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Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care" Hardcover – March 20, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
"Never forget that one of the biggest stars in the world was Rin Tin Tin, and she was a four-legged bitch," was tough guy Robert Mitchum's stock response when asked what it felt like to be a movie star. While many Hollywood personalities and stars now attempt to maintain their personal privacy, Mitchum gloried in the seamless meld between his lives on and off screen. Born in 1917 to a railroad worker and a mother with intellectual, even bohemian, inclinations, Mitchum lost his father early, and ran off when he was 14 to hop freight cars during the Depression. After gigs as a boxer, stevedore and union worker (perhaps even joining the Communist Party), he tried acting and finally got a break in Hollywood. After playing a cowboy in a 1943 Hopalong Cassidy serial, he made another 18 film appearances that year. In 1945, his performance in G.I. Joe made him a star. He perfected his tough guy image by the late 1940s, playing variations on this part (often comic as his career waned) until his last film, in 1995. In his heyday, Mitchum made headlines by suing Confidential magazine for libel, getting arrested on a marijuana drug change and generally acting rowdy. Server (Danger Is My Business) is at his best describing Mitchum's fine actingAespecially in the 1955 Night of the HunterAand his struggles to remain independent in an industry that demanded conformity. This is a well-researched, highly entertaining and revealing biography that contextualizes Mitchum in the broader world of industry and national economics, business and politics. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Mitchum was Hollywood's original "Bad Boy," who, as the title implies, didn't seem to care about living up to anyone's expectations. Best known for tough-guy roles in a career that spanned over 50 years, he made over 120 films, "forty of them in the same raincoat," and played everything from cowboys to sophisticated lovers. With no pretensions toward being Lawrence Olivier, Mitchum said he picked jobs for the number of days off, but there was no doubt that he was a powerful, sad-eyed, simmering screen presence. His private life was even more interesting than his film roles. Mitchum was a Depression-era hobo who fell into acting. Even when famous, he was independent and found trouble; he was busted for smoking marijuana before most people in the country even knew what it was. Server (Danger Is My Business) does good research but also offers a big, thick, juicy celebrity read that will not disappoint aficionados of the genre. Highly recommended.DRosellen Brewer, Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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One can't help but become immersed in the descriptions of his early life, the new information regarding his life-long partnership with his wife Dorothy and her astonishing and stoic loyalty. The later chapters, providing sometimes wrenching descriptions of his descent into full-on alcoholism was, at times, a hard read. As with any person whose intimate thoughts and behaviours are often distorted when a subject of celebrity, Mitchum was portrayed as a loveable thug with a gift for charm and a magnetic screen presence.
He was a great deal more than that but, due to his apparent need for approval and admiration, he eventually evolved into a caricature of himself. He was a phenomenally well-read autodidact who yearned for aknowledgement of his intellectual strengths but was also remarkably self-destructive.
Having met him twice, in his early years of fame whilst he was having his car repaired in a shop in D.C. and many years later, in a small town in Virginia whilst standing next to him in a grocery store line, I found the few references regarding his gentle behaviour true to the person I observed. This second 'meeting' was a few years prior to his death but he still had the aura, the energy of someone 'other than' and one could see the early 'heartbreaker' still present beneath the craggy face and silver hair.
This biography is a remarkable work of research and dedication for an individual who truly stood out from the norm. One feels as though it's a gift to be given this opportunity to learn a full story of someone so special. Kudos to the author, he deserves them.
I don't think the author, Leo Server, quite grasps Mitchum's inner dynamics. I'm not sure anyone could. We hear in interviews, over and over, what a self-educated man this ex bum and ex convict was, how he read poetry, how much he wanted to be a writer, but there's very little evidence of any literary talent. His wit tended towards vulgarity and crudeness. He never expressed much concern about his acting either, after determining how much money a performance would bring. He rarely admired anyone else's work. He didn't admire his own. He lacked much interest in politics or social issues but when he did make some sort of statement it sounded like it might have come from Archie Bunker. He made lifelong friends but they tended not to be stars, so much as crew members, stunt men, or nonentities, as long as they were willing to drink with him and enjoy his outrages, which included twisting the arms of autograph seekers and flinging them away, or hitting photographers in the face with basketballs. He was willing to take any role offered him if he were paid enough and didn't involve hard physical work, except that as he grew old he complained more about conditions on the set. He was born in Connecticut in 1917 and died in 1997 of emphysema, and perhaps cancer.
Yet, paradoxically, the man who couldn't have cared less about la politesse, let alone "art", turned in a few truly outstanding performances, scattered though they were amidst the dreck.
It's almost impossible to reconcile Mitchum's expressed attitude towards his films and some of the work he did. In 1975's "Farewell, My Lovely," probably his last outstanding role, as an exhausted Philip Marlowe, he has a scene with Madam Anthorp in her whorehouse. Mitchum is seated while this behemoth of a woman stands in front of him and demands answers and Mitchum's replies are sardonic. He puts a cigarette in his mouth and she slaps it away. Mitchum's eyes widen, he lets out an animalistic howl, leaps to his feet, and belts her in the jaw before her henchmen overcome him. I can't visualize any other actor of his period pulling off that reflexive attack with such credibility. It's a real shocker because throughout the film he's done nothing but slouch and look weary. And now, out of nowhere, he's hijacked by his amygdala.
He was married at a young age and he stayed married to the same woman for more than fifty years. He never spoke about how much she might have meant to him. He helped his children, when it didn't take too much effort, but in interviews he insisted he had little interest in them, that they were on their own.
The book is well researched. Server seems to have interviewed anyone who had anything to do with Mitchum, with a few exceptions, some of them important. When I first began reading the book I was worried that it might turn into a fan magazine tribute. You know: "Mitch was always a back-slapping, devil-may-care good old boy who never let anyone down when they needed him." But though the prose descends into the vulgate (it's pretty dirty sometimes), and though we never get into Mitchum's head or heart, it's about as thorough as any biography of this ordinary, remarkable guy is ever going to be.
There is no monument to him. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean off Santa Barbara.