Versatile Hollywood tough guy Robert Mitchum dies aged 79

ROBERT Mitchum, the brawny, blunt-spoken actor who starred in more than loo films including The Night of the Hunter and The Sundowners…

ROBERT Mitchum, the brawny, blunt-spoken actor who starred in more than loo films including The Night of the Hunter and The Sundowners, died in his sleep yesterday at his California home. He was 79.

Mitchum had been suffering from emphysema and was diagnosed a few months ago with lung cancer.

He remained a star for half a century despite a marijuana arrest in his early career, a number of other scandals and his open contempt for his directors and studio bosses. He brought his powerful presence to westerns, comedies, war films and dramas, yet he never won an Oscar.

"I always thought I had as much inspiration and as much tenderness as anyone else in this business," he said in 1983. "I always thought I could do better. But you don't get to do better, you get to do more."


He continued doing more well into his 70s, appearing in television dramas when film roles were scarce. He starred in the epic TV mini-series The Winds Of War and War and Remembrance.

He once remarked: "I think when producers have a part that's hard to cast, they say 'Send for Mitchum, he'll do anything'." He added: "I don't care what I play. I'll play Polish gays, women, midgets, anything."

Film makers knew they could rely on Mitchum for strong performances. He proved that in such films as River of No Return (with Marilyn Monroe), Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, Ryan's Daughter (which was made in the Dingle peninsula) and The Way West.

His film career began in the early 1940s when an interview with William Boyd led to him being cast in eight Hopalong Cassidy films.

In 1943 he began appearing in war films such as Gung Ho, Corvette K-225 and We've Never Been Licked. He played a villain in a Laurel and Hardy feature and even appeared in a musical western.

The Story of GI Joe in 1945 provided his ticket to stardom. As the valiant Lieut Walker he was nominated for an Oscar as supporting actor. It turned out to be his only academy nomination.

Before Mitchum could cash in on his new fame he was drafted into the army, only to be discharged eight months later.

He returned to Hollywood for co-starring roles in Till the End of Time and Undercurrent, with Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor.

Disturbed by Mitchum's lackadaisical attitude and practical jokes, Hepburn snapped: "You know you can't act and if you hadn't been good- looking you would never have gotten a picture.

I'm tired of playing with people who have nothing to offer."

Mitchum proved her wrong in such films as Crossfire, Rachel and the Stranger, Desire Me and Out of the Past. His granite face and gruff manner fit perfectly in the public's taste for rugged heroes in contrast to the pretty-boys of the 1930s.

"After the war, suddenly there was this thing for ugly heroes, so I started going around in profile," he joked. He also gained a reputation as a world class boozer and a ladies' man.

Mitchum's Pounds 1,900-a-week career faced the danger of crashing on September 1st, 1948. He and a blonde starlet named Lila Leeds were arrested at her home on charges of possessing marijuana. At first he told his lawyer: "Well, this is the bitter end of everything - my career, my marriage, everything.

When Mitchum was jailed for 60 days some columnists agreed with his assessment. But he emerged from jail with his usual jauntiness, commenting: "It's just like Palm Springs without the riff-raff" and returned to filming with a John Steinbeck story, The Red Pony.

His popularity, both with producers and the public, proved stronger than ever.

His overlay of cynicism made him ideal for RKO's film noir dramas of the 1950s: The Big Steal, The Racket, Where Danger Lives, Out of the Past, and Second Chance. He served as a stalwart leading man for such stars as Jane Russell (Macao, His Kind Of Woman), Ava Gardner (My Forbidden Past), Susan Hayward (White Witch Doctor), Rita Hayworth (Fire Down Below) and Shirley MacLaine (Two for the Seesaw).

In 1955 he appeared in two of his most dramatic roles, as an idealistic surgeon in Not as a Stranger and as a crazed evangelist in Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton's only film as a director.

The westerns included Track of the Cat, Man with the Gun, The Angry Hills, The Wonderful Country, El Dorado, (with John Wayne), and The Way West.

He portrayed Raymond Chandler's private eye Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely in 1975 and The Big Sleep in 1978.

Although he claimed "I work cheap," Mitchum collected

His statements in interviews often aroused controversy. His comments about Jews in a magazine article brought demands for an apology.

He was born on August 6th, 1917, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, named Robert Charles Duran Mitchum. His father, James, was a soldier and bar-room brawler who was Scots-Irish on his father's side and Blackfoot Indian on his mother's. His mother, Ann, was a Norwegian immigrant.

After the first World War Jimmy Mitchum took his family to South Carolina, where he worked in the Charleston Navy Yard. He was crushed between two goods wagons in 1919, leaving a widow and two small children. Mrs Mitchum returned to her parents in Bridgeport, then remarried and settled in New York. At 16 Robert left home, riding the rails to California. During his wanderings he claimed to have worked as a coal miner, deckhand, ditchdigger and professional boxer, lasting 27 fights.

He also claimed that he had been arrested for vagrancy in Savannah, Georgia and worked on a chain gang before escaping.

By 1937, Mitchum joined his family in Long Beach, California, and became involved in the local theatre at the urging of his sister Julie. He wrote and directed plays, ghost-wrote for an astrologer, worked at a defence plant and sold shoes. In 1940 he married his boyhood sweetheart Dorothy Spence in Delaware.

Despite rumours of extramarital escapades, Mitchum and his wife remained together.

The Mitchums had two sons, Jim and Christopher, both actors; and a daughter, Petrine.

The funeral will be private and Mitchum's ashes will be scattered at sea, a family friend said last night.