Robert Charles Durman Mitchum (August 6, 1917 – July 1, 1997) was an American film actor, author, composer and singer. Mitchum rose to prominence for his starring roles in several classic films noir, and is generally considered a forerunner of the anti-heroes prevalent in film during the 1950s and 1960s. His best-known films include The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Crossfire (1947), Out of the Past (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Cape Fear (1962), and El Dorado (1966).
Mitchum is rated #23 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 greatest American screen legends of all time (25 greatest males/25 greatest females).
Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut into a Methodist family. His mother, Ann Harriet Mitchum (née Gunderson), was a Norwegian immigrant and sea captain’s daughter, and his father, James Thomas Mitchum, was of Scots-Ulster descent and was a shipyard and railroad worker. A sister, Annette, (known as Julie Mitchum during her acting career) was born in 1914. James Mitchum was crushed to death in a railyard accident in Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1919, when his son was less than two years old. After his father’s death, his mother was awarded a government pension, and soon realized she was pregnant with her second son, John, who was born in September. She remarried to a former Royal Naval Reserve officer, Lieutenant Hugh Cunningham Morris RNVR, who helped her care for the children. Ann and the Major had a daughter, Carol Morris, who was born July 1927 on the family farm in Delaware. When all of the children were old enough to attend school, Ann found employment as a linotype operator for the Bridgeport Post.
Throughout Mitchum’s childhood, he was known as a prankster, often involved in fistfights and mischief. When he was 12, his mother sent Mitchum to live with his grandparents in Felton, Delaware, where he was promptly expelled from his middle school for scuffling with a principal. A year later, in 1930, he moved in with his older sister, in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. After being expelled from Haaran High School, he left his sister and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking a number of jobs including ditch-digging for the Civilian Conservation Corps and professional boxing. He experienced numerous adventures during his years as one of the Depression era’s “wild boys of the road.” At age 14 in Savannah, Georgia, he was arrested for vagrancy and put on a local chain gang. By Mitchum’s own account, he escaped and returned to his family in Delaware. It was during this time, while recovering from injuries that nearly cost him a leg, that he met the woman he would marry, a teenaged Dorothy Spence. He soon went back on the road, eventually riding the rails to California.