Baby, I Don't Care
By Lee Server
A Biography of Robert Mitchum
Hardcover, 590 pp.
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, Inc.
In 1970 when Jack Nicholson broke free from B movie hell to bag an Oscar nomination for Easy Rider, his fondness for blue jeans and substance abuse marked him as a rebel. But Smiling Jack, like most of Hollywood's so-called rebels, was a rebel only when the cameras rolled. You don't get the seat of honor on Oscar night, as Nicholson does, by thumbing your nose at the establishment.
But Robert Mitchum was the real deal. Baby, I Don't Care, the title of Lee Server's new Mitchum biography, was more than a line from one of his movies. It summed up his attitude toward Hollywood and life.
He made more than 100 movies but few of them were the kind that win Oscars or life achievement awards for its stars. The classier projects either eluded him or, when offered, were turned down. Perhaps his own lack of identification with class meant he was more at home in the sinister milieu of film noir where the air was thick with cigarette smoke and the darkest shadows failed to obscure even darker intentions.
Mitchum's life was a blueprint for a B flick. As a youth, he took to the rode as a hobo, even serving time on a Georgia chain gang before landing in Hollywood where his brawny physique fit perfectly against the Western landscape of the Hopalong Cassidy series. His doomed sergeant in The Story of G.I. Joe brought him stardom and an Oscar nomination, but he treated it as a joke. "I have three expressions," he said. "Looking left, looking right, and looking straight ahead."
Along the way there were numerous affairs with his leading ladies, none of which threatened his marriage, a notorious drug bust that almost ended his career, barroom brawls, drinking and smoking of substances both legal and illegal, and some notable films like Night of the Hunter and Farewell, My Lovely. But for a tough guy, Mitchum often comes across as too passive to assert his best interests. He turned down the lead in Patton because he believed the producers would compromise the portrait of the blood and guts general and he would sit back and let them do it.
Server portrays Mitchum as a sensitive soul whose gruff exterior helped shield him from a less than sensitive world. But Mitchum often comes across as a sadistic creep, pelting his co-stars with a BB gun to kill boredom on the set, and throwing a basketball at a female photographer when she dared to aim her camera at him in 1982.
Whatever one's view of Mitchum's career and personality, Server offers a portrait of a man who played by his own rules right to the end. Mitchum's life may not have been exemplary, but it makes for an entertaining read.
Brian W. Fairbanks
Originally published at Paris Woman Journal
© 2001 Paris Woman Journal
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