Interview de Christopher Mitchum
Thank you for being kind enough to accept answering our questions. To start from the beginning, could you tell us what motivated you and your brother James to take on your father's profession? Have you been encouraged to do so or was it a choice of yours?
I cannot answer for my brother. I know he began at the age of 16 when Elvis Presley was unable to play the part of my father's brother in the 1958 film Thunder Road. For my own part, I never wanted to get into the film business. I went to college, attending the University of Pennsylvania then the University of Arizona. I have a degree in English Literature. I wanted to write and teach. As Life would have it, by the time I was out of college, I was married and had two children. I needed to work. While at Arizona, I would often work at Old Tucson as an extra in films and television ($13.80 a day, plus lunch!) Sam Maners, the production manager on the TV series Dundee and the Culhane (w/John Mills) offered me a part "if I ever came to LA." We moved to Los Angeles and, needing work, I went to see Sam. I was hired for a part on the show, one day's work, $150. I was very excited, until I read the script. I died before the opening credits, off screen! I played a dead man. Well, it turned into two day's work. $300 was a lot of money in 1967. After that, I fell into another part on the Danny Thomas Hour, one hour dramas. Sammy Davis Jr. starred. It was a WWII story and I played a GI. I was in the barracks, on my bunk, and had two lines with Bo Hopkins. I was still horizontal, but alive, with nowhere to go but up! I had no more film jobs for the next two years, so I worked in various fields. In 1969, I landed a production job as a "go-for." Aka errand-boy. I worked on a number of films in production, 1st AD, 2 AD, Associate Producer, production assistant, etc. and started getting hired out of the office to act. Acting paid more. I will say that it wasn't until I worked with Howard Hawks that I appreciated the profession and began to love my work. So, acting wasn't my choice, at least at the start. I was never encouraged. In fact, it wasn't until 1973 that my father even acknowledged that I was an actor.
As a kid, did you hang out with your father on film sets, and grow up in a "show business" social milieu, or did your father rather strive to "protect" you from that?
Yes and no. I remember, as a child, going to RKO and playing in the prop room with the miniature King Kongs and remote control battle ships while my dad was off "working." I didn't have a clue as to where I was. In fact, I think I was 12 before I realized my dad was an actor. So, yes, I went to the studios. Summers, I might be in Greece or France while he was on a film, but, to him, it was a job. When you left work, you went home. So no, I didn't go up in the "milieu."
Could you tell us a bit about your earlier movies experiences, like Rio Lobo? From a professional perspective, how helpful or inconvenient was it to be Robert Mitchum's son? (Like "was it socially and professionally fulfilling for you in the film crew eyes", or were you rather despised and considered as "the kid whose daddy pulls some wires for"?)
Growing up as "Robert Mitchum's son" was a pain in the ass. In grade school, older kids would beat me up. As a young man, I never knew if someone liked me just because I was my father's son. When I started working in the industry, casting director Ed Foley told me he would never hire me because he didn't believe in "nepotism." When they flew me in from the East coast to screen test for Winds of War, director Dan Curtis made sure I flew in on a "red-eye," went right to the studio to test, and was told I could not wear makeup because "they wanted to see what I really looked like." As I was walking onto the set to test, there was Jan-Michael Vincent, a friend of Dan's, coming off the set in full make-up. He got the part. It didn't help me that my dad was the star. He never "pulled strings" for me, and I think everyone in the business knows that. However, today, despite my own career of over 30 years and my father being dead for over ten years, I'm still referred to as "Robert Mitchum's son." I have always been treated as my own person on the set.