AN AFTERNOON WITH ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.

The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.

Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small The_Friends_of_Eddie_Coyletime criminals. There was nothing small time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.

The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his work day was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.

Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.

I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me. Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.

It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.

robert_mitchum_by_robertobizama-d4ktib7We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.

Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.

It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.

We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.

I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.

I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.

Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.

Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.

33 thoughts on “AN AFTERNOON WITH ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM – GARRY ARMSTRONG

    • I dvr’d “Hunter”. One of my faves but not my Wife’s. You are absolutely RIGHT about Mitchum’s work in that film.

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    • Yes, Evelyne. Lucky me. I try to stress that every time I tell one of these “legend” stories. A former Boston TV colleague who’s now out in Hollywood has similar stories. He just shared one about Jimmy Stewart. Short version: My friend encountered Stewart at an airport in the late 80’s, I guess. He was a little confused. So, my friend helped Jimmy Stewart find the men’s room. Only problem was he was gushing about great it was to help JIMMY STEWART find the bathroom. There’s a lot of laughter in the celebrity stories.

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  1. Even when you watch Mitchum act you get this sense that he’d rather be doing something else – or that there was nobody he could really ‘talk to’ about anything that was really meaningful to him. Probably a pretty deep guy – if he could find someone who could listen. Evidently he was able to repay that compliment himself.

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    • Mitch was a very deep “cat” as he liked to call himself. We had quite an afternoon, believe me. I left a lot out in the interest of brevity and not boring folks. At one point, I plunked a quarter in the juke box and played Johnny Horton’s “All For The Love Of A Girl”. It’s side “B” of “The Battle of New Orleans”. Mitch and I harmonized nicely. He was quite the musician and had a good voice.

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        • I think the book is gonna happen. We watched a Kirk Douglas one man show on the tube last night. He’s inspirational! Thanks for the continued encouragement.

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Mr. A. “Real” folks are just so much more interesting than their characters, and ’tis good to get that peek at the mind behind the mask.

    Now… Kate Hepburn. Do.Tell. She was before my time, sorta, but at least captured in some ways I could get to “know” her. Pretty sure she was one of the few women around I could’ve been friends with, had we run in the same crowd or time. 🙂

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    • You would’ve liked Mitch and I’m guessing he’d say you were a sweet lady. As for Katherine Hepburn, I’m still flabergastered. That Connecticut TV station was SMALL and I didn’t think we had many viewers. In addition to co-anchoring the news, I hosted a movie show among other things. I talked to life sized celebrity mannequins on our movie “set”. I guess Ms. Hepburn liked my patter and knowledge of classic movies. She was very friendly and down to earth with me during that afternoon visit. Most of all, she was very supportive. I still don’t know why. While I’m on a name dropping roll, I later met Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin on Martha’s Vineyard. Knowing they were among Hepburn’s oldest friends, I told them about my Connecticut encounter. They laughed and said, “That’s Kate. She liked you!”

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    • Thanks, Rose. I think maybe these blogs will ease me into the book. I keep thinking what a lucky guy I was to spend time with all those legends. It would be difficult if not impossible to have the same opportunities today.

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  3. One of the houses we looked at in Fitzwilliam in 1995 was said to have belonged to Robert Mitchum. I would have bought it had my wife not restrained me. Good thing for it had no other redeeming features. Well, a good fireplace.

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  4. I’ve never known any celebrities Garry. I’ve seen one or two around town here because Portland is a hotspot for TV series lately. The husband/father in the reality series Little People Big World is Matt Roloff. He and his family live on their farm just 5 miles from where I live. I spotted Matt last year as a friend & I went to their pumpkin patch during the Halloween season.

    Anyway this isn’t about me but your post about Robert Mitchum. He’s a little bit before my time but of course I did see him in a lot of old classic westerns. His facial expressions remind me of Sylvester Stallone or Vincent Schiavelli, a famous horror movie actor with a droopy face.

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    • Bob, people keep saying Robert Mitchum was a little before their time. Makes me wonder about myself. Mitch was a far better actor than Sly or Schiavelli. As for knowing celebrities, it’s all about time and opportunity. I was just very, very lucky. One of Marilyn’s blogger colleagues grew up in old Hollywood. HER stories are absolutely fascinating. Of course, you have to be a fan of classic movies and the stars of that golden age. I am!!

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    • Rick, if I write the book..and now it seems like WHEN…there’ll be a lot more. Mitch was such a delightful guy. I’m pumped to watch “Night of the Hunter” again if Marilyn permits.

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