I first got to know Lee Server by reading his books. He's written some of the finest work ever done on the worlds of hardboiled and noir. I was lucky enough to work with him on a few of them. One of his finest books is his biography of Robert Mitchum. I've started rereading it again and I'm learning a lot more the third time through. If you're interested in Mitchum, Hollywood or a career arc that defied categorizing, this fact-packed well-written biography is for you. This is an interview Lee did at the time of the book's publication. The entire thing is well worth reading.
LEE: Mitchum was never BIG box office like a John Wayne or . . . arggh . . . Harrison Ford or Stallone. He was never at the right studio, never got the "good" parts or the obvious prestige jobs. To people who know old movies only from catching one of those network "AFI Presents Tom Hanks Presents the Fifty Greatest Crying Scenes" specials he's a minor figure perhaps. But he has always had a strong and rather rabid following--and a diverse following, I mean from intellectuals to tough blue collar guys (and gals)--and there are folks who have found things in Mitchum as an artist and to an extent as a person, found someone who speaks to them, or for them--his persona, his style, his outlook on life. Of course all the great iconic stars offer some sort of instructional appeal but Mitchum I think is more complex, more poetic. You asked if I think his appeal will continue to last and grow. I think so very much. And my publisher and creditors hope so too.
ALAN: The Mitchum book presents an extremely paradoxical man. It appears that he was talented, charming, intellectual and well liked while conversely being a serial philanderer, alcoholic, crude, and occasionally cruel. Did your research and writing lead you to form any conclusions about Bob Mitchum, the man or do the facts simply speak for themselves?
LEE: Mitchum's life was an ongoing tussle--sometimes a bloody brawl--between these conflicting sides of his nature, the sensitivity, the poetry, the gracious, laxy [sic], live-and-let-live side of him and the darkness, the violence, the compulsion to piss, figuratively and--as readers of the book will know--literally, on everything. He was self-destructive and often just plain destructive. Often his behavior, his decisions and comments were inexplicable. People who knew him for decades, people who knew him well for his entire life, confessed they could not understand all that made him tick. I lay out all the various and possible motives for his behavior but I let the reader ponder the riddle of Mitchum without pretending I hold the solution. I wanted, in fact, this unresolvedness, this mystery, to hang over the reader at the end. Don't know if it worked, but I tried.
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