Mr Film Noir himself, Robert Mitchum is a true original, he defined the anti-hero. When he was 12, his mother sent Mitchum to live with his grandparents in Felton, Delaware, where he was promptly expelled from his middle school for scuffling with a principal. A year later, in 1930, he moved in with his older sister, in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. After being expelled from Haaran High School, he left his sister and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking a number of jobs including as a ditch-digger for the Civilian Conservation Corps and as a professional boxer.
Mitchum had all sorts of adventures during his years as one of the Depression era’s “wild boys of the road.” At age 14 in Savannah, Georgia, he was arrested for vagrancy and put on a local chain gang. By Mitchum’s own account, he escaped and returned to his family in Delaware. It was during this time, while recovering from injuries that nearly lost him a leg, that he met the woman he would marry, a teenaged Dorothy Spence. He soon went back on the road, eventually riding the rails to California.
He didn’t get stuck into acting straight away, but when he did, he nailed it. He started out as an extra, then a baddy, then a cowboy. After serving in World War Two, he came back and won acclaim in films noir. Then on September 1, 1948, after a string of successful films for RKO, Mitchum and actress Lila Leeds were arrested for possession of marijuana. The arrest was the result of a sting operation designed to capture other Hollywood partiers as well, but Mitchum and Leeds did not receive the tip-off. After serving a week at the county jail, (he described the experience to a reporter as being “like Palm Springs, but without the riff-raff”) Mitchum spent 43 days (February 16 to March 30) at a Castaic, California, prison farm, with Life magazine photographers right there taking photos of him mopping up in his prison uniform. It didn’t hurt his career.
Mitchum was the original baddy in Cape Fear. Oh, and he was also a singer and composer. Even had a calypso album out at one point. He always shrugged off his success, was quite cynical about movies, walked off the set from a few. I always liked him. Quite funny to hear what he says about other actors – doesn’t hold back an iota.
The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I’ve spent more time in jail.
I gave up being serious about making pictures around the time I made a film with Greer Garson and she took a hundred and twenty-five takes to say no.
I started out to be a sex fiend but couldn’t pass the physical.
Movies bore me; especially my own.
I’ve still got the same attitude I had when I started. I haven`t changed anything but my underwear.
“Listen. I got three expressions: looking left, looking right and looking straight ahead.” (on his acting talents)
People think I have an interesting walk. Hell, I`m just trying to hold my gut in.
(on press stories) “They’re all true – booze, brawls, broads, all true. Make up some more if you want to.”
When I drop dead and they rush to the drawer, there’s going to be nothing in it but a note saying ‘later’.
I never take any notice of reviews – unless a critic has thought up some new way of describing me. That old one about my lizard eyes and anteater nose and the way I sleep my way through pictures is so hackneyed now.
Years ago, I saved up a million dollars from acting, a lot of money in those days, and I spent it all on a horse farm in Tucson. Now when I go down there, I look at that place and I realize my whole acting career adds up to a million dollars worth of horse shit.
I have two acting styles: with and without a horse.
Every two or three years, I knock off for a while. That way I’m always the new girl in the whorehouse.
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.
You’ve got to realize that a Steve McQueen performance lends itself to monotony.
Not that I`m a complete whore, understand. There are movies I won’t do for any amount. I turned down Patton (1970) and I turned down Dirty Harry (1971). Movies that piss on the world. If I’ve got five bucks in my pocket, I don’t need to make money that f***ing way, daddy.
John Wayne had four inch lifts in his shoes. He had the overheads on his boat accommodated to fit him. He had a special roof put in his station wagon. The son of a bitch, they probably buried him in his goddamn lifts.
There just isn’t any pleasing some people. The trick is to stop trying.
Asked his opinion of the Vietnam War in 1968: “If they won’t listen to reason over there, just kill ‘em. Nuke ‘em all.”
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.
I’ve survived because I work cheap and don`t take up too much time.
You know what the average Robert Mitchum fan is? He’s full of warts and dandruff and he`s probably got a hernia too, but he sees me up there on the screen and he thinks if that bum can make it, I can be president.
When asked why in his mid-sixties he took on the arduous task of starring in an 18-hour mini-series “The Winds of War” (1983) (mini): “It promised a year of free lunches.”
How do I keep fit? I lay down a lot.
(Regarding three-time co-star Deborah Kerr) “The best, my favorite… Life would be kind if I could live it with Deborah around”.
Asked his opinion of Method actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson: “They are all small.”
“Stars today are just masturbation images.” (1983)
People make too much of acting. You are not helping anyone like being a doctor or even a musician. In the final analysis, you have exalted no one but yourself.
These kids only want to talk about acting method and motivation; in my day all we talked about was screwing and overtime.
I know production values are better, but are the scripts, are the pictures? The thing is, it`s a hell of a lot more work, and I don’t see overall where the films are any better, really.
I often regret my good reviews, because there is no point in doing something I know to be inferior and then I find I have come off the best in the film. Wouldn’t you find that worrying?
“I never will believe there is such a thing as a great actor.” (1948)
I got a great life out of the movies. I’ve been all over the world and met the most fantastic people. I don’t really deserve all I’ve gotten. It`s a privileged life, and I know it.
Sometimes, I think I ought to go back and do at least one thing really well. But again, indolence will probably cause me to hesitate about finding a place to start. Part of that indolence perhaps is due to shyness because I’m a natural hermit. I’ve been in constant motion of escape all my life. I never really found the right corner to hide in.
Up there on the screen you`re thirty feet wide, your eyeball is six feet high, but it doesn’t mean that you really amount to anything or have anything important to say.
“Where are the real artists? Today it’s four-barrelled carburettors and that’s it.” (1967)
The Rin Tin Tin method is good enough for me. That dog never worried about motivation or concepts and all that junk. (1968)
I only read the reviews of my films if they`re amusing. Six books have been written about me but I`ve only met two of the authors. They get my name and birthplace wrong in the first paragraph. From there it`s all downhill.
(on working with Faye Dunaway) When I got here I walked in thinking I was a star and then I found I was supposed to do everything the way she says. Listen, I’m not going to take any temperamental whims from anyone, I just take a long walk and cool off. If I didn’t do that, I know I`d wind up dumping her on her derrière.
When asked what he looked for in a script before accepting a job, he said, “Days off.”
(on Steve McQueen) He sure don`t bring much brains to the party, that kid.
(on Jane Russell) Miss Russell was a very strong character. Very good-humoured when she wasn’t being cranky.
When Mitchum, who served time for marijuana possession, was asked what it was like in jail, he replied, “It’s like Palm Springs without the riff-raff.”