Many thanks for the invitation to join you all at this distinguished site. I see it is past midnight at the Oasis, my apologies for the late response. Any questions left unanswered I will get to first thing tomorrow, promise. And now on with the show.
Moira asks about matters of prose and matching style to subject matter. Thank you for the observations. Yes, there are aspects of the writing in these books which attempt, through various stylistic means, to evoke the subject’s personality and the world he or she lived in. Certainly Mitchum’s life lent itself to a hardboiled/noir style of writing. To be sure, I am very concerned with the style of each work, in the rhythm of the sentences, in mood and atmosphere and structure, all the things that have nothing to do with research and facts, which I also try to get right. With the subjects I have chosen to write about there is from the start much personal interest, admiration and some degree of identification. These are simpatico figures. I pick them because they are artists I like, people I want to write about and learn more about. I like larger than life figures, outrageous characters. I like a story that has a big canvas, roams around the world, and doesn’t get to bed before dawn.
To Ann Harding…I was familiar with the majority of Mitchum’s 100 something films for many years before I started the book, and had seen some of them many times, but there were a number I had missed or not seen in too long. This was early in this century, before many of the titles became available on dvd or shown on Turner. Copies were obtained from a variety of sources, over and under the counter. I remember my tape of Friends of Eddie Coyle came with—I think—Kazakstani subtitles.
The research sources for the Mitchum bio are contained in twenty or thirty pages at the back of the book. I interviewed around 150 people, friends, family, employees, co-stars, directors—his brother and sister, his living high school classmates from the 1920s, Edward Dmytryk, Jane Greer, Robert Wise, Jack Elam, Paul Valentine, J. Lee Thompson, so many folks no longer with us, alas. Numerous archives were visited, various personal papers consulted and many long hours spent with various studio files, including the daily production logs and memos for every film he made at RKO.
For Inglis….Mitchum and Miss Gish got along fine from all reports. It was producer Paul Gregory and the front seat of Gregory’s Cadillac that met with Mitchum’s displeasure.
Pilgrim…I made an attempt—by no means definitive—to find out about the material cut from Bhowani Junction. To my knowledge the missing footage no longer exists, but there is always hope. I interviewed Francis Matthews, who plays Ava’s Sikh lover in the film, and he described to me with despair how his own much larger part was reduced. As one of the few people to see Cukor’s original nearly three hour version of the film, Matthews’ declared it a masterpiece, and he was no fan of Cukor as a person. Matthews told me Cukor broke down in tears at what the studio was going to do to it. And for all that it is still a stunning film in so many ways, and Ava never better or more beautiful.
Like or loathe Ava and Mitchum? I like ‘em.
ChiO…Living or dead, it depends on the circumstances. There is a slightly better chance of getting an interview with a living subject, though you can’t count on it. From a publisher’s perspective, the dead are slightly less inclined to sue. For a certain vivacity a biographer hopes to include many witnesses to the events covered, but the years are passing and there will come a time when books about classic era Hollywood will no longer contain new first-hand accounts, alas.
I have a superstition about discussing current or future subjects too soon. Let me say instead that in the world of film there are certain figures who have fascinated and meant much to me since I was a lad, a list that would include John Huston, Mitchum, Fuller, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, George Sanders, Carole Lombard, Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges…among others
Dear Klondike….First, Mitchum made cracks about Kirk Douglas in public for fifty years, so Kirk is bound to want to get a few digs in return. Mitchum was a champion storyteller and b.s.’er, and may have embellished a tale or two through the years, if only to heighten the delight of his audience, and depending on how inebriated he might have been on a given occasion. Several people I interviewed about Bob would tell me about his outrageous and unbelievable stories. They would then, with no sense of contradiction, proceed to tell me a far more outlandish Mitchum incident they had seen with their own eyes. About Mitchum’s peripatetic youth, for instance, there is his brother John’s recollections and published account of those same years. My many conversations with their sister Julie touched on many of the same episodes, with the same course of events. I suppose all three siblings could have entered into a conspiracy to bolster Bob’s stories told over sixty years, but it isn’t very likely. Some of the tallest of Bob’s tall tales, like the one about the brawl on the set of Not as a Stranger and Brod Crawford eating Frank Sinatra’s toupee, which sounds like pure barroom b.s., were confirmed to me by separate sources including the great Ed Anhalt, the screenwriter, an unimpeachable source, at least I never impeached him. No, if you’re hoping to find out that Mitchum in real life was a mild-mannered Walter Mitty you’ll be disappointed.
Christy….some of the most rewarding interviews/conversations can be agonizing not fun…a struggle to get what you need from sometimes reluctant subjects…But yes, there have been many delightful discussions through the years. If I had to pick the best conversationalists off the top of my head I would probably think back to some of the early Hollywood screenwriters I met for my first book, Screenwriter: Words Become Pictures. People like Charles Bennett, John Bright, Curt Siodmak. They were tough, funny, knowing, and great storytellers.
cheers for now,