THE WESTERN FILMS OF ROBERT MITCHUM By GENE FREESE

THE WESTERN FILMS OF ROBERT MITCHUM
Author: Gene Freese
Publication date: November 2019
244 pages in softcover, $39.95
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7849-8
eISBN  978-1-4766-3746-4
McfarlandBooks.com – 800-253-2187

McFarland, Publisher


Most biographies of Hollywood film stars are from the “print the legend” department. Collections of studio publicity releases, agents’ fact free notes and war stories from old Hollywood friends and foes. They’ve been repeated so many times by media outlets and film “historians.”  it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.

That’s Hollywood.

Gene Freese, author

It’s not the case in “The Western Films of Robert Mitchum” by Gene Freese. This book is one of the rare times when you get more than what the title suggests.

Author Gene Freese has done his work the old-fashioned way. Lots of grunt work and untold hours digging through library archives, multiple screenings of films and videos, myriad interviews — in person, on line, by telephone, and through letters from a cross-section of people who’ve given insight to the complex puzzle of the man who was Robert Mitchum.

If you’re expecting a glossy account of the rebellious Mitchum who earned his Hollywood spurs as a hero, villain and contrary old-timer of the west, Gene Freese gives you far more that you expect from a book about a film star. In this book, you get to know the man who inhabited Robert Mitchum’s body, soul, and screen persona.

Practically every would-be Hollywood trivia buff knows about Mitchum’s much-ballyhooed marijuana arrest in the ’40s.  It’s an incident that’s gained legs, often overshadowing the actor’s impressive body of work.

It took Mitchum a while to come to terms with his infamous marijuana legacy while striving to become a diverse and accomplished actor. As Gene Freese explains, Robert Mitchum was so fond of playing the maverick on and off screen, he was perhaps guilty of printing his own legend, an irony not lost on the man who told friends to call him “Mitch.”.

Gene Freese traces Mitchum’s rough and tumble beginnings, separating fact from fiction. They are no less fascinating without the Hollywood public relations excesses. In fact, they are more interesting given Freese’s matter-of-fact detail of “Mitch’s” harrowing years as a young man, bumming his way cross country with real life hobos during the great depression.There was nothing glamorous or romantic about sharing a railroad box car with grimy men who had little to live for and were quick with a shiv to quiet upstart youngsters like Mitchum.

As author Freese explains, Robert Mitchum’s tough guy persona was born during his formative years. Hollywood was far from Mitch’s mind when he decided to see the country on his own terms. It was Woody Guthrie wanderlust.

Gene Freese’s anecdotes are rich with detail as the youthful Mitch is schooled by real-life hardliners who brooked no fools. Mitchum would use the behavior of those tough guys in his actor’s toolbox. Freese describes how Robert Mitchum closely studied the people around him, grew to understand them and ultimately allowed them to inhabit his screen persona.

Many of Gene Freese’s accounts of Robert Mitchum’s life hit home. I had the opportunity to spend a long social afternoon with Mitchum in the early ’70s when he was filming “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” in Boston. I was a television news reporter and the lunch followed the interview I’d done with Mitchum. Our time was spent in a seedy bar where Mitch could relax without having to deal with gawking fans. Mitch was relaxed and I got to see many sides of his personality, so well described by Gene Freese.

Garry Armstrong and “The Western Films of Robert Mitchum”

The Western Films of Robert Mitchum” reads like a friendly chat by a fire in the evening. It’s conversational and comfortable. Gene gives you film details much like your favorite sports writer breaks down a game. I found myself slowing down to get all the details, my fingers tracing the information from title, producer, director, stars, right down to the extras and wranglers.  If you ever wondered who played the henchman, the bully or the bartender, Freese has the names and terrific back-stories to go with character actors like Ward Bond, Paul Fix, and Morgan Woodward — names you might recognize if you are a western movie fan.

Freese gives you a fresh and honest look at Robert Mitchum’s family life. Robert Mitchum was married to one woman for his entire life, something the tabloid people rarely mention. Mitchum’s father role, as Gene Freese tells us, was far more accomplished than most of his peers.There are plenty of family stories that I’m sure will surprise and delight you.

Robert Mitchum’s “noir” westerns finally get some long overdue attention. Films like “Blood On The Moon,”  “Pursued,” and “Track Of The Cat” played in theaters and television and never got proper critical appreciation. “Just another western,” many folks thought. Gene Freese conducts Film 101 and you’ll be surprised, I think, at how good those movies are.

Robert Mitchum’s non-westerns are not overlooked. Think about “Night of the Hunter” and “Cape Fear” to mention two of Mitch’s scariest villains. Gene Freese gives you a lot to chew on about Mitchum’s approach and work on those two classics.

As a western fan, you’ll want to know more about Mitchum’s work with John Wayne. Their relationship, on and off screen, is fascinating and funny. Drinking prowess was just a small part of it. If you recall “El Dorado,” Wayne and Mitch (aka “The big two”), is exhibit A and the book has all the details.

In his later years, Robert Mitchum made some questionable professional choices.  Some mediocre films were made and other excellent roles were turned down. He worked a lot and Gene Freese pulls no punches as he explains how it happened.

“Tombstone” was Robert Mitchum’s last important movie job.  He was the narrator. He could’ve been in the movie but chose instead to be “the voice.”  Gene Freese, again, gives information which is unknown, even to many “movie mavens.”.

As a huge fan of old Hollywood, I loved the book. My heroes have really always been cowboys. Gene Freese’s “The Western Films of Robert Mitchum” not only left me better informed, it also left me smiling. We need more smiles.

WHEN MOVIE MAVENS MEET – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Movie Trivia, once a parlor game among friends, has grown into a worldwide, billion-dollar industry including databases, online fan clubs, and television stations like Turner Classic Movies, The Movie Channel, and American Classic Movies.

Gene Freese

People, like me, fancied themselves as experts on classic movies. Over the decades, I’ve devoured dozens of books on films, the stars, the old studios, the Hollywood power brokers, and, yes, the juicy gossip about legendary actors, actresses, and directors.

During my TV News career, as many of you know, I had the good fortune of meeting many of the old Hollywood legends who shared stories with me. Inside stories. Stuff that prompted me to proclaim myself as the movie maven. My knowledge has often been tested over the years by prominent public figures. movie stars and friends.  The queries sometimes included dead of night phone calls for trivia that had stumped someone.

The Superstitions

Social media and online fan clubs have recently dimmed the luster of my maven title.  Lots of folks know their movie trivia and are quick to share. A little humility — this know-it-all doesn’t go down easily.

Gene’s dad Marty Freese in Old Tuscon

One of the traits of a genuine movie maven is knowledge of character actors, the names way below the title in a movie. You’ve seen them often but can’t remember their names. I always could, dating back to the first movie I saw as a 4-year-old in a first-run theater.  It was “The Best Years Of Our Lives” from 1946.  I quickly picked up names like Steve Cochran, Ray Teal, Gladys George, and Roman Bohman. They played small but vital roles and I looked for them in future films.

Sedona from Schnebly Hill

Three years ago, I wrote a piece about Richard Jaeckel, a character actor whose face you probably recall if not his name. Jaeckel played “the kid” in numerous war and western films, he was perpetually young for almost four decades in films like “Sands Of Iwo Jima”, The Gunfighter” and “Comeback Little Sheba” which was an “against typecasting” role.

I met Jaeckel in Boston in the early ’70s during a film promotion tour. The interview turned into a long afternoon of social chit chat which was the basis of my piece.

One of the online responses came from a gentleman very familiar with Richard Jaeckel. It turns out Mr. Freese was writing a book about Jaeckel.  I easily shared anecdotes about Jaeckel with Gene who, in turn, shared some of his stories.  It turned out Gene, an Arizona native is a prolific author with a keen knowledge of many of the character and stunt actors whose faces are familiar — if not their names.

Many of you, of a certain age, recall TV series like “Yancey Derringer” and “Laredo”. The former starred Jack (Jock) Mahoney as a gambler and upholder of the law. The Latter,  William Smith as one of a quartet of happy go lucky Texas Rangers.

I was thrilled to be the recipient of numerous anecdotes from Gene Freese about the likes of Mahoney, Smith, L.Q. Jones, Leo Gordon (remember the bad guy in the mudslide fight with Duke Wayne in “McLintock”?  Leo V. Gordon was the dean of bad guys in many films over four decades. He was a scary dude.

As was the previously mentioned William Smith who often played vicious psychopaths — you may recall him as the sailor thug in “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Gene Freese floored me with tales of the real William Smith, a gentle poet, and a folk singer.

If you love old westerns, you’ll find Gene’s books take you to the locations of films like “Winchester 73,” “Pat Garrett And Billy the Kid,” and “The Last Hard Men,” as well as TV series like “The High Chaparral” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.”  Gene has walked the desert trails and climbed the mountains of films like “3 Godfathers,” “3:10 To Yuma,” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.”

Gene Freese is an avid outdoorsman. He and his family share a love of hiking and mountain climbing.  Gene is an “always there Dad” for his children’s sports and social activities. His dad set the tone for movie stunt and character work. They are familiar figures at Arizona’s old west venues that draw many fans.  Freese has the sensitivity to give fan besieged western actors space and garners many wonderful anecdotes from movie people who are normally reticent. Stunt actors are especially wary of “Pilgrims.”

I just finished “The Western Films of Robert Mitchum,” Freese’s latest book.  It gives you a fresh look at “Mitch,” an actor with whom I spent time and whose professional legend is too often reduced to tawdry gossip and an over-hyped drug arrest early in his career.  You’ll appreciate Mitchum’s work ethic as well as his varied talents which included writing poetry and composing music.

Gene Freese got to the heart and soul of Robert Mitchum as no else has.  It’s a tribute to Gene’s ability. Yes, there will be a review of the Mitch book — coming soon at this address.

Thanks, Gene. I look forward to our next share.

SIGNS OF OUR TIMES AND FAREWELL MY LOVELY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Last night, I was gritting my teeth over the Senate Impeachment travesty and another household repair issue. The tank on the toilet in our primary bathroom cracked just hours after Marilyn had workers back to redo problems on our new shower. All this while we’re figuring out how to pay for a newer version of our 31-year-old oil burner, the baseball sign-stealing scandal, the recent bitterly cold winter, never-ending begathon calls from political candidates, not to mention marathon barkathons from our furry kids, I was ready for the cuckoos’ nest.  (Yes, I know this is exhibit A of a run-on sentence.)

I opted for the MLB Channel and Ken Burns’ “Baseball’ series. Marilyn had bought me the boxed DVD series but this was running, so I tuned in. We got the 1960s episode.  As only Burns, Lynn Novak and company can do it, it was a Ph.D. on the good, bad, and ugly of the 60s which remain etched in most of our memories. Certainly, it’s etched in mine since I was in the middle of many of its biggest stories.

1969 The Amazing Mets!

The Curt Flood saga is always good to see. I think most people don’t remember Flood’s contribution to the game and the price he paid for going up against the establishment. Today’s free agents and their agents should be forever grateful to Curt Flood and maybe send him a cut of their deals.

It was also good to see Casey and his Amazin’ Mets. I had the good luck to be a young newsie, covering Casey, Marvelous Marv, Elio Chacon and those loveable, bumbling guys who would blossom into Seaver and the ’69 World Champs. I loved seeing Casey, the 70+ loveable legend who gave me some of the funniest interviews ever. I usually forgot the question I asked as Casey continued talking in Stengelese –10 minutes or more, uninterrupted.

Ebbets Field

The eulogies to Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park and other ancient stadiums paving the way for domed stadiums and fake grass would make another great post.

Profiles on Sandy Koufax (what a handsome dude), Stan Musial, Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Ty Cobb (his last days, never to be mourned at this address),  Marvin Miller, Yaz, and Bob Gibson were so well done. Bob Costas, the perennial Boy Scout with the great pipes and memories of the game — and Billy Crystal, The Yankee fan, recollecting the flight of the Dodgers and demise of Ebbets Field.

Then it was time for my bedroom movie. Robert Mitchum in his 1975, “Farewell, My Lovely.”  I’d seen it first run in the movies and didn’t fully appreciate Mitch. I thought he was too old.

Time makes all the difference. Last night’s viewing was a revelation. Mitch was perfect as the aging, tired, down-on-his-luck private eye. He brought a new meaning to world-weary. He was the best Phillip Marlowe of them all. His narration of the film was an added delight. I listened carefully to the narration.  A lesson for would-be narrators or audiobook performers.

Although in color, director Dick Richards used washed out hues to give it a film noir look. It should’ve been in B&W – but I guess the AVCO Embassy suits nixed the idea.  Mitchum’s work was masterful and now is in my top five ratings of his body of work.

John Ireland was sublimely good as Mitch’s cop pal.  Ditto the rest of the cast including Harry Dean Stanton, Sylvia Miles (Oscar-winning best-supporting actress), Charlotte Rampling, Anthony Zerbe, and a young Sly Stallone.

I waited for and enjoyed Mitch’s weary line to Ireland. “Dave, why is it that everything I touch turns to shit?” Mitch gave a Tom Selleck mega-sigh and Ireland stares at him with compassion.  Great scene.

What a guy!

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.

INTOLERANCE: REEL AND REAL – Garry Armstrong

A friend today posted a review on Facebook about the film, “Schindler’s List” which he had just seen for the first time, 25-years after the acclaimed movie’s release. My friend talked about the film’s haunting power, its narrative about one man’s brave quest to save a number of Holocaust victims from death.

It’s based on a true story and Schindler holds a special place in Israel for his efforts.

Charlottesville rally

Stephen Spielberg said he made the film to honor its hero, Oscar Schindler and remember all the Holocaust victims, those who were saved and the many who weren’t.

The film — with current headlines about neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rallies in the United States and elsewhere — feels more relevant than ever. The recent attacks on Synagogues in Pittsburgh and anti-semitic incidents in Massachusetts — leave people wondering: “Have we forgotten?”

Wounds are raw from last year’s ugly Charlottesville KKK rally that claimed one life and left our President issuing comments about “perpetrators on both sides.”  Antisemitism and racism continue to be headline stories more than 75-years after millions gave their lives in a war that should have ended those injustices.

Obviously not. There have been a few “message” movies that deal with those still festering issues which many insist no longer exist. Dissidents say it’s more “fake news” from the liberal media.  So many ostriches with their heads in the sand.

The other night I revisited the movie “Crossfire” which was released by RKO in 1947, the year before the more acclaimed “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was released. This drew public attention and “surprise” about Antisemitism in post-war America.

“Crossfire” is an excellent, understated film about this virulent subject matter. Its director, Edward Dmytryk (a victim of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous “Blacklist) used the plot of a small group of GI’s, just mustered out of the war and trying to fit back into society.

Circa 1955: Studio headshot portrait of Canadian-born film director Edward Dmytryk (1908 – 1999). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

They encounter a friendly civilian at a bar who listens to their complaints about readjustment and offers sympathy where others just tune them out. One of the GI’s — lonely for his wife and exhibiting PTSD symptoms — is befriended by the civilian who invites him home for drinks and quiet conversation.

The other soldiers – uninvited — crowd into the apartment and lap up the booze.  One of them, a very obnoxious vet — sneers at men who avoided combat, who got rich running banks and law practices. He looks at one of his confused pals and yells: “Jews, man! You know those people! They get rich while we fight and die. Jews!”

The civilian referred to as “Sammy,” is tolerant. Veteran actor Sam Levene who played many similar roles is perhaps overly patient with the bigoted GI. This is Robert Ryan in one of his most chilling villain roles.

Robert Ryan

The secondary plot has “Sammy” murdered by one of the GIs. The PTSD soldier is fingered as the suspect but we know better. Robert Young, in a pre “Father Knows Best” role, plays the tough, weary cop who sifts through all the alibis. This is one of Robert Mitchum’s early films. He is excellent as the soft-spoken, no-nonsense veteran who is suspicious of the venomous Ryan character.

Ryan is ultimately outed as he rants about “those people.” He gets what he deserves and is gunned down during a police chase on a rainy New Orleans Street.

The final scene with Young and Mitchum in conversation about Ryan’s demons ends quietly as they go their separate ways, both wondering what World War Two was really all about.

Robert Mitchum

In an early 1970s interview, Robert Mitchum remembered “Crossfire.” He was in Boston shooting “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle,” so I had the good fortune to spend a long afternoon into the evening over drinks with “Mitch.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Mitchum recalled what it was like working in the 1940s, especially with “The Blacklist” hovering over Hollywood. He said some pals urged him not to do “Crossfire” because it would hurt his career.

“Mitch” grinned at me “You know what that was all about, Don’t ya?”   I nodded.  Mitchum continued, “There were so many hateful bastards —  there were always dissing Negroes (he looked at me and I nodded an ‘okay’) and Jews. They always thought I was with them. I had a few fights and dumped a few jobs because I couldn’t stand the two-faced bastards.”

Robert Mitchum, older portrait

I looked at Mitch and confirmed: “Not much has changed.” He shook his head sadly and ordered another round.

That was almost 50 years ago. No, not much has changed.  Not on the silver screen or in real life.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO JOIN THEM

72-robert-mitchum-man-in-the-middle-1964-3

It was the end of the movie. A man was undergoing a court-martial. It was unjust and Robert Mitchum, as his defense attorney, was having a difficult time securing justice. Just post World War II, there were a lot of highly placed and well-connected Army brass who needed the accused to be found guilty. Why? Because a guilty verdict would stop any further investigation of what really happened and who was truly involved.

If the story sounds familiar, it is. When important people, movers and shakers — no matter whether they are government, military, or major corporate players, “the truth” is, as often as not, one of the casualties of whatever is going down. Truth, honesty, justice, fairness … mere collateral damage in an endless war in which we are all pawns and the power is in the hands of the rich, powerful, and well-connected.

man-in-the-middle-the-winston-affair-poster-1964Justice is not done in this case, though the outcome could be worse, depending on how you choose to look at it. It’s a British production and there is a sense of frustration and futility that even after fighting and dying, regular people are still taking the hit for those in power.


Thus, at the end of movie, when it is pointed out to Mitchum that they didn’t win, he agrees.

——

But then he says: “Just because you can’t lick’em, doesn’t mean you have to join’em, either.”

——

Maybe, in the final analysis, that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes, we lose, but we don’t have to give up our sense of purpose, our honesty, or throw away the things in which we believe. We don’t have to join them.

My team, my beliefs, my principles took a major hit. But don’t think for a minute this means I’m about to passively join the mob of sycophants and “true believers.”

I do not have to join them.

Neither do you.

ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM AND ME – 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.

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.

Listeria – Western Actors Edition

Great choices!

SBI: A Thinning Crowd

I know that this edition of Listeria is coming along soon after the last edition of Listeria, but I went overboard on my last trip to the magazine stand. Besides, this one covers one of my favorite subjects – Western movies. I grew up watching them with my dad, and that experience played a role in my interest in the history of the West.

American Cowboy published a special issue called “Legends of Western Cinema” and listed the 20 greatest Western actors. However, there is one problem that needs to be addressed before I begin. When people think about Westerns, or the history of the West, they think about cowboys first. Some of the greatest Westerns don’t involve cowboys at all. They involve mountain men, Native Americans, cavalry and all sorts of characters. In the real West, not everyone were cowboys. A good way to see this? If there are…

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Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr – Garry Armstrong

Marilyn and I are sitting in the living room, wrapped in our blankets coping with resurgent cold New England weather. We’re watching Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. It’s a charming star turn for Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and director John Huston.

“Mitch”, as TCM host Robert Osborne called him, was a much underrated actor.

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Huston, according to Osborne, said of Mitchum “… He’s one of the finest actors I’ve ever worked with … of the caliber with Olivier, Burton and Brando”.

I met “Mitch” when he was shooting Friends of Eddie Coyle in Boston. I’d been warned not to bother him. He turned out to be a terrific guy. He gave me a great interview.

Then, we moved to a seedy bar — at Mitchum’s suggestion — for an afternoon of drinks and gossip. It was obvious he cared about acting, but ” a job was a job. It was okay as long as the film company’s check was good”. He wound up doing a memorable job as a less than heroic figure in Friends of Eddie Coyle.

If you haven’t seen it, you need to watch “Mitch” co-starring with Deborah Kerr, Cary Grant and Jean Simmons in The Grass Is Greener. Old heavy eye lids more than holds his own in this clever comedy

As for Deborah Kerr, I was, like most film mavens I knew, madly in love with her. She came to Boston to do a stage play. She was courteous to all the media, including one gushing friend who did the closing lines from Tea And Sympathy in her dressing room. She told the film crew to make sure they “got my good side”.

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It didn’t matter to me. I was transfixed. Now, back to Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.