ROBERT MITCHUM, PT. I | A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH HOLLYWOOD

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“There just isn’t any pleasing some people.  The trick is to stop trying.”

–Robert Mitchum

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In my next life (just kidding, Lord) I wanna be Robert Mitchum.

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I can’t say it any better than Mr. Kinsley–

“Bob Mitchum was one of the good guys. He was a smoker of cigarettes and cigars, a drinker of Irish and Scotch whisky in large quantities, and a smoker of hashish and sinsemilla marijuana joints the size of White Owl cigars. He did 2 months in jail in 1949 for smoking pot when the cops set him up through an informer. But he was a tough guy too, “rode the rails” as a boy, and was on a chain gang in Georgia at 14 for vagrancy, escaped, and later had 27 fights as a professional boxer. His sardonic comment on the California jail was: ‘It was just like Palm Springs — but without the riff-raff.’”

“He was born in 1919 and he died, of emphesyma and lung cancer, in 2001. How did this talented actor and hell-raiser survive for nearly eighty years? He must have had leather lungs, a cast-iron stomach and the metabolism of a uranium burner. Or somebody up there certainly liked him, and kept him going, with his jokes and his storytelling, his sense of humor and his sarcastic jabs at fellow actors.”

–Peter Kinsley, The Storyteller


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1955– Robert Mitchum in ‘The Night of the Hunter’  –Image by © CinemaPhoto/Corbis.  Many consider Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of Harry Powell (The Preacher) to be his finest.  Based largely on the real-life murderer Harry Powers, AKA “the Bluebeard of Quiet Dell” who terrorized West Virginia back in the early 1930s.  Convicted of killing a widow, her three children, and another widow– Powers was hanged to death on March 18, 1932, at the West Virginia Penitentiary.

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“People think I have an interesting walk.  Hell, I’m just trying to hold my gut in.”

–Robert Mitchum

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-“Not that you mind the killin’ — Your book is full of killin’.  But there are things you do hate, Lord.  Perfume-smellin’ things!  Lacy things!  Things with curly hair!”  –The Preacher (Robert Mitchum)

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“Every two or three years I knock off for a while.  That way I’m constantly the new girl in the whorehouse.”

–Robert Mitchum

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Robert Mitchum was hot-to-trot for the role of ‘The Preacher.’  During his audition, Director Charles Laughton (pictured with Mitchum above) described ‘The Preacher’ as “a diabolical shit”– to which Mitchum shouted back, “Present!”  Much to Laughton’s dismay, The Night of the Hunter” was not well received by critics, or at the box office upon its release.  It was black & white, not in the popular wide-screen Cinemascope format, and was just downright disturbing– not exactly what happy-go-lucky moviegoers were looking for back in 1955.  Disillusioned with its failure– it would end up being the one and only film that Charles Laughton (the epic British actor) would ever direct.

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“I started out to be a sex fiend, but I couldn’t pass the physical”

–Robert Mitchum

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This is the close-up shot Charles Laughton is staging (above).  The dancing girl in the strip club scene.).

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“Maybe love is like luck. You have to go all the way to find it”

–Robert Mitchum

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“There are too many of them.  You can’t kill a world.”  –The Preacher (Robert Mitchum) referring to sinful women.  It’s right after this scene that Harry Powell is picked-up by a cop for auto theft (stealing that sweet Ford Model T) and sent to the county jail for 30 days.  Oh, speaking of jail…

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“Sure I was glad to see John Wayne win the Oscar … I`m always glad to see the fat lady win the Cadillac on TV, too.”

–Robert Mitchum

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1/18/1949, Los Angeles, CA– Robert Mitchum, actress Lila Leeds and Real Estate agent Robin Ford, today, were convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana.  Left to right are: Attorney Jerry Giesler, Robert Mitchum, Attorney Grant Cooper, Lila Leeds and Robin Ford.  Shown around counsel table in court today. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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Mitchum cursed softly and released the burning stub. Robin Ford was sitting motionless, staring fixedly at the opposite wall, as if thinking he might go unnoticed.  His only movement was to take the joint from his mouth and flick it under the couch. One of the policemen – Detective Sergeant Alva Barr – came up, retrieved it, then scooped up what Mitchum had dropped.  He crumpled the tips and then placed them in the breast pocket of his jacket.  Picking up the Philip Morris pack on the coffee table, he examined the contents.

He looked at Mitchum and said, “These are yours?” Mitchum said, “No, they’re not mine.” Barr said, “Don’t give me any business and we’ll get along fine.” The other officer – Detective JB McKinnon – closed a pair of handcuffs on Robin Ford’s wrists. Mitchum then offered up his own cigarette.

Barr stepped over to where Lila [Leeds] sat and took one partly burned cigarette out of her hand.  It had red lipstick around the tip.  He told her to empty her bath-robe pocket, and she took out something wrapped in a page of the Herald Express.  The cop unwrapped it and found what appeared to be three more hand- rolled marijuana cigarettes and eight Benzedrine tablets.

He told them they were all under arrest and then picked up Lila’s phone and called headquarters. Vicki Evans said, “It’s just like the movies.”

–Lee Server

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02/09/1949, Los Angeles, CA– Lila Leeds; Attorney Grant Cooper; Robert Mitchum (smirking, naturally) and Attorney; Jerry Gresler as Leeds and Mitchum are sentenced tro 60 days on narcotics charges. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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Reporters and photographers were already gathered outside both stations, alerted to the celebrity dope arrest.  Ford and Mitchum entered past a gauntlet of flashbulbs and barked questions.  One photographer snapped Bob with his features contorted; in the printed photo he was barely recognizable.  The picture wrote its own caption: “A MAN IN THE GRIP OF DEMON DRUGS.” Inside the station Mitchum and Ford were booked.  Name, age, address, identifying marks.  When the policeman asked Mitchum his occupation, he replied, wittily: “Former actor.” –Lee Server

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2/10/1949-Los Angeles, CA- Screen star Robert Mitchum was in a new role– that of a broom jockey– as he started his sixty day sentence on a narcotic (Marijuana) charge.  Mitchum, known as inmate 91234, said, “I’m beginning to like it here.  Something doing all the time.”  The movie hero reported that he was getting used to it although some of the boys are a bit bumptious in knocking around their cells in the evening. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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“How do I keep fit?  I lay down a lot.”

–Robert Mitchum

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Castaic, CA– Robert Mitchum who was sentenced to 60 days for violation of narcotic law, at the Los Angeles County Honor Farm where he was transferred from the County Jail.  Mitchum, who remarked that he liked it at the County Jail because there was something doing all the time, seems to be having a good time as he milks one of the cows, Daisy May. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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“He sure don`t bring much brains to the party, that kid.” (commenting on Steve McQueen)

–Robert Mitchum

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3/31/49, Los Angeles, CA– Robert Mitchum is shown packing in preparation for his release from the county jail here after serving a sentence on Marijuana charges.  –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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“The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I`ve spent more time in jail.”

–Robert Mitchum

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(When) Mitchum was released from custody. Reporters were waiting. “I’ve been happy in jail,” he told them, tailoring his opinions for public consumption.  “Nobody envied me. Nobody wanted anything from me. Nobody wanted my bars or the bowl of pudding they shoved at me through the slot. I did my work and they let me alone.”  He had developed a new taste for privacy.  “I’m through with my so-called pals.  I’ll see only my wife, my two children, and a couple of close friends. Parties?  I’d stand out like a monster at a party.  I’m typed a character and I guess I’ll have to bear that the rest of my life.” Mitchum was going back to work as soon as possible, he told the group.  “I’ve got to.  I’m broke…And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading for home.”  –Lee Server

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“I came back from the war and ugly heroes were in.”

–Robert Mitchum

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1949, Las Vegas, NV– Recovering from a recent Hollywood ordeal (read: jail), actor Robert Mitchum takes his family on a fishing vacation at famed Lake Mead, the desert sea behind Hoover (Boulder) Dam.  They’re shown here aboard the Hotel El Rancho Vegas cruiser.  Pictured (L-R) are: Mrs. Mitchum, son Jimmy, Mitchum, and son Chris. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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“Stars today are just masturbation images.”

–Robert Mitchum

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The French Riviera, 1954– Always popular with the ladies (“They come to me with their troubles… I, uh, cheer them up a little.”) Robert Mitchum signs autographs while on the French Riviera with Lise Bourdin, 1954. –Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

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“These kids only want to talk about acting method and motivation; in my day all we talked about was screwing and overtime.”

–Robert Mitchum

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Cannes Film Festival, 1954– Simone Silva, who was crowned “Miss Festival”, in a topless pose with Robert Mitchum. It caused an insane shutterbug stampede.  In the mad rush to snap the titillating pics– one photographer broke his arm and another his leg.  The unsavory display spurred Cannes’ execs to request that Miss Silva leave the festival.  The publicity generated was enough for a Hollywood film studio to offer her contract– but tragically, all did not end well for Simone Silva.  –Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

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Asked his opinion of Method actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson–

“They are all small.”

–Robert Mitchum

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1954, Cannes, France– American actor Robert Mitchum who would later be awarded the “Etoile de Cannes” at this years festival, with the Starlet of the year, Simone Sylva. Robert Mitchum held a press conference on the beach, where Sylva let fall her bra, showing her assets, and kissed the “bad boy” of Hollywood. Not missing a beat, Mitchum, placed his hands over her breasts and was captured by the many photographers present. America cried scandal and demanded a boycott to the famous actor. Simone Sylva would commit suicide a few years later. –Image by © Mirkine/Sygma/Corbis

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“I have two acting styles: with and without a horse.”

–Robert Mitchum

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Hands off the boobs, Bob!

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“I never changed anything, except my socks and my underwear.  And I never did anything to glorify myself or improve my lot.  I took what came and did the best I could with it.”

–Robert Mitchum


27 thoughts on “ROBERT MITCHUM, PT. I | A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH HOLLYWOOD

  1. I like what you did there with the ‘Love/Hate’ relationship thing…. didn’t anticipate that, JP! Well done. This guy was a great actor — love all his work…. he had this brooding thing and those lizard eyes in which the Mr. Caddy & Preacher become bigger than the figure up on celluloid. scary, threatening stuff.

    Recently saw The Sundowners — loved it. Mitchum air of disinterest consistenty masked his intensity–a great actor! Another I want to recommend: Heaven Knows Mr. Allison!

    great stuff!

    BTW: I’d like to second someone’s suggestion of a pictorial on Charles Bronson.

  2. Very underrated, he’s one of the best leading men ever IMHO. Read somewhere he got that “dead-dog look” (or something like that) from all the fighting…

    …Crossfire, Out of the Past, Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, The Yakuza, Farewell My Lovely, and so many others… Mitchum is 101% cool.

  3. great post. mitchum was the original king of cool – not mcqueen. mitchum was the prototype of the anti hero – him along with bogart created that character in american cinema. you should do one of these on alain delon and charles bronson – 2 of the coolest actors ever.

    • Mitchum vs. McQueen – both very cool, both very different. I have them in separate “cool” compartments in my mind. Point well taken.

      • I agree. Two of my favorites, along with Lee Marvin. I wasn’t shocked, though that Mitchum wasn’t a McQueen fan.

  4. Can you name one of todays actors ( worldwide) at his range ?
    Look how small they are in Brian DePalma’s attempt few years back for a Film Noir from James Ellroy’s book “Black Dahlia” .

  5. “I never changed anything, except my socks and my underwear. And I never did anything to glorify myself or improve my lot. I took what came and did the best I could with it.” Robert Mitchum

  6. Nice post. Hopefully part 2 will include some pics of Mitchum’s calypso . I think most people have forgotten or never knew about the calypso music he recorded

  7. Don’t know if it’s true but heard this attributed to Robert Mitchum some years ago.

    During some courtroom session concerning his marijauna charge, a judge asked him how he pleaded. Mitchum reportedly replied, “Well your Honor, if you don’t blast you can’t jam.”

  8. Look I liked Mitchum, but he was Hollywood to the max. The pose of his era was something like:
    ” I was waitin’ for a job ripping steel rods out of solid rock when it started to rain. A guy asked me if I wanted to wait in his office so I did just to stay out of the rain. The guy was Lee Strasburg and he asked mr to read a scene…” next thing he knows he’s a star. Guess what it’s BS just like the current crop of drama majors that pretend to be street guys. Publicists come up with this malarky all the time because a macho actor can’t admit he is a play actor. Being a movie star requires lots of work, push and ego. Does now, did then.

    • It was BS then, it’s BS now, and always will be BS. It’s LALA Land, the world of make believe. That’s there job, to sell us the dream. And the dream takes a lot of posturing, and a lot of work, and a lot of ego – as you say. Yep.

    • ROBERT MITCHUM WAS THE REAL DEAL! HE LEFT HOME AT 14 TO “RIDE THE RAILS” SO HIS POOR FAMILY WOULD HAVE ONE LESS MOUTH TO FEED. HE WASN’T JUST A FILM STAR. HE WAS A WRITER, MUSICIAN, AND SINGER. HE READ EVERYTHING, QUOTED SHAKESPEARE AND ACCORDING TO DIRECTORS COULD HAVE PLAYED THE CHARACTERS. IF YOU EVER HEARD HIM SPEAK AS HIMSELF, YOU WOULD REALIZE HE HAD AN ANMAZING COMMAND OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. HE COULD HAVE FOUGHT HIS JAIL TIME, BUT TOOK HIS PUNISHMENT LIKE A MAN. TO COMPARE HIM TO THE VAPID PARIS HILTON IS A SACRILEGE! READ THE MANY BOOKS ABOUT HIM. MAYBE YOU WILL COME AWAY WITH A DIFFERENT OPINION. HE WAS MORE COMPLEX AND INTELLIGENT THAN ANY OTHER “ACTOR” I CAN EVEN IMAGINE. NO ONE MADE MITCHUM BUT MITCHUM!

  9. It’s interesting that Night of the Hunter wasn’t popular with the critics, but not surprising. James Agee, the screenwriter (and novelist, journalist, poet, etc.) was one of the most sympathetic and best film critics ever. I’ve always thought the film got little respect critically because of a sour grapes response by envious competing critics who were capable only of criticism.

    I watched this movie just the other night and read the script along with it. Almost every image, sound, and action is exactly as Agee prescribed in his screenplay. Beautiful. If you’re interested, both the screenplay (and Agee’s four others) and his film criticism are available as companion books called “Agee on Film.”

  10. Not yet mentioned is one of my favorite Mitchum films, “The Big Steal” (1949) also starring Jane Greer and William Bendix (Who deserves a post of his own). The movie is, to my mind, worth a viewing for its mix of comedy and drama.

    I also enjoyed his portrayal of Phillip Marlowe in the 1978 version of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.” In some ways, Mitchum’s performance as Phillip Marlowe captured the essence of the character as written by Chandler better than Bogart’s did.

  11. He’s one of my favorites. ALL Bob Mitchum fans MUST check out The Friends Of Eddie Coyle.Trust me on that one.

  12. +1 on ThunderRoad, what great movie.

    He’s an intriguing guy. Didn’t dig his style at first but he’s definitely grown on me. He has a huuge catalog of movies he’s done.

    Got to see a local theater play 35mm print of Night of The Hunter. drool.. so great. What amazing backdrops, the Preacher character is great. Sad that Charles Laughton only did one picture, but Hell! What a Picture!!!

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