August 6, 2017

Robert Mitchum ~ Hollywood bad boy

Robert Charles Durman Mitchum was born on this day, August 6, in 1917. He was an American film actor, director, author, poet, composer, and singer. Mitchum rose to prominence for his starring roles in several classic films noir, and is generally considered a forerunner of the antiheroes prevalent in film during the 1950s and 1960s. His best-known films include Out of the Past (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955) (link below), and Cape Fear (1962).    

Robert Mitchum - July 1949
photographer unknown

Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut into a Methodist family. His mother, Ann Harriet Gunderson, was a Norwegian immigrant and daughter of a sea captain; his father, James Thomas Mitchum, of Scottish-Ulster and Blackfoot Indian descent, was a shipyard and railroad worker. His father was crushed to death in a railyard accident in Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1919, when he was less than two years old.

date & photographer unknown

Throughout his childhood, he was known as a prankster, often involved in fistfights and mischief. When he was 12, his mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Felton, Delaware, where he was promptly expelled from his middle school for scuffling with the principal. A year later, in 1930, he moved in with his older sister, to New York's Hell's Kitchen. After being expelled from Haaren High School, he left his sister and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking a number of jobs including ditch-digging for the Civilian Conservation Corps and professional boxing.

Robert Mitchum - 1940s 
photographer unknown

Mitchum moved to Long Beach, California in 1936 and worked as a ghostwriter for astrologer Carroll Righter. His sister Julie convinced him to join the local theater guild with her. In his years with the Players Guild of Long Beach, he made a living as a stagehand and occasional bit-player in company productions. He also wrote several short pieces which were performed by the guild. According to Lee Server's biography (Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care) (link below), Mitchum put his talent for poetry to work writing song lyrics and monologues for Julie's nightclub performances.

In the early forties, he had a nervous breakdown (which resulted in temporary blindness), apparently from job-related stress, and led Mitchum to look for work as an actor or extra in films. An agent he had met got him an interview with the producer of the Hopalong Cassidy series of B-Westerns in 1942 and 1943.      

Robert Mitchum - 1945 

Mitchum was initially known for his work in film noir. His first foray into the genre was a supporting role in the 1944 B-movie When Strangers Marry, about newlyweds and a New York City serial killer.        

When Strangers Marry poster 
Monogram Pictures Corporation 

Crossfire (also 1947) featured Mitchum as a member of a group of soldiers, one of whom kills a Jewish man. It featured themes of anti-Semitism and the failings of military training. The film, directed by Edward Dmytryk, earned five Academy Award nominations.   

Robert Mitchum - 1947

On September 1, 1948, after a string of successful films for RKO, Mitchum and actress Lila Leeds were arrested for possession of marijuana. The arrest was the result of a sting operation designed to capture other Hollywood partiers, as well, but Mitchum and Leeds did not receive the tipoff. After serving a week at the county jail, (he described the experience to a reporter as being "like Palm Springs, but without the riff-raff") Mitchum spent 43 days (February 16 to March 30) at a Castaic, California, prison farm, with Life photographers right there taking photos of him mopping up in his prison uniform. The arrest became the inspiration for the exploitation film She Shoulda Said No! (1949), which starred Leeds. The conviction was later overturned by the Los Angeles court and district attorney's office on January 31, 1951, with the following statement, after it was exposed as a setup:   
"After an exhaustive investigation of the evidence and testimony presented at the trial, the court orders that the verdict of guilty be set aside and that a plea of not guilty be entered and that the information or complaint be dismissed." 
Whether despite, or because of, his troubles with the law and his studio, the films released immediately after his arrest were box-office hits.        

Robert Mitchum - 1949
Castaic, California, prison farm

Mitchum was expelled from Blood Alley (1955), purportedly due to his conduct, especially his reportedly having thrown the film's transportation manager into San Francisco Bay. According to the Sam O'Steen memoir, Cut to the Chase, Mitchum showed up on-set after a night of drinking and tore apart a studio office when they did not have a car ready for him. Mitchum walked off the set of the third day of filming Blood Alley, claiming he could not work with the director. Because Mitchum was showing up late and behaving erratically, producer John Wayne, after failing to obtain Humphrey Bogart as a replacement, took over the role himself.

In 1954, Mitchum starred in the Marilyn Monroe vehicle, River of No Return, an  American Western film directed by Otto Preminger. The screenplay by Frank Fenton is based on a story by Louis Lantz, who borrowed his premise from the 1948 Italian film The Bicycle Thief. It was made in Technicolor and CinemaScope and released by 20th Century Fox.   
Zanuck decided the film should be made in CinemaScope. Much of it was filmed in Banff and Jasper National Parks and Lake Louise in Alberta. River of No Return was the first film released by 20th Century-Fox to feature the "CinemaScope extension" fanfare before the opening credits.     

Monroe was accompanied by Natasha Lytess, her acting coach. Preminger clashed with the woman from the very start. She insisted on taking her client aside and giving her direction contrary to that of Preminger, and she had the actress enunciating each syllable of every word of dialogue with exaggerated emphasis. Preminger called Rubin in Los Angeles and insisted Lytess be banned from the set, but when the producer complied with his demand, Monroe called Zanuck directly and asserted she couldn't continue unless Lytess returned. Zanuck commiserated with Preminger but, feeling Monroe was a major box office draw he couldn't afford to upset, he reinstated Lytess. Angered by the decision, Preminger directed his rage at Monroe for the rest of the production.

River of No Return movie poster

During the difficult shoot, Preminger also had to contend with frequent rain, Mitchum's heavy drinking, and an injury to Monroe's ankle that kept her off the set for several days. Monroe nearly drowned while filming. She had donned chest high hip waders during rehearsal to protect her costume. She slipped on a rock, the waders filled with water, and she was unable to rise. Mitchum and others jumped in the river to rescue her but her ankle was sprained as a result and ultimately put her in a cast.   

River of No Return     
publicity photo     

Following a series of conventional Westerns and films noir as well as the River of No Return in1954, in 1955, he appeared in the only film directed by Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter (link below).

Mitchum's performance as the menacingly vengeful rapist Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962) brought him even more attention and furthered his renown for playing cool, predatory characters.

Cape Fear - 1962 

He starred in many war movies: The John Huston war drama Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, with Deborah Kerr, the WWII submarine classic The Enemy Below (1956), etc.    

One of the lesser-known aspects of Mitchum's career was his forays into music, both as singer and composer. Critic Greg Adams writes, "Unlike most celebrity vocalists, Robert Mitchum actually had musical talent." Mitchum's voice was often used instead of that of a professional singer when his character sang in his films. Notable productions featuring Mitchum's own singing voice included Rachel and the Stranger, River of No Return, and The Night of the Hunter.

Robert Mitchum, Calypso — is like so ... 
A lifelong heavy smoker, Mitchum died on July 1, 1997, in Santa Barbara, California, due to complications of lung cancer and emphysema. He was about five weeks short of his 80th birthday. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.      

Mitchum is regarded by some critics as one of the finest actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Roger Ebert called him "the soul of film noir." Mitchum, however, was self-effacing; in an interview with Barry Norman for the BBC about his contribution to cinema, Mitchum stopped Norman in mid flow and in his typical nonchalant style, said, "Look, I have two kinds of acting. One on a horse and one off a horse. That's it."     

Mitchum is rated number 23 on the American Film Institute list of the greatest male stars of Classic American Cinema. 

Viewfinder links:          
The Night of the Hunter & Robert Mitchum         
Charles Laughton reads The Night of the Hunter         
Robert Mitchum articles/mentions        
            Net links: 
Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care
Robert Mitchum website       
Robert Mitchum filmography         
YouTube links: 
Robert Mitchum:        
          River of No Return     
          Rachel and the Stranger        
          Calypso - is like so... (album)       
          Little White Lies        
Robert Mitchum on being an actor 1971 interview 
Robert Mitchum Talks About Marilyn Monroe   
Robert Mitchum: The Reluctant Star       
What Happened to Robert Mitchum?               
Robert Mitchum (1917-1997)                    
I've still got the same attitude I had when I started. 
I haven't changed anything but my underwear. 
                                   ~ Robert Mitchum

Styrous® ~ Sunday, August 6, 2017  

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