Steyn writes in his usual compelling fashion about one of my long-time favorites:
Robert Mitchum was born in Connecticut one hundred years ago – August 6th 1917 – and had the kind of childhood that gives you plenty to talk about in interviews, although Mitchum rarely did. His father, a railroad worker, was crushed to death before his son’s second birthday, and young Bob was eventually sent to live with his grandparents in Delaware. He was expelled from middle school for getting into a fight with the principal. Kicked out of high school, he drifted round the country, hopping freights, sleeping in boxcars, picking up a little dough digging ditches, getting jailed for vagrancy, working on chain-gangs… He found his way to Long Beach, where he ghost-wrote for an astrologer and composed songs for his sister’s nightclub act. He was set upon by half-a-dozen sailors from the local base, and was on his way to whippin’ all six of ’em when his wife stepped in to break it up because he was enjoying it too much. He got busted for pot, and he had a nervous breakdown that made him temporarily blind.
At which point he decided he was leading too stressful a life, and a little light work as a movie extra seemed comparatively relaxing…
Later in the piece, Steyn compares and contrasts Mitchum with Jimmy Stewart, another of what he calls “American archetypes” who also happens to be a favorite of mine. There are certain actors who, no matter how crappy or poorly conceived a movie is, can compel your attention throughout anyway; you’ll watch a bad movie just to watch them. Mitchum would definitely be one of those, for me anyway, and so would Stewart.
But…his hundredth birthday? DAMN, I’m getting old.