In the 1950s, Robert Mitchum was THE Hollywood heartthrob, and his rugged good looks and charming indifference made women across the country swoon. Yet beneath his roguish exterior was a troubled man prone to cruel betrayals, salacious scandals, and infamous acts. Let me just say: You aren’t ready for this close-up.
Robert Mitchum Facts
1. He Was Born Into Tragedy
Robert Mitchum got a hard start in life, and bad luck seemed to run in the family. Mitchum’s father was a railroad worker…until his horrific demise. The elder Mitchum passed in a freak accident when he was crushed while working. Mitchum was just two at the time, but it was a strange presage of things to come…
2. He Was Diabolical
Today, Mitchum is most famous for his chilling role in the film noir classic The Night of the Hunter, where he plays an evil convict posing as a preacher. Mitchum was desperate for the part—and he nailed his audition in the best way. When director Charles Laughton met with the actor, he said he was looking for “a diabolical s—-,” to which Mitchum answered, “Present!”
3. He Was a One-Woman Man
For all that he was a handsome, winsome Hollywood star, Mitchum was a one-woman kind of guy…sort of. Mitchum met Dorothy Spence when they were just teenagers. The two got married in 1940, shortly before Mitchum’s acting career took off, and stayed married until Mitchum’s passing in 1997. That’s 57 years of marital bliss…or was it?
4. His Proposal Took a Strange Turn
Mitchum was practically addicted to Dorothy, and proposed to her soon after they started going steady. His proposal was legendarily bad. According to the actor himself, the night he asked her to marry him, “I took one look at her and said, ‘This is it. I’ll be back for you. Stick with me, kid, and you’ll be farting through silk.’” Um, okay?
5. He Committed the Ultimate Betrayal
With his rugged good looks and patented demeanor of ennui, Mitchum was quite the hit with the ladies. He must have had a monk’s self-control, then, to remain faithful to his wife…right? Wrong and wrong. Mitchum carried on many affairs during his marriage to Dorothy Spence. But there was always one thing she could hold over his head…
6. He Had a Creepy Romantic Past
Siblings share a lot. They share parents, they might share a room while they’re young, and they often share clothes as hand-me-downs. And while sharing is caring, there are some things that siblings really shouldn’t share…like girlfriends. Before marrying Mitchum, Dorothy Spence dated Mitchum’s brother John. There’s an “ick” factor here I just can’t get over.
7. He Was a “Problem Child”
Mitchum was causing trouble long before he made it big. So much trouble, in fact, that his mother and stepfather couldn’t raise him themselves. They shipped the young Robert off to live with his grandparents to stop him from getting into fights. But not even grandma and grandpa could get Mitchum to walk the straight and narrow….
8. He Punched His Boss
There’s always that one kid in school who refuses to behave. They never do their homework, they skip class, and they talk back to teachers. That was Robert Mitchum…except the star it to the next level. Believe it or not, Mitchum once even got into a fistfight with his school principal, finally earning himself an expulsion.
9. His Good Looks Had a Dark Side
Mitchum was famous for his bedroom eyes and chiseled cheekbones. But while some Old Hollywood stars would go under the knife for those features, Mitchum came by his gruff good looks honestly. Mitchum attributed his signature appearance to his past as a professional boxer and to his lifelong struggle with insomnia.
10. He Performed a Disgusting Act
Mitchum did always love the bottle, but his party animal persona on the set of the The Big Sleep went from disturbing to absolutely terrifying. While on the clock filming, Mitchum was trying to impress his fellow rebellious co-star Olivier Reed, and somehow managed to down an entire bottle of gin in a mere 55 minutes.
11. He Almost Came to a Brutal End
In 1968, Mitchum almost suffered the same eerie fate as his father. While starring in 5 Card Stud alongside fellow roguish entertainer Dean Martin, an enormous camera came crashing down around Mitchum during a scene. Mitchum’s response was legendary. In true Mitchum style, the star leisurely stepped aside to evade his date with destiny.
12. He Was a Vagabond
These days, working actors sleeping in their cars before their big break is a common tale, but Robert Mitchum has them all beat. After getting expelled from yet another high school as a teenage, Mitchum became an actual hobo. The rebel freight-hopped his way across the US and arrived in Georgia with just $38 to his name.
13. He Was a Rebel Without a Cause
Ever the non-conformist, Mitchum absolutely despised authority in all its forms, and he spitefully called all officers “the fuzz.” His bitterness came from great trauma. When he was a teenage wanderer, an officer detained him in Georgia for vagrancy and forced him to work in a chain gang. But the courtroom drama didn’t even end there…
14. He Had a Courtroom Mic Drop Moment
When Mitchum appeared in court to fight his charge, he found out he’d walked into a brutal trap. The officers had also charged him with a burglary that had happened on Wednesday night. Well, Mitchum saved himself with a courtroom mic drop: He informed the judge he couldn’t have done that—at the time, he’d been in the slammer on those vagrancy charges. Boom.
15. He Made a Great Escape
Though he narrowly escaped one charge, the judge still sent him down to the chain gang for an indefinite sentence. Well, this is Robert Mitchum we’re talking about, and he did not play nice with that. He fled the punishment within days, even dodging the bullets the guards fired at him as he escaped. Somehow, Mitchum’s life only got more dramatic from there.
16. His Life Imitated His Art
Looking for work, Mitchum somehow landed on “Hollywood actor” and actually managed to succeed. His breakout role was as a soldier in The Story of G.I. Joe. Yet he got precious little time to enjoy his fame; he was drafted just after filming wrapped. Guaranteed, though, Mitchum preferred playing a soldier to actually being one.
17. He Had a Thankless Job
Once drafted, Mitchum took up duties as a medic in Fort McArthur, California. Sure, that’s better than going to the front lines, but it doesn’t mean Mitchum got off easy. The Hollywood hunk was a “pecker checker” during WWII—he checked the recruits for venereal diseases before they were deployed. Yeah, don’t sign me up for that.
18. He Got Caught in the Act
On September 1, 1948, Mitchum experienced his first Hollywood scandal, and it was a real embarrassing one. That night, the authorities set up a sting operation to catch a host of revellers at a party. Well, almost everyone but Mitchum got the memo and scrammed, so the officers gladly booked the straggler for possession. Only Mitchum didn’t exactly go gentle…
19. He Was Tough as Nails
Mitchum was 0% intimidated by “the fuzz” and their petty attempts to put him behind bars yet again. When reporters asked him about his week-long turn in county, Mitchum replied in classic tough-guy fashion that it was “like Palm Springs, but without the riff-raff.” To be clear, you should not get detained if you’re looking for a vacation.
20. He Got Fired From Set
By the time he starred in 1955’s Blood Alley, Robert Mitchum’s bad boy image really kicked into high gear. In fact, if you’re looking for Mitchum’s name in the credits, you won’t find it—because he actually got fired from the set and replaced with John Wayne before filming finished. But considering his behavior, that’s one light punishment…
21. He Went on a Rampage
Mitchum was a big drinker, and in a super professional move, he showed up to the set of Blood Alley after a very late night out. Then Mitchum proved just how cruel he could be. Enraged and irritable, the star allegedly destroyed a studio office just because there was no car ready for him on set. But it gets worse…
22. He Attacked His Crew
Mitchum was so upset with Blood Alley’s transportation manager, he confronted him with brute force. Bringing back his boxing days, Mitchum allegedly threw the poor man into either San Francisco Bay or just an unsuspecting river. I say “allegedly” because, good guy that he was, Mitchum denied all the accusations. Did this hard lifestyle catch up with him? In a word: Yes.
23. He Had a Dangerous Ritual
Actor Jack Hawkins worked with Mitchum on the 1963 film Rampage, but according to Hawkins’ autobiography, there was an entirely different kind of rampage going on during filming. Hawkins claimed that Mitchum would drink 49 glasses of rum before dinner while on set. After 49 glasses of anything, I don’t think I would still be hungry.
24. He Didn’t Believe in Himself
Over the course of his tumultuous career, Mitchum gave more than just fodder for lawsuits to the press; he also gave great one-liners. In one sit-down, the interviewer waxed nostalgic about Mitchum’s filmography. Mitchum interjected by saying, “Look, I have two kinds acting. One on a horse and one off a horse. That’s it.” There was one actor who agreed with him on that…
25. He Was a Villain in Real Life
Mitchum was most famous for playing morally conflicted anti-heroes, but there were times when his villainous streak leaked into real life. Perhaps the best—or worst—example of this was at the premiere of The Championship Season. Mitchum, allegedly in his cups again, angrily confronted a female reporter. And the night was still young…
26. He Turned a Basketball Into a Weapon
He shoots! He…definitely does not score. While still attending the premiere party of The Championship Season, Mitchum threw a basketball at a female photographer. The apparently unprovoked attack even knocked out some of the photographer’s teeth. She successfully sued the star—for his entire salary on the film. Nice.
27. He Was an Under-Achiever
Some actors take their craft very seriously. They inhabit the minds of the characters they portray on the screen even when the cameras aren’t rolling. These actors are not Robert Mitchum. According to Mitchum, his job as an actor was to “Show up on time, know [his] lines, hit [his] marks, and go home.” That helps explain one curious habit of his…
28. He Used a Secret Code
Mitchum was famous among his colleagues for marking his scripts with the mysterious notation “n.a.r.” This had an absolutely hilarious meaning. Apparently, Mitchum put it in to remind himself that there was “No action required.” Some critics have said this is a testament to his brilliant naturalistic skills, but knowing our Rob, I’m not so sure.
29. He Had One Rare Skill
There was good reason for Mitchum’s nonchalance when it came to reading through his script lines. You see, the chronically apathetic actor may not have had to work so hard to remember those lines. According to some, Mitchum had a photographic memory! That doesn’t help explain why he was just so convincing on screen, though.
30. He Had a Bad On-Set Habit
Whatever anyone might say about Mitchum’s acting, according to him none of them really knew what they were talking about. One of Mitchum’s great quotes—and there are so many—was Mitchum making a little self-deprecating humor. “They think I don’t know my lines,” he said. “That’s not true. I’m just too drunk to say ’em.”
31. He Wanted to End It All
By 1970, Mitchum was at the top of the Hollywood food chain and a bona fide legend. But he was hiding a dark secret. After suffering a number of personal and professional setbacks, the star was seriously contemplating suicide on the set of his next film Ryan’s Daughter, and even had it all planned out. Thank goodness for friends…
32. His Friends Showed Him Tough Love
When Mitchum’s friend, screenwriter Robert Bolt, heard about his pal’s plans to end it all, he tried to save him. It’s just that he did it in a very bizarre and inadvisable way. Bolt played “tough love” and told Mitchum he could go ahead, but only after he finished Ryan’s Daughter. Bolt even offered to pay for the burial if Mitchum.held out. Thankfully, Mitchum never called his bluff.
33. He Courted Controversy
Mitchum’s scandals didn’t stop when he got older. They really just got worse. In a 1983 interview with Esquire magazine, the reporter asked Mitchum if the Holocaust occurred. The star’s answer was, unsatisfactorily, “so the Jews say.” Mitchum made nice of his naughty comments later by apologizing profusely and giving more context to his response.
34. He Confessed to All His Sins
Mitchum had a long career, much of it very visible in the tabloid headlines of the time. Apart from his actual detainments, the Hollywood bad boy developed a real rap sheet of scandals. But the star wasn’t about to shy away from his actions. Of his scandals, Mitchum said, “They’re all true—booze, brawls, broads, all true.” Sometimes, the truth really is stranger than the movies.
35. He Posed for a Scandalous Photo-op
Playing in the dirt, basking in the warm California sun, growing fruits and vegetables…sounds nice. What if I told you that was prison? Robert Mitchum spent 43 days working at a farm as part of his 1948 sentence for posssession, with the star even getting photographed in his state-issued jumpsuit for Life magazine. Hey, all publicity is good publicity.
36. He Hated His Own Work
For countless millions, Mitchum’s films—and his off-screen escapades—have been a source of entertainment. With classics like 1962’s Cape Fear and 1966’s El Dorado, Mitchum has dazzled audiences…just not himself. With his patented brand of cool indifference, Mitchum once said, “Movies bore me; especially my own.”
37. The President Banned Him
Mitchum’s bad boy antics gave him enemies in high places. Then-president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was so put-off by Mitchum’s possession conviction in 1948 that he actually banned Mitchum’s films from screenings at the White House during his term. Gotta say, that’s Dwight’s loss on that one.
38. He Graduated High School Decades Late
Everybody likes you when you’re famous, and in 1975, Mitchum’s former high school—you know, the one that expelled him for punching the principal—contacted the established star and offered him his diploma at long last…if he attended their graduation ceremony. Mitchum’s response? A big old heck no. The degree? Got mailed to him anyway.
39. He Battled With the Bottle
Which celebrity hasn’t done a stint in rehab for an addiction of some kind or another? You can add Robert Mitchum to that incredibly long list. Mitchum attended the Betty Ford Center in 1984 for his drinking. It’s unclear if the stint cured him of his addiction, but he may have wanted to keep a bottle lying around to forget one big embarrassment…
40. He Had a Hidden “Talent”
The Caribbean is a culturally rich and diverse region that has produced some huge musical talents. Bob Marley, Rihanna, Sean Paul, Shaggy and…Robert Mitchum? Mitchum recorded a calypso album after filming Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison in 1957 in Tobago. While lyrically adept, Mitchum’s affected Trinbagonian accent was…cringe-worthy.
41. He Was a Bona-Fide Country Star
Mitchum’s foray into the music world wasn’t totally problematic. After dropping his fake Trinidadian accent, Mitchum next affected a country twang. Mitchum’s country songs were far more successful and even charted. To his credit, Mitchum really did have a great singing voice, even if he was butchering an accent.
42. He Worked in Horrific Conditions
Before he made it in Hollywood, Mitchum had to do odd jobs to makes ends meet—but these were no regular office stints. While still a teenager, Mitchum suffered through working the coal fields in Pennsylvania. To make matters worse, he had claustrophobia and was constantly sick. Obviously, this was far from his only horrific workplace experience.
43. He Went to Desperate Measures for Shelter
Life on the road—or the railroad tracks—wasn’t an easy life for Robert Mitchum. Sometimes, the runaway just wanted a place to rest. When that happened, he came up with an ingenious plan. When he just needed a warm place to sleep, Mitchum would turn himself into the authorities and ask for a cell to get some shut-eye.
44. He Was Soft on the Inside
For all his tough-guy image, Mitchum was a surprisingly sensitive man. He frequently wrote poetry, and during his early years train-hopping, he confessed he often cried himself to sleep thinking about how worried his mother must have been about him. Not that any of this excuses his exploits when he got to Hollywood…
45. He Lost His Hearing
At the beginning of WWII, Mitchum took on what was possibly his worst job yet—and the consequences were devastating. He started working for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation as a machine operator, but the noise from the machines was so loud, it actually permanently damaged his hearing. And then it all really hit the fan.
46. He Suffered a Nervous Breakdown
Eventually, the stress of the job threw the outwardly gruff, inwardly sensitive Mitchum into a total nervous breakdown. This wasn’t just a little case of overwork, either, and Mitchum suffered from stress-induced blindness for a time. Fortunately, he did regain his vision so that he could see all of the movies that he was about to make.
47. He Was a New-Age “Prophet”
Today’s Horoscope: Saturn is in your system and if you read this article to the end you will go on to fame and fortune. Ok, so that’s totally inaccurate and I know nothing about horoscopes and astrology. But do you know who did? Robert Mitchum. One of Mitchum’s first writing gigs was as a ghost writer for “astrologer to the stars,” Carroll Righter.
48. He Was Demanding From Beyond the Grave
By 1997, the aging Mitchum’s health was finally failing after a lifetime of making not-so-good decisions about his body. The American legend passed on July 1, 1997 at the age of 79. Never one for frills or falseness, Mitchum requested a simple cremation and strictly forbade his wife Dorothy from giving him any kind of memorial.
49. He Was Obsessed With His Hair
Mitchum had some strange personal habits, but his obsession with his chest hair really takes the cake. As a young buck, Mitchum was so proud of his pec whiskers that he refused to shave them for shirtless scenes, even though clean-cut was the look of the time. Then, just to ensure that no director would even ask him to go shirtless, the strapping Mitchum got himself a pot belly.
50. His Co-Star Despised Him
Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn didn’t suffer fools, and she definitely didn’t suffer Robert Mitchum. While on set, she once got annoyed at his lackadaisical efforts and yelled, “You can’t act! You know you can’t act, and if you hadn’t been good-looking, you would have never gotten a picture.” If you feel a classic Mitchum reaction shot coming on, you’d be right: The actor just shrugged his shoulders in response.