Robert Mitchum, the ‘bad boy’ who refused to enter the Hollywood game

One month after turning 80, Robert Mitchum He died in his sleep at his residence in Santa Bárbara (California). Lung cancer took one of the best-known and most disturbing faces on the big screen. The actor stayed on the crest of the wave for more than fifty years and his name will always be linked to characters with a reputation for being tough, cynical and rebellious, but he also embodied war heroes and tormented types with conviction.

Despite starring in more than a hundred films and television films, the Oscar resisted him. Among his list of awards are the Cecil B. DeMille in 1992 for his entire artistic career and the Donostia that was presented to him at the San Sebastian Festival in 1993. But Mitchum also cultivated other more unknown facets, such as that of a poet, composer or singer.

Robert Mitchum in his younger years


Born on August 6, 1917 in Bridgeport, Connecticut (USA), he spent most of his childhood and adolescence involved in fights and mischief. His father, who worked on the railroads, was killed in a tragic accident crushed between two carriages when Robert was only two years old. His mother, of Norwegian descent, was a great fan of reading who encouraged him to write poems and drawings, so the future actor developed a sensitive facet that remained hidden behind his apparent air of disinterest. Being a widow and with three dependent children, the matriarch sent Robert to live on the grandparents’ farm in Delaware at the age of twelve. There he was expelled from high school for beating the principal.

Since his family was not rich in money, he decided to go independent at 16 and see what he could achieve for himself. He set out for the West Coast and crossed the country by train like a tramp. In fact, he was arrested in Georgia for loitering and was sentenced to 30 days of forced labor. As a teenager he worked a bit of everything: boxer, miner, nightclub doorman. A boxing match is said to have caused an injury that left him with his characteristic sad and semi-sleepy look.

As a young man, he was arrested for loitering and sentenced to 30 days of forced labor.

Your craving for adventure They took him to California to meet girls. Following the advice of his sister, he began to collaborate in a theater company and wrote some children’s plays and stories. In 1940 he married Dorothy Spence, his lifelong girlfriend, with whom he had three children. At that time he needed a stable job and found a job in an aeronautical company, but he felt so bad that he soon fell ill. His next job was as a clerk in a shoe store and in that place his destiny would change forever after meeting the producer Bob Sherman.

He began to work as a specialist in the cinema. He rode well on horseback but never thought he would become a professional actor. In 1943 he appeared in a total of 19 films, most westerns, and then jumped to bigger roles such as in 30 seconds over Tokyo (1944), by Mervyn LeRoy, with Spencer Tracy. His consecration would come with the war drama We are also human beings (1945), by William A. Wellman, for which he was nominated for an Oscar in the category of best supporting actor.


Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe on the set of ‘River of No Return’

20th Century Fox

It was the first time he had found something that interested him, although for him being an actor was just another job. Mitchum ended up being pigeonholed into film noir roles with a apparent inexpressiveness which helped him specialize in taciturn and laconic characters. Fame was not with him and according to the director said Sydney Pollack, who directed it in Yakuza (1974), “in a way he was ashamed of being an actor”, because he found all the attention it generated a bit embarrassing.

He liked spending free time with his friends and drinking. He used to party until dawn with Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles and John Wayne. He wanted to be a normal man and do whatever he wanted, but Hollywood was not the ideal place to unleash his pleasures without constant scrutiny. Thus, he was carving out an image of ‘bad boy’ that accompanied him all his life. He started making money and his manager scammed him, leaving the family bankrupt. On August 31, 1948 a scandal staggered his career, as he was arrested at a party for possession of marijuana and spent two almost two months in jail. Mitchum always claimed that he had been set up.

On August 31, 1948, he was arrested at a party for possession of marijuana and spent two almost two months in jail

His undeniable charm was overshadowed so much by this sordid affair that it removed him from the lists of candidates for the golden statuette of the Hollywood Academy, as was his addiction to drinking. However, he had the support of the tycoon Howard Hugues, which controlled part of the RKO company.

During the 1950s and 1960s he continued to make his mark on the seventh art. In River of no return (1954) acted alongside Marilyn Monroe and performed the main theme song. One of his most recognized roles was as a preacher of murderous instincts in Hunter’s night (1955), which was a commercial failure. He made four films with Deborah Kerr, including God only knows (1957) under the command of John Huston, with whom he struck up a great friendship.


Robert Mitchum and John Wayne in ‘El Dorado’

Paramount pictures

Gregory Peck convinced him to play the criminal in Cape of Terror (1962) and three decades later he participated in the remake directed by Martin Scorsese. Along with Shirley McLaine he co-starred Any day on any corner (1962) and Her and her husbands (1964), in addition to entering into a love relationship that was about to say goodbye to their marriage. However, Dorothy remained by his side until the end. The actresses he worked with adored him: Jane Russell, Deborah Kerr or Joan Collins spoke highly of this man who hated the falsehood that reigned in the industry and who liked to tell spicy jokes and tell stories without looking at his watch.

Another of his most memorable roles was as a widowed teacher in Ryan’s daughter (1970), by David Lean. At the beginning of the seventies he began to lose interest in the cinema until the character of Philip Marlowe, the detective in the Raymond Chandler novels immortalized by Humphrey Bogart. Mitchum endowed his character with authenticity and a charisma as peculiar as Bogie in Bye doll (1975) and Private detective (1978). In the latter he acted alongside James Stewart, who curiously passed away a day after Mitchum.

In 1983, at the age of 66, he appeared in the miniseries Winds of war, where his problem with alcohol became evident. He drank while he worked and did not remember his texts. She went into the Betty Ford Center to detox. The tobacco it also did not help improve his delicate health. He had emphysema and became dependent on oxygen; he still continued to smoke.

We could see him in the series North and south and one of his last jobs was in the western Dead Man (1995), by Jim Jarmusch. Following the tough-guy appearance, Mitchum was a sensitive man who drowned his insecurity in gallons of alcohol and bragged about not being in the Hollywood game. “I have never changed, except for socks and underwear. And I never did anything to glorify myself or improve my luck. I took what came and did the best I could with it. “

After the tough guy appearance, Mitchum was a sensitive man who drowned his insecurity in alcohol

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Robert Mitchum, the ‘bad boy’ who refused to enter the Hollywood game

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