Monday, July 16, 2007

Robert Mitchum: “Baby, I Don’t Care”, by Lee Server

(hb; 2001: biography)

Review:

Server provides a balanced lifelong view of one of the silver screen's most iconic actors, a regular guy who viewed acting as a job (nothing more), something to keep his family housed and fed. Mitch, or Bob, as he was known to his friends and associates, was privately sensitive and read many books (he was a longtime fan of John Steinbeck), yet his image -- also an integral part of the man -- as a philandering hard-drinking perenially-cool pothead dominated much of his life, resulting in many of the "gorilla pictures" he starred in.

(A "gorilla picture," Mitchum is quoted as saying in the book, is "[a film where] you get $250,000 to do all the wrong things in ten reels and in the last shot you get the girl and fade into the sunset.")

But Mitchum didn't only do "gorilla pictures." He starred in Where Danger Lives, Night of the Hunter, The Sundowners, both versions of Cape Fear ('62 and '91), The List of Adrian Messenger, Farewell, My Lovely, the hilariously deadpan Dead Man, and, of course, one of my all-time favorites, Out of the Past (which later was remade as Against All Odds, sans Mitchum).

Server also shows how Mitchum's disdain for pretense hurt him and those around him, as well. Mitchum's no-bulls**t attitude was often verbalized, and he didn't care who heard him -- and, particularly when he got older, his views were often misconstrued as racist, homophobic and insensitive by certain quarters of the public. But, again, there was more to the man than that. When he wasn't bored by a film he was shooting (and therefore, not drinking excessively), he was an admirable professional actor; however, if he felt like the film was a dogs**t endeavor, debacles occurred.

There's so much to the man's life that is fascinating -- his early, disaffected years; his friendships with era-definitive, sometimes creepy celebrities (Howard Hughes comes to mind); his marriage to wife Dorothy, which survived countless affairs, including the one that almost wrecked their marriage, Mitchum's three-year sexual liaison with Two For the Seesaw co-star, Shirley MacLaine; how Mitchum's proclivities for alcohol and pot later debilitated him, and contributed to his death at age 79 (on June 30, 1997, one month away from his eightieth birthday, and one day before his friend Jimmy Stewart died).

This is one of the best biographies I've read in the past year. Highly recommended, this, for anyone who's into noir, Hollywood's golden age (and its celebrities), and captivating characters who just happened to be real people.

By all means, check it out.

1 comment:

megastein said...

I have always admired Robert Mitchum the actor, but really never knew much about his personal life and struggles...I think I'll have to check this out.

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