Baby, I Don't Care
'You want my life story? I told everything I know to the Angeles Police Department.' A tough guy with lazy style and soulful eyes, Mitchum was one of Holywood's best-loved actors. Associated most strongly with film noir on account of his hard-edged performances in films like Out of the Past and Night of the Hunter, Mitchum's work actually ran the gamut of Hollywood fare, from Westerns like El Dorado to David Lean's tragic romance Ryan's Daughter. But Mitchum was one of the few Hollywood stars whose real life was more interesting than his screen persona. A hobo during the Depression, he fell into acting by happenstance. After early success he was famously busted for smoking marijuana in the 1950s, and remained an unrepentant misbehaver until his death in 1997. Lee Server's biography of Mitchum is exhaustively researched and written with considerable panache, a style befitting its hip, laconic subject, making for a fabulous read about a fascinating life.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
In the 30 or so years since I started reading and even writing a few of them, Hollywood biographies have gone sharply downhill. Now that the subjects themselves (or, worse, their agents and managers) demand involvement, all you usually end up with are fan magazines in hard covers, recyclings of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, or the inane as-told-to ramblings of some rubbishy movie star who has been told by acolytes that they have a literary gift above and beyond the accurate spelling of their (often false) names. All the more reason to praise Lee Server's massively magnificent account of Robert Mitchum. True, the actor had the grace to die before the book was complete, thereby placing him beyond reach of libel lawyers; true too, there had never been anything definitive on Mitchum; and true, finally, he was almost the last of the old giants. When he died 24 hours before James Stewart on the last day of June 1997, there really was the feeling that Hollywood, the old Hollywood, had done forward. Was Mitchum a great actor? Almost certainly not. Was he a great film star? Undoubtedly. He was also his own creation, built of decades of drink and drugs and alcohol. Unlike the pygmies who tried to follow in his footsteps down the mean streets of a thousand Philip Marlowe rip-offs, Mitchum was the property of no director, no studio, no writer. Always there, tall in the saddle except when the alcohol caused him to fall off, usually most afternoons; always a better actor than critics allow, because it takes talent to play other people but genies to play yourself in a hundred movies. Mitchum didn't just do something he stood there, and in public as in private, there was a magnificent carelessness about the man. He never really meant to be an actor, but when he found himself acting, he always did it to the best of the abilities of his scripts : in a great movie he was great, and in a bad one he was at least usually watchable. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he had no real stage past, no desire for an Oscar or a fortune in real estate: he wanted to be left alone, to get on with the girls and the guns that were always what he knew best. He was a crapshooter with no time for the crap, and he understood deep down what the cinema was all about. It was all about getting laid and getting paid, but just sometimes you suddenly did a look, a shot, a retake that made you a genius. This is a great book about a great star in the days when they came at you not off some tiny television but off a screen the size of a California carpark. (Sheridan Morley's John G,the authorised biography of Sir John Gielgud, has sold out two hardback editions and will be available in paperback and as an audiobook this winter. He is currently writing his memoirs, Asking for Trouble.) (Kirkus UK)
A thorough, meticulously researched study of the actor's life and career that successfully captures its subject's split personality..Mitchum (1917 - 97) was a true dichotomy: Raised in poverty and reared on poetry, he fostered a devil-may-care persona that he endlessly contradicted, both onscreen and off. And while he was often charming and gallant (especially to those leading ladies whom he favored, including Shirley MacLaine, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr), he could turn on a dime and become a vulgar, loutish boor. For those who know Mitchum primarily for his laconic portrayal of the military patriarch "Pug" Henry in ABC's 1983 miniseries "The Winds of War "(and its sequel, "War and Remembrance"), Server ("Danger Is My Business", 1993) shines a light on a long and often distinguished career that began in 1943 with B-movie Westerns, progressed to film noir (to many, Mitchum was the epitome of the tough guy) and included some works of astonishing originality, among them "The Night of the Hunter "(1955), "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison "(1957), and "The Sundowners "(1960). Even when drunk or stoned on marijuana (Mitchum's drug of choice, which he began smoking when he rode the rails as a teen hobo, and which played a role in his narcotics arrest in 1948), he had the remarkable ability to sober up in front of the cameras and to truly listen and relate to the other performers. To some, his naturalistic, laid-back acting seemed almost nonexistent ("his curious languor suggests Bing Crosby supersaturated on barbiturates," wrote James Agee in "Time"). But others - among them Charles Laughton and John Huston - saw a mercurial depth in his performances and ranked him with the likes of Olivier, Brando, and Burton..Server captures the colorful anecdotes and beat jargon of the actor's heyday, although he occasionally gives too much information about peripheral characters. But that's a minor quibble, and ultimately the reader comes away caring deeply about this gifted, flawed man and artist. (16 pp. b&w photos). (Kirkus Reviews)