About Robert Mitchum
Hollywood tough guy Robert Mitchum made a career of playing insouciant fatalists and unscrupulous rogues, especially in noir films of the 1950s. He was in the movies for more than five decades, breaking out early on with an Oscar-nominated supporting performance in 1945's The Story of G.I. Joe. Mitchum was a lovable bad boy on screen and off, and even 50 days in jail for marijuana possession (1948) didn't slow his rise to stardom. These days he's best remembered for Out of the Past (1949), The Big Steal (1949), The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Cape Fear (1961, starring Gregory Peck). Mitchum also had success on TV in the 1980s, with the miniseries The Winds of War (1983), North and South (1985) and War and Remembrance (1988). For his contribution to the motion pictures industry, Robert Mitchum was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6240 Hollywood Blvd.
He was born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum on August 6, 1917 in Bridgeport, Connecticut to shipyard worker James Thomas Mitchum and Ann Harriet Gunderson, a Norwegian immigrant and sea captain's daughter. A sister, Annette, (known as Julie Mitchum during her acting career) was born in 1913. Tragically his father was killed in a railyard accident when Mitchum was eighteen months old. After his death, Ann Mitchum was awarded a government pension, and soon realized she was pregnant. She returned to her family in Connecticut, and married a former British Army major who helped her care for the children. In September 1919 a second son, John, was born. When all of the children were old enough to attend school, Ann found employment as a linotype operator for the Bridgeport Post.
As a boy, Mitchum was frequently in trouble, and left home whilst still in his teens. Mitchum was famous for fabricating fantastic tales about his life, claiming to have once escaped from a Georgia chain gang.
In 1940, Mitchum married Dorothy Spence. They moved to California, and he found work with Lockheed Aircraft. His next job was with the Long Beach Theatre Guild, and this led to various jobs as a movie extra, primarily in war movies and Westerns.
His supporting role in 'The Human Comedy' (1943) led to a contract with RKO. Two years later, he starred in 'The Story of G.I. Joe' and earned his first and only Oscar nomination. Up to that point, Mitchum had been considered little more than a "beefcake" actor. He was also drafted that year, and served eight months in the military.
Following his discharge, Mitchum returned to movies. His role as a woman's former lover, who may or may not have killed her new husband, in 'When Strangers Marry' foreshadowed his import in the developing "Film Noir" genre. His first important noir was 'Out of the Past', a surprise hit that made him a real star.
He was arrested in August 1948 for allegedly possessing marijuana and spent 60 days in jail. He was also involved in several public scuffles.
Mitchum's performance as the menacing southern rapist Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962) brought him even more attention and enhanced his reputation for playing cool, predatory characters. The 1960s were marked by a number of lesser films and missed opportunities. The most notable of his films later in the decade included the war epics The Longest Day (1962) and Anzio (1968), the Shirley MacLaine comedy-musical What a Way to Go! (1964), and the Howard Hawks western El Dorado (1966), a remake of Rio Bravo (1959).
Though well known for noir, Mitchum was versatile, having played in romances, literary dramas, and straight dramas. During the 1960s, Mitchum had only a few notable film roles, but he continued playing leads through the 1970s, including a double stint as detective Phillip Marlowe, in 'Farewell My Lovely' and 'The Big Sleep'.
Mitchum branched out into television with the 1983 epic, The Winds of War. The big-budget Herman Wouk adaptation starred Mitchum as "Pug" Henry, a naval officer and examined the events leading up to America's involvement in World War II. He followed it in 1988 with War and Remembrance. The same year, he returned to the big screen for a memorable supporting role in Scrooged.
A year before his death, Robert Mitchum was diagnosed with emphysema, and lung cancer. He died on July 1, 1997. Despite a reputation as a Hollywood scamp, Mitchum was married to Dorothy Spence from 1940 until his death. Mitchum was survived by his wife, Bonnie; daughters, Victoria Mitchum and Cindy Azbill; eight grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, John Mitchum II in March. His brother, Robert Mitchum, died in 1997.