Actor, director, writer. Born Robert Charles Duran Mitchum, on August 6, 1917, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During his lengthy show business career, Mitchum was a major star who was cast in more than 125 films, often in tough-guy roles. A writer for CNN Interactive called him "a rugged leading man and sometime bad boy who defined cool before Hollywood knew what it was." Mitchum's talents allowed him to take on a variety of roles, from villains and heroic soldiers to Old West lawmen and psychotic killers.
Mitchum lived for a time in New York City before he left home at the age of twelve. In performed a variety of odd jobs, including work in a local theater as a stagehand, director, and actor, as well as work as a aircraft assembler, deckhand, ditch digger, nightclub bouncer, shoe salesman, coal miner, boxer, and radio script writer. He was also arrested for vagrancy in Georgia at age sixteen and was sentenced to time on a chain gang.
His first film work began in the 1940s as he was signed to appear in westerns featuring Hopalong Cassidy. In 1943 alone he made more than a dozen films. The decade also saw Mitchum in movies such as Thirty Seconds Over Toyko, Holiday Affair, and The Story of G.I. Joe. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for the last film. The decade ended with Mitchum in trouble again with the law. He was arrested on charges of marijuana possession and served two months on a prison honor farm. In the 1950s he starred in motion pictures such as Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Fire Down Below, and The Wonderful Country.
In 1962 he appeared as a psychotic killer in Cape Fear, and he later made a cameo appearance in the 1991 remake starring Robert De Niro. Other 1960s appearances included roles in The Sundowners, What a Way to Go!, El Dorado, and Five Card Stud. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked in movies such as Ryan's Daughter, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Last Tycoon, Scrooged, and That Championship Season.
His later work included the opening narration in the western Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, and a role in Dead Man. Mitchum also made television appearances in the miniseries The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, and North and South, and he appeared on the series A Family for Joe and Family Man. "Mitchum's trademarks were his athletic 6-foot-1 frame, heavy-lidded eyes and a casual attitude that could unerringly convey either stoic heroism or devious sadism," wrote a Chicago Tribune reporter. "He parlayed these qualities, plus his instinctive gifts and unflappability, into a career playing movie tough guys of all varieties." The London Times surmised: "A gift for impressionists, Mitchum was a big man with sleepy eyes, a laconic voice and drooping shoulders whose world-weary cynicism was often laced with dry humour. He could be menacing or charming and was sometimes both at once."
He received a lifetime achievement award from American Theatre Arts in 1983 and a Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, but never was honored with an Academy Award. Mitchum died of emphysema and lung cancer on July 1, 1997, in Santa Barbara, California.
© Biography Resource Center, 2001 Gale Group
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