About Robert Mitchum
Born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum in Bridgeport, CT on Aug. 6, 1917, Mitchum's early life was as rough-and-tumble as the characters he would eventually play on screen. His father died in a rail yard accident when he was still an infant, and frequent discipline problems at school forced his mother to shuttle him between relatives in Delaware and New York. He dropped out of school shortly after 1930 and traveled the country via boxcar, working sporadically in all manner of jobs - including professional boxer, to which he attributed in part his most memorable physical feature - his heavy-lidded eyes - and serving a brief stint on a chain gang in Georgia for vagrancy. Mitchum also met a young woman named Dorothy Spence during this period, whom he would marry in 1940.
Mitchum eventually found his way to California, where he was inspired by sister Julie, a stage actress, to try his hand at performing. He joined the Players Guild of Long Beach, and supported himself as a stagehand, occasional actor, and even playwright and songwriter. After marrying Dorothy and the birth of their first child, son James (another son, Christopher, and a daughter, Petrania, would arrive in 1943 and 1954, respectively), Mitchum tried his hand at a 9-5 job with the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, but the monotony eventually forced him back into acting. He found initial success in a string of B-Westerns starring William Boyd as flawless good guy Hopalong Cassidy; Mitchum's broad build, deep voice and insolent expression made him a perfect heavy, which he essayed in countless pictures between 1942 and 1943. After a turn as a heroic co-pilot in "30 Seconds over Tokyo," RKO signed him to a seven-year contract, where he settled in as a lead in Westerns and war pictures at the lower tiered studio.
Mitchum's big break came as a war-weary lieutenant in "The Story of G.I. J " (1945), William Wellman's WWII biopic of correspondent Ernie Pyle's tenure with a combat unit in Italy. The film was a considerable success and won four Oscar nominations, including one for Mitchum as Best Supporting Actor. Surprisingly, it would be the only Academy nod in his long career. Mitchum himself was too busy to celebrate the nomination, having been drafted into the Army and serving time at Ft. MacArthur in California. He emerged in 1946 a bonafide leading man, and one on the cusp of a series of films that would define his acting career and screen persona.
Film noir gave Mitchum some of the best showcases for his talent, and his unique blend of strength, slow-burning sexuality and devil-may-care attitude helped to make him the personification of the noir hero. He starred in many of the genre's best efforts - from "The Locket" (1946), as a painter who discovers that his bride-to-be is a kleptomaniac and murderer; to the Western noir "Pursued" (1947), as an amnesiac cowboy on the trail of his family's killer; and "Crossfire" (1947), as an aimless demobilized soldier who discovers that a fellow ex-GI has committed a hate crime. His finest noir was Jacques Tourneur's "Out of the Past" (1947), in which he played a small town man whose sordid past comes back to haunt him in the form of a cold-blooded femme fatale (Jane Greer). A modest hit upon its release, the film was later praised as one of the genre's best by critics and film scholars, who singled out Mitchum as the perfect depiction of the noir anti-hero.
Mitchum's hot streak came to a brief halt in 1948 when he was arrested for possession of marijuana during a police sting operation on Hollywood parties. Mitchum was sentenced to a week in the county jail before serving a 43-day stretch at a prison farm, where he grinned for Life magazine photographers while mopping the penitentiary floors. While arrests of this nature were career disasters for most actors, Mitchum emerged from jail with his popularity intact, as evidenced by the success of the Western, "Rachel and the Stranger" and the John Steinbeck family drama "The Red Pony" (1948), which were both released after his sentence had been served. Since audiences perceived Mitchum as something of a bad boy on-screen, they were undoubtedly pleased to see that he was carrying out the role off screen as well.
Mitchum's popularity as an anti-hero stretched well into the 1950s. He was well partnered with Jane Russell in a pair of steamy crime dramas, "His Kind of Woman" (1951) and "Macao" (1952), which made much of the stars' considerable sex appeal; and appeared opposite Jean Simmons (in several films, most notably 1952's "Angel Face") and Marilyn Monr in the Western "River of No Return" (1955). In a career highlight, Mitchum tapped his menacing side for Charles Laughton's frightening thriller "Night of the Hunter" (1955) - a part which was incidentally Mitchum's favorite role - where his murderous con worked a fire-and-brimstone preacher façade (his monologue on the war between love and hate, illustrated by both words tatto d on his knuckles, is among the most memorable scenes in film history) while hot on the trail of two children who know the location of hidden loot. The film kicked off a new chapter in Mitchum's film roles - one that emphasized richer, more nuanced characters for the actor, including "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957) with Mitchum in a BAFTA-nominated turn as a WWII Marine shipwrecked with nun Deborah Kerr; "Home from the Hill" (1960), as a wealthy and cruel landowner who makes life miserable for his wife and son; and "The Sundowners" (1960), with Mitchum displaying a knack for accents as an Australian sheep rancher. Though never an Oscar winner, he did win the National Board of Review's award for Best Actor for the latter role.
Continuing his hot streak, Mitchum also made for a charming romantic lead opposite Shirley MacLaine in "Two for the Seesaw" (1962), and that same year sent chills up the audiences' collective spines as an unrepentant sex criminal who terrorizes lawyer Gregory Peck and his family in "Cape Fear" (1962). Mitchum also underscored his own cool quotient with the low-budget moonshine drama "Thunder Road" (1958), which he also co-wrote, produced, and allegedly directed - even crooning that film's twangy theme song, which went to #69 on the Billboard charts - and released an album of authentic calypso music, Calypso - Is Like So in 1957. His vocal opposition to the Vietnam War, combined with his declared interest in marijuana and general tone of disinterest, only solidified his high standing with hipsters.
By the mid-60s, the quality and quantity of Mitchum's movies began to wane - there were a few notable exceptions, like "El Dorado" (1966), Howard Hawks' remake of "Rio Bravo," with Mitchum as a drunken sheriff who helps John Wayne defend a town against unscrupulous cattlemen; and the Italian-lensed WWII drama "Anzio." But for the most part, Mitchum breezed through a string of forgettable films like the bizarre "Secret Ceremony" (1968) with Mitchum as one part of a perverse sexual triangle with Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow, "Villa Rides" (1968), and "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys" (1969). If Mitchum was bothered by the lack of substance in his projects, it certainly did not show on his face, but by the end of the decade, a certain degree of boredom could be detected in his performances. Mitchum reportedly considered retiring from film during this period and ironically, passed on a number of projects that might have buoyed his career, including "The Misfits" (1962), "Patton" (1970), "Dirty Harry" (1971), and later, "Atlantic City" (1980).
The tide turned for Mitchum in the 1970s, starting with a role as a schoolteacher who falls for the spoiled daughter of an Irish informant for the British Army in David Lean's "Ryan's Daughter" (1970). Though the film was not well received upon its release - and Mitchum clashed with Lean over his directorial style - the actor later regarded the picture and his performance as one of his best. A string of gritty crime dramas followed, helmed by a new breed of directors who grew up watching Mitchum's noir titles. He was a low-rent Boston crook who finds himself on the wrong end of the mob's attentions in Peter Yates' excellent "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973) and a retired detective sent to Japan to rescue a client's daughter from gangsters in Sydney Pollack's cult favorite "The Yakuza" (1974). He also shone as a near-perfect Philip Marlowe in "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975), and reprised the role three years later in Michael Winner's disappointing take on "The Big Sleep" (1978). His last interesting role in this late-career revival came with the film version of Jason Miller's play "That Championship Season" (1982), with Mitchum as the coach of a quartet of former high school basketball teammates who struggle to adjust to middle age and maturity.
Mitchum turned to television in the early 1980s and found steady work there, as well as a few genuine projects of quality. Most notable among these were the massive WWII miniseries "The Winds of War" (1983) and its sequel "War and Remembrance" (1988), for which Mitchum was top-billed as navy man Pug Henry, whose family is deeply involved in the events leading up to America's involvement in the war. Though he was 65 years of age at the time, Mitchum's presence lent the role and the project the right level of commanding presence, and he even managed a degree of his old, effortless cool in a slightly unbelievable romance with the decades-younger Victoria Tennant. Mitchum was also among the star-studded guest cast of ABC's sudsy Civil War miniseries "North and South" (1985), and played William Randolph Hearst opposite Virginia Madsen as Marion Davies in "The Heart-Davies Affair" (1985). There was an agreeable reunion with Deborah Kerr in "Reunion at Fairborough" (1985), about WWII sweethearts finding each other decades later, and Mitchum replaced old friend John Huston in his son Danny's largely ignored comedy "Mr. North" (1988). Mitchum even tried his hand at a weekly series with the sodden "A Family For J " (NBC, 1990), as a homeless man who is recruited by four orphans to play their father.
Mitchum and his original "Cape Fear" co-stars Gregory Peck and Martin Balsam appeared in small roles in Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake; Mitchum made the most of his scenes as a downtrodden detective and seemed to stand up well against Robert DeNiro's amped-up version of Max Cady (the duo had appeared together once before in 1976's "The Last Tycoon," and Mitchum had reportedly poked considerable fun at DeNiro's Method leanings). He also lent his distinctive tone to narrate George Cosmatos' troubled Western "Tombstone" (1993) - he was originally slated to play Charlton Heston's role in the film, but was unable to carry out the role due to back problems. He also gave a lively performance as a robber baron of sorts who drives Johnny Depp's character into the wilderness in Jim Jarmusch's eccentric Western, "Dead Man" (1995).
Mitchum kept working steadily up until the end of his life, though the projects were largely dreary - including a ghastly "Airplane"-style (1980) comedy called "Backfire!" (1995), and the Family Channel series "African Skies" (1991-94). He could also be heard frequently on television as the spokesperson for the National Beef Council. Still, the current efforts could not erase the stellar body of work he had created. For his onscreen efforts, Mitchum received numerous accolades during this period, including a lifetime achievement award from the National Board of Review and the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press. Mitchum died in 1997 from lung cancer and emphysema - one day before his "Big Sleep" co-star James Stewart - with one project still unscreened - a biopic of James Dean titled "Race with Destiny" (1997), for which he played "Giant" (1955) director George Stevens. His ashes were scattered by wife Dorothy and longtime friend Jane Russell. In addition to his legacy of classic films and his enduring screen presence, he left behind a generation of offspring who followed in his footsteps, including grandchildren Bentley and Carrie Mitchum.
|Dorothy Mitchum. married in 1940; neighbor from Delaware|
|Felton High School, Delaware|
|Earliest TV appearances included acting as a substitute host on the NBC anthology drama series, "The Dick Powell Show" in the early 1960s|
|Starred as Marcus Dutton on the Family Channel adventure drama series, "African Skies"|
|Worked for a time as a coal miner in Libertyville, PA and as a prizefighter in Sparks NV during the Depression|
|Lived with aunt and uncle on a farm in Woodside, DE|
|Moved to Manhattan with family|
|Moved to Rising Sun, DE; ran away from home|
|Hopped a freight train; ended up in Savannah, GA, where he was arrested sentenced to 180 days on a Georgia chain gang for vagrancy; got away after a month|
|Family moved to Long Beach, CA|
|Joined Long Beach Players Guild; stage debut in "Rebound"|
|Appeared in LBPG productions including "The Petrified Forest," "Stage Door", "Dear Octopus", and "The Ghost Train"|
|Wrote material for astrologist Carroll Righter; worked as a gag writer for comedian Benny Rubin; contributed some ideas and material to a nightclub act performed by his sister Julie Mitchum; worked at the Lockheed aircraft factory on the night shift|
|Wrote several one-act plays, including "Trumpet in the Dark" (date approximate)|
|Acted in the Guild production of "The Lower Depths"; was employed for a time in a shoe store|
|Film acting debut in "Leather Burners"|
|Appeared in over a dozen films|
|Played first leading and first-top billed role in the RKO B Western, "Nevada"|
|Signed long-term contract with RKO|
|Served for a short time with Army as medical assistant (Fort MacArthur, CA)|
|Supporting role in "The Story of G.I. Joe" helped make him a star; received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor|
|Earliest radio work included "We Were Expecting You at Dakar" for "Radio Reader's Digest" and a radio version of his feature film "Till the End of Time" for the "Lux Radio Theater"|
|Received 60 day jail sentence and two years' probation for "conspiracy to possess marijuana" (guilty verdict dropped by appeals court in 1951)|
|Left RKO; last film there, "She Couldn't Say No"|
|Release of "Foreign Intrigue," made by Mitchum's own production company, Mandeville Films; subsequent companies included Bandido Productions ("Bandido" 1956); DRM Productions ("Thunder Road" 1958) and Talbot Productions ("Cape Fear" 1962)|
|Made first of four acting appearances opposite Deborah Kerr, "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison"|
|Released hit song, "Mama Look a Boo-boo"|
|Had a second chart single with "The Ballad of Thunder Road" from the film, "Thunder Road", which also marked his first screen credit as executive producer|
|Was an interviewee for the TV documentary, "The Legend of Marilyn Monroe"|
|First film made in a country whose primary language was not English, the Italian-produced "Anzio", shot in both English-language and Italian-language versions|
|Turned down the title role in the feature film biography, "Patton"; reportedly suggested George C. Scott for the role (date approximate)|
|Made TV acting debut in the TV-movie, "One Shoe Makes It Murder"; Mitchum filmed "The Winds of War" earlier but this movie aired first|
|First TV miniseries, "The Winds of War", as Victor "Pug" Henry|
|Acted opposite his son Christopher Mitchum and Christopher's son Bentley as three generations of a family in the TV-movie, "Promises to Keep"|
|Was reunited with his co-star of three features, Deborah Kerr, for the TV-movie, "Reunion at Fairborough"|
|Took over as lead of the CBS TV series, "The Equalizer", for two episodes due to heart attack suffered by regular star Edward Woodward|
|Reprised the role of "Pug" Henry on the TV miniseries, "War and Remembrance"|
|Hosted the syndicated documentary covering WWI and WWII, "The Eyes of War"|
|Played Joe Whitaker on the short-lived NBC sitcom, "A Family for Joe"|
|Subject of the made-for-Cinemax interview and compilation documentary, "Robert Mitchum: The Reluctant Star"|
|Made final screen appearance playing George Stevens in "James Dean: Race With Destiny"; did final interview with Bob Osborne at Turner Classic Movies (TCM)|