Books: Mr. Bad Taste and Trouble Himself: Robert Mitchum
“He drank too much and smoked too much. He granted too many interviews full of cynical observations about himself and his business. He made too many bad movies and hardly any of the kind that stir critics to rapture or that, taken together, look like a life achievement worthy of official reward.
God, some of us are going to miss Robert Mitchum!”—Richard Schickel
And he’s still missed, 17 years after his death. No, you sure don’t see movie stars like Robert Mitchum anymore. But we can still appreciate the real thing. In 1983, Robert Ward hung out with the star of Out of the Past, The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and wrote the following profile, “Mr. Bad Taste and Trouble Himself: Robert Mitchum.” It originally appeared in the March 3, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone and is collected in Ward’s terrific anthology, Renegades. It appears here with the author’s permission. —Alex Belth
A big, crazy, sexy sixty-five-year-old little boy who can’t get used to the idea that he’s supposed to act like, like Ward Cleaver, you dig?
Robert Mitchum is walking down this Kafkaesque hallway, holding his arms straight out in front of him, crossed, as though they’ve been manacled by the CBS production assistant who trucks along in front of him. Mitchum staggers a bit. All he drinks nowadays is tequila—and milk, though not together—and he had his first shot at one thirty in the afternoon, and now it’s ten thirty at night and he’s been through five interviews and a fifth of Cuervo Gold Especial and is fast moving into that strange land between dreams and wakefulness.
Things are mightily askew but still manageable until someone notices the glass partitions and the little wooden desks, which look like interrogation booths, and yells, “Bob, look, we’re in Czechoslovakia and they’re going to bring out the fucking guards!”
This registers slowly behind Mitchum’s lizard-lidded eyes, and smiling his curling serpent’s smile, he thrusts his hands forward as though they are cuffed and booms in this deep, hilarious voice: “My name is Robert Mitchum. My serial number is 2357982. My rank is private. I have nothing whatsoever to tell you….”
Down these endless narrow hallways and out of these little rooms come women of all ages—twenty-three, forty-five, sixty-seven—each of them saying, “Hey, that’s… that’s Robert Mitchum,” and each of them getting this look on her face. The same look. Lust! And helplessness. And yet, completely maternal. And sweet, like, “I’ve got to help that big, crazy, sexy, funky little boy who is sixty-five years old and has never gotten used to the idea that he has to act like a Ward Cleaver brand of grown-up.”
Mitchum had drawn a similar response from a group of young businessmen as we’d left the Waldorf Hotel earlier. “There’s Mitchum,” one of them said. “He’s all fucked up again.” And the rest of them laughed and nodded. Thank God somebody is still wild.
“Where the hell is the goddamned makeup girl? I want to kiss her, okay?” he says now, as he runs through the halls. Yes, right here at CBS, is Mr. Bad Taste and Trouble himself. Yeah, he’s got himself a pinstripe suit and dark Italian sunglasses like all the rest of those movie stars, but one look will convince you that here is a man acting like a civilized being. In a 1964 Esquire profile, the usually savage Helen Lawrenson said his personality had paralyzed her into wordlessness. D. H. Lawrence described it as the Life Force. But six-foot-one-inch, barrel-chested, ham-fisted, sleepy-eyed, speech-slurred Robert Mitchum gives off something that can’t really be put into words at all….Meanwhile, the makeup woman, a sixty-five-year-old gal herself, is literally buckling at the knees and wiping her brow and saying, “My, oh my, oh my…Robert Mitchum.” The whole place cracks up, and Mitchum sweetly kisses her on the forehead.