Robert Mitchum is The Man from Rising Sun (1946) 🇺🇸

Robert Mitchum is The Man from Rising Sun (1946) 🇺🇸

November 10, 2021

It’s a town in Delaware, Rising Sun, and it saw the beginning of Bob Mitchum, the guy behind the cocked eyebrow

by Diane Scott

A quizzical eyebrow, coupled with his aversion to “standing in line,” has been miscasting Robert Mitchum since childhood.

Even today in Hollywood, where he is one of the most talked-of personalities of the year, the popular impression of Mitchum slants towards the cynical. The unconventional. One slightly off-beat.

You read a lot about the more colorful chapters in his life. Riding the rods, sipping java with hoboes beside campfires, the occasions when he’s been detained as the overnight guest of a city — at the request of the city, that is. Yes, you’ve heard all this. For Bob brings out all the family skeletons and shakes them a little defiantly in your face.

Actually these were but brief stopovers — in his life travelogue. And just as he himself loves to stick pins in false balloons, we’d like to stick a big one in the common conception of one of the most fabulous fellows in Hollywood.

In some respects Mitchum is a little like his four-year-old son Josh, who tells you that he shot a “huge wildcat up at my house,” and then adds hurriedly that he buried it, before you can ask to see it. So does his famous dad say, “I’m a cynic,” then sits back daring you to question it.

But any real cynic would curl his lip at making a fraternity brother out of him. He despises regulations, yet lives by his own abridged version of the Golden Rule. He has at times been called a “trouble-maker,” because he refuses to kow-tow to anything he doesn’t believe. But he carries on his shoulder not only his own chips, but all of his fellowman’s. That quizzical business is part of the Mitchum smoke-screen hiding the sensitive, vulnerable guy who’s seen life smack him down too often and too hard. The trick is to make him turn the other cheek, the one without the tongue in it.

In the little strait-laced crossroads community of Rising Sun, Delaware, he was always considered a worldly character. Born with great imagination and creative ability, he was writing poetry at the age of six. At seven when other kids were out playing Cowboy-and-Indian, Bob was putting out a little “newspaper,” writing and peddling it to neighbors who stood back and looked askance at the “peculiar Mitchum boy.” They couldn’t understand any of Bob’s highly individualistic family who took their poverty so lightly, just going along in their own informal way. One of them singing, one dancing, one writing and disappearing from town to learn about life for months at a time, then just as suddenly checking back in.

Bob early outgrew Rising Sun. If the world was going to be his oyster... he wanted to start opening it. To meet interesting people. See what they thought and why. He came back to talk of these things when the others were still sipping a wicked soda down at the corner drugstore. None of them understood the sensitive adventure-loving Bob, who seemed much too old for his years. Nobody, that is, except a pretty brown-eyed girl named Dorothy, who respected his intelligence, loved to listen to his experiences and eventually married him. It was only through her insistence that he was invited to any of the local affairs. So far as they were concerned, he just didn’t belong.

And it was the same wherever he went.

He was just a little on the outside. Never quite fitting in. Which was okay by the individualist who wanted to find out his own answers anyway... but not so fortunate for the other one, the lonely super-conventional guy, who envied others their security in being liked and wanted. Gradually he began casting himself as “Mitchum the Misfit”... built a wall inside... and affected the semi-smirk and raised eyebrow to show that he didn’t care.

It’s no wonder that after many years of bad luck Mitchum can hardly believe all the sevens that are coming up now. Regardless of fame and fans, he can’t realize his stardom or take it for granted. He’s still a little surprised when he’s invited to Hollywood’s swankiest soirées. He feels somewhat uncomfortable and usually heads quickly for the first familiar face he sees.

Actually, he doesn’t care much for parties. Unless it’s a poker session with some pals, or having friends drop by the house and join him in a plate of sandwiches, a beer or so and some eloquent floor-side chats in the living room. Floorside, until the rest of the furniture they’ve ordered gets here. Which may not make any noticeable difference to Bob, who usually offers his few thousand words while lying flat on his back on the rug anyway.

He’s a home-lovin’ man, and that’s where you’ll usually find him when he isn’t working. In the white house on the Hollywood hilltop with his attractive wife and two sons — Josh, a miniature of Mitchum, and Chris, aged two. They’re a winning combination — four of a kind.

Though he probably would tell you that he rules his house with an iron hand, Mitchum is the kind of father who, when baby Chris does anything wrong, says severely, “Christopher! Go into the other room!” Then immediately weakens into, “Well — are you sorry?” Finally gives him a cookie, kisses him and then kicks himself the rest of the day for being such a cad.

Not long ago Bob and Dorothy were speeding down a lonely stretch of highway in the desert when they passed a covered wagon, drawn by an old horse, with an elderly man at the reins and a little boy about four years old walking along beside the wagon, kicking his bare heels into the sand. Miles on down the road, Bob broke the desert stillness abruptly, saying, “Just imagine that little boy going through towns, seeing other children playing together, but he can’t stop. He has to go on with his grandfather. The loneliness of it.”

Two weeks later he was watching Josh and Chris playing in the living room and said, out of the blue, “Imagine Josh following that wagon on through life down a road. Never being able to stop and play with other kids.”

“Maybe the little boy likes it,” said Dorothy, trying to lighten his mood. “He probably has fun moving around, going through different towns...”

“No, he doesn’t!” said Bob decisively.

The child made an indelible impression on him. Possibly struck too near Mitchum’s own memories of an exciting but lonely boyhood. And that’s what success means chiefly to him. That Josh and Chris will be set. That there’ll be no wandering around through life for them, either behind wagons or otherwise.

He’s an ardent champion of individual rights. Either yours or his own. He’s been known to challenge any director or assistant who yells at movie extras or shoves them around. “It just does something to me,” he used to say to actor friends who were cautioning him. “I’m not afraid of my job. What can they do? Shoot me maybe,” he’d say, cocking an eyebrow and giving his shoulders a size forty-six shrug.

By nature he’s amiable and dislikes trouble of any kind. “Won’t ever hurt anybody’s feelings if he can help it,” his friends say. By the time Bob’s been provoked far enough to fight anybody, he’s so mad he says he gets “a vicious satisfaction out of it. And that’s no good.” So he ducks whenever he can.

Friends have heard him actually begging somebody not to fight him. For some | reason his quizzical face seems to invite trouble. Maybe in a bar or night club. On a train. Just anywhere. Soon somebody’s saying, “I don’t like you... I don’t like your face,”... etc... etc... and Bob’s trying to talk them out of it, saying, “Just stay where you are. Don’t say anything more. Don’t come near me...” he warns. Until finally it’s forced on him. Then he brings one right up from the basement. Nobody has ever seen him lose a bout.

He seldom loses a listener either. For he talks in Technicolor. With his vivid imagination and rich vocabulary he loves to weave words and build up paragraphs just to see how they sound. You might call him a climactic conversationalist because he leaves you right in the middle of I a climax while he goes on ahead to something else that’s occurred to him.

One night he awakened his wife in the middle of the night with, “I’ve got it, honey!”

“Got what?” she said sleepily, but unsurprised.

What he’d “gotten” there around 2:00 A.M., was his own theory of Atomic life. He went into great detail about the beginning and the end of life... and all the big things turning into little things... finally getting down to where everything is nothing. Then stopped abruptly. “What happens when there’s nothing left?” said Dorothy, by now fully awake. He turned over and went back to sleep. He’s never discussed it again.

He can digress immediately from the subject of atom bombs to that of achievement. Goals. How to accomplish them. “There’s no limit to what people can do, if they just go about doing it right.”

“Me?” he says, dropping the enthusiasm and hoisting the eyebrow. “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to watch.”

But by now he hasn’t a chance of getting away with one like that. You’re not fooled. You just file it along with the “wildcats” his imaginative son Josh kills, knowing only too well how highly ambitious he is. That he’s one of the smartest actors in the business.

Acting is his life’s blood. He loves it. For acting means portraying people — most of whom he’s met personally during his schooling, the ten-minute stops along the line, when he was working on his Ph.D., as a doctor of the philosophy of his fellow-man.

He has no temperament, makes no demands for the fat starring roles, the best lighting, any of the breaks. “Doesn’t need ’em,” his friends say. “He’s too good. Just watch him in any picture. He’ll break their backs.”

The only demand Bob makes is that a part be believable to him. He liked the role of the returning Marine in “Till the End of Time,” because he could believe it. He’s met many Macs like him. On the other hand he turned down a much larger starring role in another film because he felt he couldn’t sincerely do it. “I couldn’t be a piano player,” he told the producer. “I’d be laughing at myself all the time. I’d ruin your picture for you.”

Mitchum has great admiration for Burgess Meredith, Michael Chekhov, J. Carrol Naish, for Betty Field’s versatility, among the actresses, and an almost reverence for Robert Montgomery’s remembered performance in Night Must Fall.

He has always refused to take any credit for his own performance in “G.I. Joe,” saying, “I had all the breaks. The flash. The show. They had me coming over the hilltops with a light in my face. How could I have missed?” He couldn’t. But that’s not the reason.

Part of his refusal to claim credit is his distrust of success. Success draws lines between people and Bob doesn’t believe in lines between people. He works overtime rubbing them out. Though he’d deny it, he’s been known to park his car and stand aimlessly in front of his old hangout, Schwab’s Drugstore, for thirty minutes, whether there’s anybody else standing there he knows or not, lest somebody think he’s gone Hollywood.

Even a pseudo-cynic wouldn’t do a trick like that. It defeats any raised eyebrow. And it’s indicative of why Robert Mitchum gets top billing among all the Joes around the studio lots, who’ll tell you readily that Bob’s the biggest Joe of them all. Which, for our money, is the best kind of living cornerstone.

The End

Robert Mitchum, amiable star of M-G-M’s “Undercurrent’

Source: Photoplay November 1946