Re: RARA-AVIS: Mitchum

From: Tosh (
Date: 06 Mar 2001

Here's my review for the Robert Mitchum biography. It was printed on the site:

by Tosh Berman January 20, 2001
     Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care"

  Current Titles in Film Tosh Berman, Book Soup, West Hollywood, California

Cool can be defined in two words: Robert Mitchum. In this world where nothing is consistent, we have one man who was consistent in his ability to convey a sense of "I don't give a fuck" throughout all of his 79 years. Reading Lee Server's biography Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care", one is struck by Mitchum's skill in making things look easy -- when Mitchum actually bothers to use any skill. His acting technique was closer to Zen than method acting: His primary concern was to memorize the shooting script and make sure he didn't bump into the furniture.

Of course, the directors were all warned not to have Mitchum work past 6 P.M., due to his alcohol intake during the early-morning hours and his 24-hour-a-day passion for the "devil weed." Aside from that, he was the perfect employee -- he was always a friend to the shooting crew (he often ensured that the set was supplied with good food), while challenging the higher-ups at every opportunity. Although he was married for over 50 years, he was the ultimate skirt-chaser. Either he must have done something right, or his wife should have gotten a Purple Heart just for putting up with him.

Lee Server's Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care" is the next best thing to having Mitchum himself tell these stories at his favorite watering hole. -- Tosh Berman

What's also obvious to anyone who has seen any of his impressive screen roles -- The Night of the Hunter; Cape Fear; Farewell, My Lovely; Thunder Road; Out of the Past -- is that Mitchum was a highly intelligent man who understood the space around and beyond the material he had to work with. He was extremely well read, a writer himself (it is one of the great disappointments that he never wrote his autobiography), a hard-core record collector who had a passion for hard bebop as well as for opera, and a true connoisseur of marijuana. In other words, Mitchum was the ultimate hipster, who somehow found himself as one of America's great movie stars. In a way, he was the proto-Elvis, in that his image conveyed certain wild, untamable urges, with a look of "so what?" tattooed all over his eyelids.

Server's excellent biography lists numerous examples of Mitchum starting bar fights, farting in people's faces, attending swinging bachelor parties, whipping out his penis (and pissing on various objects and persons), and telling uproarious stories. Like the time he woke up -- still drunk -- with a woman in some room he didn't recognize. He got up and left quietly, quite fearful that his wife would find out. Later, he realized that he had left the wristwatch his wife had given him in the bedroom. As Mitchum began to panic, his wife casually mentioned that he had left his wristwatch by their bedside. He hadn't realized that he had been sleeping with his own wife!

The pairing of Mitchum the subject with Server the biographer is a perfect one. Server fairly balances Mitchum's rough edges (of which there are many) and his notorious character with his kindness to his coworkers and his great skill as an actor. Server is also one of the leading film noir historians, so he knows film history, in addition to the economic and political circumstances without which film noir never would have thrived. This book is the next best thing to having Mitchum himself tell these stories at his favorite watering hole.

Tosh Berman
TamTam Books

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