Actor. Famous for his tough-guy roles in film noirs and Westerns, he could be menacing or charming in his roles and was sometimes both at once. He was born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum to a laborer father who worked on the railroad and in shipyards and a Norwegian immigrant mother. Prior to his second birthday, his father was killed in a railyard accident in Charleston, South Carolina. His mother returned with the family to Connecticut and remarried, and they eventually moved to Delaware. He grew up as a trouble-making, wayward boy and was sent to live with his grandparents when he was 12 years old where he was expelled from his middle school for scuffling with a principal. In 1930 he went to live with his older sister Julie, in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. After being expelled from high school, he left his sister's home and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking a number of odd jobs including ditch-digging for the Civilian Conservation Corps and professional boxing. In 1936 he came to Long Beach, California, staying again with his sister, and was soon joined by the rest of the Mitchum family. During this time he worked as a ghostwriter for astrologer Carroll Righter. His sister was aspiring to become an actress and she convinced him to join the local theater guild with her. In his years with the Players Guild of Long Beach, he made a living as a stagehand and occasional bit-player in company productions. He used his talent for poetry to work writing song lyrics and monologues for his sister's nightclub performances. In 1940 he returned East to marry Dorothy Spence, a young woman that he had met nine years earlier, and with whom he would remain married until his death. He returned to California with her and obtained a steady job as a machine operator with the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. After a nervous breakdown attributed to job-related stress, he sought employment as an actor or extra in movies. He was interviewed by the producer of the "Hopalong Cassidy" series of B-westerns and hired to play the villain in several films in the series during 1942 and 1943. He continued to find further work as an extra and supporting actor in numerous productions for various studios. After impressing director Mervyn LeRoy during the making of the film "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944) he signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures and starred in a series of Zane Grey adaptations of B Western movies. After starring in the moderately successful western "Nevada" (1944) he was lent from RKO to United Artists for the film "The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945), which followed the life of an ordinary soldier through the eyes of journalist Ernie Pyle (played by Burgess Meredith), and it became an instant critical and commercial success. Shortly after making the film, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving at Fort MacArthur, California. At the 1946 Academy Awards, "The Story of G.I. Joe" was nominated for four Oscars, including his only nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In the 1950s through the 1970s, he appeared in such films as "River of No Return" (1954), "Night of the Hunter" (1955), "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957), "Fire Down Below" (1957), "The Wonderful Country" (1959), "The Sundowners" (1960), "The Longest Day" (1962), "Cape Fear" (1962), "El Dorado' (1967), "The Way West" (1967), "Anzio" (1968), "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973), 'Farewell, My Lovely" (1975), "Midway" (1976), "The Last Tycoon" (1976), and "The Big Sleep' (1978). He provided the narration for the 1993 Western film "Tombstone." His final US film role was in "Dead Man" (1995) and his last starring role was in the 1995 Norwegian film "Pakten." He also had a lesser known singing and songwriting career. After hearing traditional calypso music and meeting artists such as Mighty Sparrow and Lord Invader while filming "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" in the Caribbean island of Tobago, he recorded his album "Calypso - is like so ..." in March 1957. Though he continued to use his singing voice in his film work, he waited until 1967 to record his follow-up record album, "That Man, Robert Mitchum, Sings," which charted at number 35 on the US Country chart. The album, released by Nashville-based Monument Records, took him further into country music, and featured songs similar to "The Ballad of Thunder Road." His song "Little Old Wine Drinker Me," the first single, reached number 9 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart, and crossed over onto mainstream radio, where it peaked at number 96. Its follow-up, "You Deserve Each Other," listed at number 55 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart. He sang the title song to the western film "Young Billy Young" (1969). His television career included miniseries "The Winds of War" (1983), "North and South' (1985), and "War and Remembrance" (1988). In 1991 he won a lifetime achievement award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Golden Globe Awards in 1992. He died of complications from lung cancer and emphysema at the age of 79. During his notable 55-year acting career, he appeared in more than 125 films. He ranks 23rd on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male American screen legends of all time.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
Dorothy Clements Spence Mitchum
1919–2014 (m. 1940)