for a large drug-distribution family out of Tijuana. He was doing some running for them and got popped. Apparently he never even saw a lawyer, just rolled right over and started talking. And when my name came up, the feds saw an opportunity for some publicity because the DEA loves publicity almost as much as putting people in jail. In fact, if you have name value, it's worth a lot more than jail. There were five counts altogether and I was charged in three of them: conspiracy to smuggle cocaine; conspiracy to possess a controlled substance and conspiracy with the intent to distribute it. Six DEA agents searched my house from morning till night and they came up with nothing-absolutely no dope. I was indicted in October. I sold most of my possessions so I could prepare for the case. I started writing my autobiography which I'd called ''From Dogs to Drugs”. I wanted to make a publishing deal for some money. No interest.
HIGH TIMES: Did you think you were gonna beat the rap?
RETTIG: Yeah, because there was not one speck of cocaine produced as evidence of anything. And the only evidence they have of any illegal activity is a snitch. But in a conspiracy all they need is corroboration of an overt act. Clifford said I went to Peru with him to smuggle cocaine.
I was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to smuggle from the two trips I'd made with Clifford-even though on the second one, again, he wasn't even there The judge gave me five and a half years in prison. Five years was on the last count which was the most likely to be thrown out on appeal, precisely because Clifford couldn't testify to my being with him in Peru. And he gave me ten years with nine and a half suspended on the first trip to Peru with Clifford, with the six months to be served in a county facility. We figure he did that to appease the media-you don't just get six months for smuggling coke. Four years later I won my appeal and it made it all moot since the government decided to drop the case.
HIGH TIMES: What did you do for the four years you were in legal limbo?
RETTIG: In a way it was terrible and in a way it was wonderful. I'm under arrest and technically facing time in jail, so most employers won't hire me because if the decision comes down against me I'm gone. I worked as a shipping clerk at a film distribution company for two years and I sold tools over the telephone for a year. And I'd had to plead guilty to a state charge of possession of the pot I was trying to flush down the toilet- I didn't have money to fight it properly. I got two years' probation. Turns out my probation officer had spent four years as a kid watching ''Lassie''. All he wanted to talk about was what was it like working with the dog, with Marilyn-an hour every week talking show biz.
HIGH TIMES: So what was the good news about that time?
RETTIG: I developed a treatment for a movie that I really like. It's called “Drugs” and it's about the day that drugs are legalized, Due to economic pressures in America prohibitions don't work. We're seeing that now. The plot is that a Yale graduate student submits a thesis in economics on the legalization of recreational drugs as the one possible remedy out of our inflationary spiral because the prices could be lowered considerably. One of her professors is a part-time economic adviser to the president. Simultaneously the government completes this computer study showing that unless some major consumer item can be reduced by a very large amount in a very short period of time, there's no way to avoid the complete downfall of Western civilization. Capitalism is kaput. That is the only way that all drugs would get legalized overnight. Let's face it. People aren't ready to admit that yet, though, because too many fortunes are being made off drugs' being illegal.
It’s an opportunity to make a prodrug statement. It's an opportunity to put HIGH TIMES on film. See, what I’m not saying is that recreational drug use is desirable. What I am saying is that prohibition doesn't work. Period. Right now people don't want to talk about drugs-that was the issue of the 60's. There are more important issues, they say now between toots at cocktail parties. And hell, you go to any studio set, and half the people are snorting coke, smoking pot, taking Quaaludes in between takes.
I want to get controversial with this, make people think. The only thing that can happen is for drug users to come out of the closet.
There are at least forty million recreational drug users in the country. I mean where does the HIGH TIMES readership come from? You just read the interviews in HIGH TIMES and all these prominent people with something to lose, they're not saying, ''Yeah, I do a little acid on the weekends, snort a little coke after dinner, do a joint before bed.” They’re saying, “Yeah, sure, I used to use drugs, but I don't anymore”. The point is that recreational drug users have to unite the way black people, gay people and the women's movement did. The problem is that we've all ''gotten past'' that. Drugs are no longer ''real important.” Drugs can’t be that important. When drugs become imports is when you're abusing them. If you're simply using them, they're just another toy that's all.
HIGH TIMES: What drugs do you do now?
RETTIG: I smoke a little pot occasionally and I drink occasionally. Shit, that's that same answer you read in the HIGH TIMES interviews I was talking about before.
''Yeah, I smoke a little dope now and then, always less than an ounces It's precisely because of what's legal and what isn't that people have to come out of the closet and say ''Yeah I use all kinds of drugs . . .''
HIGH TIMES: What, then, is the meaning of life?
RETTIG: Life is a B movie. It's poorly written, badly cast, horribly directed, plotless, doesn't always have an ending-much less a happy one-and it drags on and on until you get pretty tired of the reruns after a while.