Thelma White, whose portrayal of a hard-boiled addiction queen in the 1936 movie Reefer Madness was largely forgotten until the film resurfaced in the 1970s as a cult classic, died of pneumonia on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005, at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. She was 94. Born in 1910, White was a carnival performer as a toddler, progressed to vaudeville, radio and movies, then worked as an agent and producer for many years. During her heyday as an actress, she appeared alongside such legendary performers as W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Red Skelton and Jack Benny. What secured her place in Hollywood history, however, was a movie so awful that its memory still made her shudder 50 years later. Reefer Madness was a low-budget propaganda film written by a religious group to broadcast the dangers of marijuana. It was relegated to the cinema waste heap for almost 40 years until 1972, when Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws discovered it in the Library of Congress archives and paid $297 for a print. He then screened it in New York as a benefit for the advocacy group, unwittingly launching it on the road to cult-film history.
Los Angeles Times, file
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