HANGING OUT 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-time 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 workday 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 moreย 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.

64 thoughts on “HANGING OUT WITH ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM – Garry Armstrong

    • Covert, I was pleased that I could put most of these legends at ease. These were the days before satellite interviews. They had to do interviews with myriad local reporters in dozens of cities and towns across the country when they were plugging their stuff. It got to be very repetitous for them Most of the local media folks were overwhelmed by the celebs and were less than professional. I was lucky to have my own schtick — make it conversational and try to throw in pertinent, off the wall questions.
      Case in point: Gregory Peck. Peck was at my alma mater – Hofstra College (now a UNIVERSITY, if you please) in the mid 60’s, not long after “To Kill A Mockingbird”. He was always barraged with “Mockingbird” questions by reporters. We did our sitdown in the audience of the college theatre. I think Peck was doing a one man show so he enjoyed the environment. I believe I was doing a radio interview for the college station. I had this big tape recorder, a “Butoba” which fascinated Gregory Peck. It was a big device. He kept looking it over and smiled, saying it reminded him of HIS college days when he did radio as well plays which were his forte. He had that deep, rich voice – perfect for radio. Anyway, we’re into the interview with Peck talking about all the “Mockingbird” attention. Along the way, he said he didn’t do comedy, didn’t feel comfortable with it. I asked him about a movie called “Designing Women” which he did with Lauren Bacall. It was a remake of the Tracy-Hepburn classic, :”Woman of the Year”. Peck is okay in the remake but seems a litle stiff. Peck looked at me, smiled and laughed. He said, “You son-of-a-gun, you got me, trapped me”. Peck rarely discussed that film because he wasn’t pleased with his work in it. He leaned over and tapped me on the knee, acknowledging , “You know your stuff, young man”. The rest of the interview was terrific as we talked about projects that failed. I, of course, had a very short portfolio at that point. But it included a radio drama I’d writtten for the college station, “Pale Rider” (Years later, Clint Eastwood “stole” my title for a “Shane” like western). My drama was gawd-awful with purple prose and dialogue that was bad at the time and even worse when I listened to it years later. But I was a “suit” at the radio station and the staff obliged me, many of them giggling at the smelly script as we did the show. Gregory Peck loved this anecdote and laughed loudly, slapping his knees and remembering similar ill-fated projects he undertook in college. The remainder of the interview was like two old college kids, remembering their foolish follies. When we wrapped, Peck said it was the most enjoyable interview he’d done in years.
      That’s the way it went for me in many of my celeb interviews. Just relax and get them to share things.

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      • What a delight. Special. You are awesome. It was the way to go. They must get tired if all the same old same old, so your interview would be refreshing. That’s my take anyway. Gone, the days of spectacular rolls, actors and actresses. AND interviewers I might add.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Covert, thanks so much. Yes, many of the local reporters were gushy and asked really soft, silly questions that – in volume – irritated the stars. They anticipated this gushy, fan-like stuff in local interviews. I guess I was different enough to make things enjoyable. It all goes back to advice I got from Merv Griffin when I was really wet behind the ears. I did the interview without any real thought – listening and doing it conversationally rather than asking questions from a card. It was always my style – no big deal to me. Griffin -as we packed to leave – shook my hand and said I had a promising career ahead. “Why, do you say that”, I asked. The late night yakker smiled and said, “You really LISTENED to me. That’s VERY important”. I never forgot what Griffin told me.

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          • Pretty awesome! To me, that’s the sign of a great reporter, one who listens, and one who asks the interesting questions, not the everyday drivel that a thousand others have already asked.

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  1. Name Dropper! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Wonderful recollections and memories from days when ‘stars’ were worthy of the name. I imagine though that for every Mitch and Hepburn, there would have been some who wouldn’t notice you even if you were interviewing them…. or no?

    Loved reading your post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob, there were several notable comedians and comic actors who were very difficult. Then, there was funnyman Norm Crosby. We did the interview on the rooftop lounge of a prominent Boston Hotel. Norm kept staring at the airplanes arriving and leaving, in low trajectory, to and from nearby Logan Airport. He kept grabbing his ears. I noticed he was wearing hearing aids. I pointed to mine and he laughed. That interview went well with Norm spending more time on his hearing difficulties than show biz stuff. We shared. The shoot went very, very well. Afterwards, Crosby shook my hands, saying it was great to meet someone who understood hearing impaorment and he said he felt very relaxed, a rarity for him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ๐Ÿ™‚ I should think your hearing difficulty would have made you quite unique in your field! I’m sure you would put may high profile people at ease in your interviews, get them to let their ‘guard’ down a little?

        I think a great percentage of ‘funny men’ are only funny on screen and have quite dark pasts underneath the smiles.

        Robin Williams was one, for example. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

        Liked by 1 person

        • Bob, do you remember my anecdote about Robin Williams and Billy Crystal making me look silly? 1988, they were in Boston when the Dukakis-For- President campaign was heating up. During the Q&A session, I tied to be cute and asked, “Does it seem like Michael Dukakis lacks chutzpah?” – Everything went silent and I knew I was in trouble. The newsconference was being covered by BIGLY media. International, national and local. It felt like ALL the cameras were focused on me as Robin and Billy walked through the room to where I sat. I began to sweat a little. Williams and Crystal went at it. “Hey, you hear what the brother said? He said ‘Chutzpah’ but he didn’t get it right. He didn’t put enough spit into it. Each comic grabbed a side of my face, pulling it, saying “Brother, you gotta put lots of spit into Chutzpah. Now, try it . SPIT brother. Spit!” I tried and failed. The newsconference — International, national and local reporters reporters exploded with laughter. I was beet red with embarrassment. BUT — my misadventure, my foolish folly – got lots of attention. The goofy thing was aired and repeated, myriad times around the world. Another lesson for me — never try to be funny with comedians.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Gary: Terrific piece. What was the name of the restaurant you brought him to. And where had the day’s “shoot” been that you interviewed him at? Steve

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    • Hi, Steve: It’s great to hear from you. My Wife just read your comment and asked who you are? You need to know I’ve been retired from Channel 7 since October, 2001 after putting in 31 years at the station. So, I’m a bit out of the loop here in bucolic Uxbridge where we have lived since 2000. I remembered your name but struggled to place you in the Boston media world. No offense intended. We quickly back traced your illustrious career and stirred my memory.

      Robert Mitchum: I had last dibs on him after the entertainment reporters from Channels 4 and 5. He was a bit restless and looked like he could use a drink. We began at the OLD Red Hat which you should remember. It was a seedy bar in Government Center – across the street from City Hall and the Telephone Company. That Red Hat was really something out of a Mitchum film Noir. Low light, smell of puke, dirty floors. Lots of drifters coming and going. The booze was cheap and strong.

      Mitchum’s entrance caused minimal attention. A couple of the fellas waved “Hi!” to me and nodded at Mitchum. I’m not sure they recognized him. I think we chowed down on grilled cheese sandwiches between 5 or 6 rounds of drinks. I could still hold my booze back then and Mitchum appreciated it. After a couple of hours, we moved out – across the street – past City Hall Plaza, around the Old State House and down Pi Alley — to another “colorful” bar called “The New Place” located in the basement and had an ambience similar to The Red Hat.

      Again, I was greeted by the “regulars” – telephone company repairmen, construction workers and a few lawyers trying to forget why their cases went south. It was a “Usual Suspects” joint. Again, no hassles. The guys peered at Mitch now and then but no one bothered us. I think we spent the rest of the afternoon there — up to about 530pm when my conscience kicked in and I called the Channel 7 assignment desk with a bogus story about the afternoon. They had edited the Mitchum piece (I always sent back precise editing instructions which made life simple for editors who usually went the extra mile for me as a sign of appreciation). Mitchum and I walked out the door and I started back down Pi Alley, heading for Ch-7. As I walked away, I looked back. Mitchum was grinning, gave me a thumbs up and headed back down into “The New Place” That’s it, Steve. Sorry to be long winded. Hope it helps. Can I ask why the interest? Hope it helps. Let me know what’s doing. My email address: kachingerosa@gmail.com

      Just remembered you asked about the interview locale: We shot it outside 7 Bulfinch St. (Which houses Ch7 and RKO radio– or did as of my last knowledge). There was an area across the Alley (Bulfinch Street) that had tables and seats. Good place to shoot if it wasn’t windy. Okay, I think this is wrap now.

      All the best,
      Garry

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        • Widdershins, that’s close to my behavior when I interviewed John Wayne. I got through the interview okay but when I got back to the newsroom, I kept telling everyone, “Do you know who shook my hand — John Wayne!” I must’ve gone on babbling like an idiot until someone told me to chill. Hot damn – Duke Wayne called me “Garry” and shook my hand!
          They have a gag reel at Ch 7 of my foolish moments. A long gag reel.
          In retrospect, it speaks to the era when movie stars really were legends and meeting them was SPECIAL. Today, with social media and phone pic snaps, nothing is “special” anymore. A shame!

          Liked by 1 person

            • Widdershins, you are so right. Come to think of it — this all started when I was a kid, listening to radio drama and variety shows with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, etc. We used our imagination in those radio days before television took over.

              Liked by 1 person

    • Widdershins, when the celebs realize it’s relaxed conversation and not interview pretext, they usually relax and share stuff. That’s always been how it worked for me. The key: eye contact and LISTENING to what they’re saying. Just like you’d do with your friends.

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  3. I always love hearing your celebrity stories and this one in particular. I love the way that you could get such natural responses from celebrities. Did you ever meet Robert Mitchum again?
    I especially liked hearing about Katharine Hepburn as I always admired her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so envy Garry’s afternoon with her. He was reading Hal Wallis’ book and he talked about visiting her. He had EXACTLY the same experience as Garry. Same tea. Same cookies. Same advice about wearing nicer clothing. He enjoyed realizing that she had a pattern.

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    • Tas, I never met “Mitch” again although there were a few postcards and short letters from locales of films he was shooting. Then we lost track of each other. More pointedly, Robert Mitchum moved on with his very busy life.
      I hoped there would be another Hepburn meeting but, sadly, there were none.

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    • She was very wrapped up in her career, even though when we met her it was past her several strokes and she had divorced Roald Dahl — and she wasn’t happy about him or how he had treated her. That’s what we talked about. I think Garry felt a bit left out. He didn’t have a nasty ex-husband to discuss. We visited her in New York, too and she talked about Gary Cooper and how he talked plenty when he was with her. In the end, though, we really didn’t have much to talk about and we just let the contact drift away. It turns out that fame alone doesn’t confer common interests for friendship.

      We did strike up a real friendship with Alfred Eisenstadt. He was very old then, though these days he doesn’t seem nearly as old because we were younger. But he had been my mentor. I had copied his pictures, so in a way, he had taught me photography. I had his books of all the pictures he took on the Vineyard and I copied each of them. I found where he stood or hunkered down and reiterated the picture. By the time I was through with that book, I was an acceptable photographer. When he signed my books for me, he could remember each picture he took. Not just the picture, but he remembered the camera, the settings, and what he thought when he saw the shot. For me, this was absolutely brilliant.

      He needed a sitter and his former sister-in-law (Lulu) was always on hand, but sometimes, she really wanted a break. Get into town. Spend a few dollars and just walk around, so we were very pleased to stay with him while she got an afternoon to roam the island. And we had fun. He had a million stories, being the only Jew shooting the Nazis in Germany and shooting portraits of all the stars. And stories about them.

      We had a party and invited him AND Pat Neal and listening to them drop names was like cannonballs hitting the deck. No one even tried to compete. They had ALL the stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He was amazing, and how fortunate that you got to hear his stories. That must have been some party!From information I received, Dahl was extremely attentive to her at first. Then, he became abusive. It was a sad story. I’m just recovering from a bout of food poisoning that hit me yesterday, so I’m a little fuzzy today. Hope to be more coherent in a couple of days.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Patricia, you should have received an email from me — connecting you with another movie maven friend. I hope it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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          • I’m trying to feel better. It really has knocked me out. I’m very weak and attempting, bit by bit, to eat something that is stomach-friendly. As for Pat Neal, she had a rough time with her stroke and then his behavior. I can understand why Garry couldn’t contribute to that conversation. How are you surviving this winter’s extreme cold? We are having an extended rainy season that brought down my back fence, decorating my driveway and sidewalk . Three friends propped it back up, but I’m going to have to get a new once the rains stop.

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    • Becky, thanks. During that long ago summer afternoon, I had this internal flash — I was sitting and chatting with Katherine Hepburn. Thank goodness, I kept it together externally. What a wonderful day!

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    • OG, I was very surprised how down to earth Katherine Hepburn was to this young, newbie TV guy. The image you may have of her was that of her screen personna. A caution: Ms. Hepburn didn’t suffer fools or syncophants. Guess I passed muster.

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  4. Oh, man, I love this story so much!!! Back in the day when I watched you on TV faithfully, I was a huge Mitchum fan and was absolutely insane for Katharine Hepburn. I even named my daughter after her. What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it!!

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    • Mom, this was one of my favorite celebrity encounters because it turned into a PERSONAL afternoon with Robert Mitchum. I always tried hard not to come off as the local fan boy celebrity interviewer (But- I WAS a fan boy!). You didn’t want to ask stupid, gushy questions they’d heard myriad times. I usually aimed for easy conversation while putting aside my mic and notebook. This loosened up the atmosphere and put the star at ease. It clicked with Mitchum. It was like two old friends hanging out for the afternoon at a quiet, local bar. Mitchum laughed at some of the silly stuff I put up with in the newsroom. When I referred to bosses as “suits”, he got it immediately. We shared anecdote after anecdote about doing our “job” while keeping the suits at a distance.
      I told Mitch about bringing in a large, dead fish and, quietly, dumping it on the assignment editor’s desk. That act of insolence provoked anger from the suit who knew instantly who’d done the deed. He loudly called my name mixed with profanities. The newsroom erupted with laughter. Mitch loved the story, giggling and laughing like one of quirky movie villains.We spent the afternoon that way and, I believe, Mitch enjoyed the time we shared.

      Katherine Hepburn: to this day, more than 50 years later, I still don’t believe Katherine Hepburn summoned me to her Connecticut home. But she did. Aparently, she surfed the local TV stations when at her Hartford home. She was interested in the young “talent”. She was always the mentor, trying to inspire young people to pursue their dreams. Ms. Hepburn spotted me doing my stuff on the small RKO-General TV station on Asylum Street in Hartford. I wore many hats. Assistant News Director (Only TWO people in the tiny news department). I did Public Affairs shows, Political Analysis and. my favorite, hosted a movie show every evening. We had life-sized cardboard cut outs of legendary movie stars on the set. On camera, I held “conversations” with the cut out versions of Bogie, Tracy, Wayne, Garfield and, of course, Katherine Hepburn. Hepburn liked my stuff and said it looked real. I guess this was the magnet which prompted her to beckon me for afternoon tea and scones. It was a magical afternoon as Hepburn shared Hollywood stories including a few unsolicted anecdotes about Spencer Tracy, something she RARELY did with the media. I received instructions about my wardrobe. speech pattern and other tips that I immediately put to use. She was right about everything. As I left her house, Katherine smiled and said I would have a decent career if I stayed “honest”. She was right.

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      • Thank you for sharing this, Garry! I feel like I’ve had a magical glimpse into a world I have only dreamed about. Ms. Hepburn will always be one of my heroes. To this day, I can recite almost every word of “The Philadelphia Story.” And remember, you’re famous to me, one of your fans! Now I feel like I have second degree connection to stardom!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mom, glad you enjoyed the piece. I’m pleased. I’ve always said I was lucky to meet and spend time with these larger than life people in my work. It was the “dessert” for the daily grind coverage of murders, fires, sexualt assaults, prison riots, crooked pols and, mother of mercy, those bloody blizzards and pelting rain storms and floods. i dreaded 3’o’clock in the morning calls to cover triple homocides and talk to the victims’ parents. The celebrity stories gave me a little balance.

          I think I pinched myself when James Cagney greeted me as I got off the ferry on Martha’s Vineyard. A wonderful career for Mrs. Armstrong’s oldest son.

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