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 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.

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! 😉

    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. 🙂

    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

      • 🙂 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. 😦

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        • 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

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