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Roger Ebert On Robert Mitchum

Roger Ebert On Robert Mitchum

Film critic Roger Ebert sat down with Tom Snyder on The Late Late Show in 1997 to talk about, among other things, the late great actor Robert Mitchum.

Mitchum had just passed away a few days earlier followed by another legendary screen actor James Stewart.

Roger Ebert: “It wasn't a case of who was the better actor. Who did you like better? Robert Mitchum and James Stewart were both total originals… The sad thing was, Mitchum died everybody got geared up to mourn him. And then the next day, Stewart died.

“And Stewart, because he had a more positive image, was mourned in a different way. For example, the president gave a statement about Stewart and although I understand he called Mitchum's family privately, the president didn't feel called upon to make a public statement about Mitchum. It's like first we lost a great star, and now we've lost the American flag or Mount Rushmore… He was my favorite movie star.”

Mitchum was famously jailed for marijuana possession in 1948 and became the hottest topic for the tabloids and salacious newspaper headline. He served a two month sentence in the Los Angeles County jail system in 1949. Mitchum reportedly said at the time, “Well, this is the bitter end of everything—my career,my marriage, everything.” That proved not to be the case.

Roger Ebert: “Remember his great line when he got out of jail? He spent about six weeks [sic] in some kind of a minimum security prison on his marijuana charge and he was asked by the press, ‘What was it like?’ And he said, ‘It was like Palm Springs without the riffraffs.’ He was a funny, funny guy and a great actor. It's too bad that in a sense people then started talking about Stewart and didn't give the full attention to the Robert Mitchum

“I spent ages with Mitchum and it was just one funny story after another. I met him for the first time in Dingle, Ireland, on the set of Ryan's Daughter. He was drinking along with Trevor Howard, who he said, ‘I always liked to have Trevor on a set with me because all I have to do is [be as sober as] him and I know I'm okay.’ So a year later, we're in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, we're trying to get to the location. He's dismissed his driver, his buddy's driving the car. We're lost. We're in Steubenville, Ohio,

"Mitchum, who has a cloud of marijuana smoke surrounding him, was trying to hire a snowplow driver to lead us back to Pittsburgh again. And he's telling me a story about what bad shape Trevor Howard is in. He said, ‘When we finished Ryan's Daughter,’ he says, ‘They sent us all out to do publicity.’ So they sent Trevor to Germany and they gave him a publicist, a guide at the Heathrow airport. And before he get on the plane, he had to stop in the men's room.

“So he's standing in front of the urinal, admiring his new Casio watch that gave the date, the time, his temperature, his blood pressure, phases of the moon. That's just wonderful. Trevor gets on the plane, he flies off to Germany. He does three weeks of public relations without ever speaking any German or any English for that matter.

“They pour him back on the plane, getting back to Heathrow. He goes into either the same men's room or one that's identical. The publicist is waiting in the hallway. He hears an ungodly scream. The publicist runs in, ‘Trevor, what's the matter.’ He's standing in front of the urinal, looking at his watch and saying, "I've been pissing for three weeks!’”

When asked if there was ever pressure from the studios for him to deliver a good review of a bad movie...

Ebert: “Well, I'm sure that I have occasionally been... I've gotten the idea that they would sure like to have a good review. Yes. But I haven't been pressured in that way. No, I have never been bribed or really never been… That's the way it goes. It's just the way it goes. Yeah. I've been around a long time and you get a bad review of this week, maybe we'll get a good review next week. But I didn't like Demi Moore in Striptease, but now she's out in G.I. Jane and I liked G.I. Jane a lot and I give her a lot of credit for it.

“They haven't sought revenge yet. No, right? I think Gene [Siskle] and I play it pretty straight and they realize that we're not playing games. Anyway, we're saying what we sincerely believe.”

Watch the entire interview, Roger Ebert was always highly entertaining on talk shows:

 


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