When you think of classic Hollywood bad-boys names like Humphrey Bogart, Edward G Robinson and James Cagney might come to mind. But off-screen these legendary actors were far from the tough guys that they portrayed in film. Robinson, for example, was an avid art collector, Cagney was famed for his commitment to sobriety and his outspoken views towards alcohol, and Humphrey Bogart’s hobbies included reciting the works of Shakespeare and mastering the game of chess.
But one Hollywood legendary ruffian was just as tough in real life as he was on the silver screen. Robert Mitchum was a hardy hell-hound that was irresistible to the ladies and constantly defying the status quo.
Granted, younger Facts Verse viewers are probably less familiar with Mitchum’s works. After all, he was born a hundred and 3 years ago. But his career spanned a half-century and he starred in at least 67 films. He wasn’t just a heartthrob – no, he was also a well-polished performer that took his work very seriously and never settled for sub-par. Although to Mitchum, acting wasn’t a particularly hard profession. It came easily to him – almost as if he was born to be in the limelight.
Some of his best-known films include 1947s Out of the Past, 1956s The Night of the Hunter, 1962s Cape Fear, and 1966s El Dorado. He is regarded by many critics as being one of the greatest actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
AFI listed Mitchum at number 23 of their 100 Years, 100 Stars list. He is a recipient of the coveted Cecil B. DeMille Award in honor of his lifetime of achievement. Simply put, Hollywood would not have been the same without him.
Mitchum passed away in 1997- eventually, a lifetime of heavy smoking caught up with him – but his spirit lives on in our collective memories. Let’s take a closer look back at his life and career – there’s bound to be a few things about Robert Mitchum that you’ve never heard before – so let’s get to it.
Mitchum Once Threw A Crew Member Into A River
Mitchum was originally cast in the John Wayne and Lauren Bacall film Blood Alley. He got fired from the role for a particularly absurd reason as well. The film was produced by John Wayne’s production company Batjac and Mitchum was Wayne’s first pick for the lead role.
Robert was excited about the part. Around that time, Mitchum would even show up to press interviews in costume to help hype up the film. One afternoon, however, after filming had wrapped up for the day, Mitchum was invited to a Coast Guard Luncheon in the San Francisco Bay area as a guest of honor.
Apparently, he had a few too many drinks and started causing trouble. He got into a verbal altercation with one of the crew members and the production manager of the film and things quickly started going downhill. He got so upset that he lifted the crew member up into the air and threw him into a river. Needless to say, he was promptly fired and John Wayne himself ended up playing the lead role in that film.
He Served On A Chain Gang As A Teenager
Mitchum was born on Aug 6 1917 in Bridgeport, CT. He was a troublemaker from an early age. His father, a railroad worker, was killed in a freak accident when he was just a tot and he was shipped off to live with his grandparents when he was 12. At school. Mitchum loved to prank his fellow students and faculty members. This led to him getting expelled from middle school and later on from high school as well after getting into a fistfight with his principal.
After getting kicked out of high school he turned to a rough and tumble traveling life on the road. He hopped freight trains all across America like something out of an old Hank Williams song.
When he was 15, his nomadic lifestyle caught up to him when he received a vagrancy charge while traveling throughout the deep south. He was placed in a chain gang to serve out his sentence. But even lock and chain couldn’t keep Mitchum tied to one place. He escaped from his incarceration, hitch-hiked back up north, and rode the high-line all the way back west towards California.
He Got Busted For Smoking Marijuana
Mitchum’s drug of choice was cannabis. He always had a little grass on him, so it was only a matter of times before law enforcement caught him with the green stuff.
In the nineteen-forties, Mitchum’s career was blossoming. He had a string of commercially successful films like Crossfire and Out of the Past that helped elevate his career and make him a household name.
On September 1, 1948, while visiting some friends at the house of Lila Leeds in Hollywood, the police rushed in and raided the home. Mitchum was arrested along with Leeds and two other folks.
Mitchum was sure that a possession charge would have a devastating effect on his film career. When the investigator asked him his name, age, and occupation, Mitchum referred to himself as a ‘former actor’ – thinking that he’d never work a day again in Hollywood. To his surprise, however, his career wouldn’t only survive the incident, but the arrest and subsequent prison time he’d serve would only make him a bigger star. He had seriously underestimated the appeal of the bad-boy image. In the future, he would use his reputation to his advantage.
By the way, if you’re enjoying this video so far make sure you give it a like and subscribe to our channel and keep watching to learn all about Robert Mitchum’s lifelong struggle with the bottle – we’ll touch on that in a minute….
Mitchum Was An Amateur Boxer
During the Great Depression, Mitchum would volunteer for Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. He was sent to the forest right outside of Chino California in the San Bernadino County in 1936. The work was labor-intensive and stressful, so at night the camp crew would hold amateur boxing fights to blow off a little steam. And of course, Mitchum was pretty good at it.
In fact, he was such a good fighter that he would end up leaving the Conservation Corps to travel around California as a semi-pro boxer earning himself a cool $25 a fight. He might not have ever found his way to Hollywood if he hadn’t sustained a rather grizzly injury in the ring fighting a middleweight and subsequently retired from the sport.
The Third Act Was The Charm
Getting caught with illicit substances didn’t slow Mitchum’s career and neither did aging. He was like fine wine, he only got better with age.
In the 1960s, however, he must have felt as if his career was on the decline. Even though he had multiple high notes up until this point, the roles started drying up. This all changed in 1970 when he was cast in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter.
Mitchum gave audiences one of the finest performances of his career. He followed that film up with Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza in 1974 and Michael Winner’s The Big Sleep in 1978.
The 1980s were equally as good to Mitchum. He starred in The Agency and Nightkill in 1980 before making the leap from the silver screen to the television screen to star in several critically acclaimed mini-series and TV films. In 1983 he starred in The Winds of War and in 1984 he wowed audiences in North and South.
Mitchum’s Marriage to Dorothy Spence
Mitchum met his future wife Dorothy Spence when they were both still teenagers. Apparently, before they dated, Dorothy had dated Robert’s brother John.
Mitchum and Dorothy tied the knot in 1940 when Robert was 23. Mitchum’s proposal has to be one of the weirdest ones we’ve ever heard about. According to him, he told her that if she stuck with him then someday she’ll be farting through silk -whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Well, the two remained married until Mitchum’s passing in 1957. 57 years of marriage might sound pretty heartwarming but Mitchum wasn’t exactly a model husband. Over the decades, Mitchum carried on dozens of affairs outside of his marriage. Spence either was very forgiving or just really liked those silk sheets.
Mitchum Was A Heavy Drinker
According to the biography of actor Jack Hawkins, while on the set of the 1963 film Rampage, Mitchum supposedly has a ritual of drinking 49 glasses of rum before dinner. While on the set of Blood Alley, before he got fired for the whole river incident – which mind you was also alcohol-fueled – Mitchum once completely destroyed a studio office in a drunken rage because his car wasn’t ready yet.
During the filming of The Big Sleep, Mitchum tried to impress his buddy Olivier Reed – who also had quite the reputation for being a heavy drinker – by slamming back an entire bottle of gin in just 55 minutes. It really is a wonder how this guy didn’t end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
When he drank, sometimes he would get violent. While attending a premiere party for The Championship Season, he got hammered and angrily threw a basketball at a female journalist’s face – breaking several of her teeth in the process. She ended up suing him for the unprovoked attack and was awarded a sum equal to his entire salary for that film. Smooth move Mitchum.
Robert checked himself into the Betty Ford Center in 1984 to detox off of alcohol. It’s unclear if this stint in rehab helped him overcome his affliction but at least he realized that he had a problem. That’s the first step, right?
Mitchum Almost Killed Himself
Even though he was on top of the world and one of the finest actors of his generation, Mitchum suffered from a lot of self-doubt and regret. After several personal and financial setbacks, he considered offing himself while he was working on Ryan’s Daughter in 1970.
Screenwriter Robert Bolt heard about his friend’s plan to take the easy way out and came to his aid hoping to save him. Bolt’s idea of support however was bizarre at best and dangerous at worse. He told Mitchum that he should go ahead and kill himself but asked him to hold off until filming wrapped up on Ryan’s Daughter. He told Mitchum that if he could hold out till then, then he would personally pay for his funeral expenses. Fortunately, this ‘tough love’ approach ended up being a success.
Robert Mitchum certainly had his own unique brand of ‘cool’. His tough-guy persona was far from an act. He was tough as rocks and cold as ice until the day he died. We wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t still raising hell in the afterlife either.
What do you think was Robert Mitchum’s best film was, Cape Fear or Out of the Past? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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