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Robert Mitchum: Leading Ladies

Mitchum was a notorious womanizer, and almost every woman he ever starred with was rumored to be having an affair with the actor with the bedroom eyes. Be that as it may, he remained married to wife Dorothy for 57 years. Acting opposite Mitchum was enough to convert many actresses to his fan club, and many paid him the ultimate compliment by clamoring to act with him again. He only clashed with a few leading ladies, notably Katharine Hepburn (Undercurrent) and Greer Garson (Desire Me), who didn't take kindly to his constant kidding around. Mitchum reportedly didn't take his affairs very seriously either.

Leading Ladies: Laraine Day, Olivia de Havilland, Ava Gardner, Gloria Grahame, Jane Greer, Susan Hayward, Deborah Kerr, Shirley MacLaine, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Loretta Young.

Deborah Kerr

  The Sundowners

Mitchum's most-frequent female co-star and one of his biggest supporters. On their first meeting, he quickly put her fears to rest regarding the notorious reputation which preceded him. The two first teamed for Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, and then appeared in The Sundowners and The Grass is Greener. They both said they had such a rapport that he could be in Australia, and she in Switzerland, and their timing would be perfect. Deborah Kerr was also snubbed by Oscar, although she was nominated several times. Her roll on the beach in From Here to Eternity with Burt Lancaster did much to expand the type of roles she was offered. Her pre-Eternity movies she dubbed her "tiara roles," although she was back in nun's habit for Mr. Allison. You might expect her to have been as stiff as, say, Greer Garson, but she and Mitchum got on swimmingly.

Mitchum on Kerr:"The best, my favorite...Life would be kind if I could live it with Deborah around."

Kerr on Mitchum: "He makes acting look as easy as falling off a log...[and he's] extremely sensitive and poetic."

Jane Greer

  Out of the Past

In her first major role, Jane Greer as Kathie Moffett in Out of the Past matches Mitchum smolder for smolder, line for line, and double-cross for double-cross. When Jeff Markham (Mitchum) first sees her walking out of the sun into a Mexican bar, he's hooked, and so is the audience. In one of the best noir scenes of all time, and the scene which seals Jeff's fate, Mitchum throws away his chance to turn her over to Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). On the beach at night, Jeff looks into Kathie's eyes and says, "Baby, I don't care," and grabs and kisses her. She's lovely, sly, and the way her sultry voice complements Mitchum's growl, the dialogue is delivered up on a platter. Greer admitted that, at twenty-two, she had crushes on both Mitchum and Douglas.

The two were reteamed for The Big Steal. Every other actress in Hollywood had passed on co-starring with Bob after his marijuana bust, but Greer came through. The Big Steal is no Out of the Past, but their rapport is as strong as ever. Unfortunately, Greer retired from acting to raise a family. She did return to the screen to play in Against All Odds, a remake of Out of the Past, as the mother of the character she originated.

Greer on Mitchum: "What I remember most is that Bob was just terrific to me and took care of me. Even the way I looked. One costume I wore was too large...it wasn't right and Bob was the one who noticed it was bulging from the waist. So he stopped everything, borrowed a pin from the wardrobe lady and gathered it in and pinned me up in the back."

Kirk Douglas on Jane Greer: I don't remember much [about making Out of the Past, but] what I do remember is devastatingly beautiful Jane Greer. I loved hearing her stories of her brief marriage to Rudy Vallee at the age of seventeen, and how he insisted that she wear black panties, black net stockings, and black shoes with heels so high she teetered."

Jane Russell

Louella Parsons called the teaming of Mitchum and Russell "the hottest couple, that ever hit the screen." It's true that both were of, er, heroic proportions, and that, as some wags said, she was only co-star to have a bigger chest than he did. Their chemistry helps elevate His Kind of Woman and Macao beyond routine noirs. When Mitchum first lays eyes on Jane in the former film, he all but turns into a Tex Avery cartoon of a very interested fella. The two trade witty repartee, sexual innuendo and the usual romantic feints before the final clinch. Russell is also the recipient of two of Mitchum's best closing lines. From their on-the-set antics, everyone thought they were having an affair. Jane says she "fell in love" with Vincent Price and Mitchum (both in His Kind of Woman) but it's not clear if she meant she loved them or loved them. For some reason, Mitchum nicknamed her "Hard John." The two were were lifelong friends, but never lovers. Russell is a conservative Christian, while Bob's three turns as a preacher were as religious as he got.

Mitchum on Russell: "An authentic original. She tells it like it is."

Russell on Mitchum: "He was a good actor and deserved better."

Gloria Grahame

   Not as a Stranger

It's a crying shame that our favorite bad girl of The Big Heat and It's a Wonderful Life never got to share top billing with our favorite bad boy. Her first brief screen pairing with Bob was in Macao, in which she plays the villain's squeeze and casino fixture. She helps Mitchum, only if he takes "that canary," Jane Russell, off the island so Gloria can win her man back from Russell's ample charms. Their second filmic coupling is much more satisfactory, even if it escalates into high camp. In Not as a Stranger, square doc Mitchum has a hankering for rich, booze-swilling Grahame. They exchange smoky glances between cocktails and dance intimately in front of Mitch's meal-ticket wife, Olivia de Havilland. When Mitchum decides to go after Grahame, it's at her stable, amidst the whinnying of every horse on the ranch. He jerks her roughly to him, and .... CUT to Frank Sinatra consoling the lonely de Havilland. Grahame and Mitchum are also both in Crossfire, but sadly, don't have any scenes together. Mitchum first Grahame in 1940, when the two were in a play called "Maid in the Ozarks" at the Grand Playhouse in Los Angeles. Grahame had been married to Nicholas Ray, then married his step-son! She probably had her hands full without getting involved Mitchum.

Ava Gardner

   My Forbidden Past

It's no secret that the volatile and beautiful Ava had a long list of conquests, including husbands Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, Artie Shaw, as well as assorted bullfighters. She also wasn't above flirting with Richard Burton while Elizabeth Taylor was around. That takes some guts! She and Mitchum teamed for My Forbidden Past, a lackadaisical historic romance in which they both seem to be phoning in their performances. He made the picture to cover court costs from his arrest, and Ava did the film as a favor to him. Although it doesn't really show onscreen, the two hit it off instantly. Supposedly, Mitchum called Howard Hughes, head of RKO, and one-time beau of Ava's to ask "How would you feel if something happened between Ava and me?" Hughes' response? "Bob, if nothing does happen everybody's going to think you're a pansy." According to Ava's biographer, nothing did happen between the two, on Mitchum's decision. Whether he was trying to win back his estranged wife, or was pre-occupied by the fallout from his arrest, he apparently decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Mitchum nicknamed her "Honest Ave" because she didn't have to pad her bust.

Gardner on Mitchum: "If I could have gotten him into bed, I would have. I think that every girl who ever worked with Bob fell in love with him and I was no exception." (Rumors persist that the two did have an affair).

Shirley MacLaine

   Two for the Seesaw

Shirley is one of the few of Mitchum's leading ladies who has written an autobiography, and there it is in print, the two did have an affair. It remains the only affair that can be thus confirmed. According to all reports, the affair was the only serious one of Mitchum's life, and so the only one to rattle Mitchum's long-suffering wife. MacLaine and Mitchum came together in Two for the Seesaw, a talky, stage-bound drama about a tragically mismatched couple. Ironically, in the film he has left his wife and is only passing time with MacLaine's Greenwich Village free-spirit. At film's end, he goes back to his wife, which is how the real-life romance ended as well. Bob and Shirley were together again in the fluffy but amusing What a Way to Go! Bob took the role of one of Shirley's ill-fated husbands after Frank Sinatra was unavailable. In the film, Shirley is leaving Paris, having just buried second husband Paul Newman. She meets Mitchum's millionaire mogul, who flies her back to New York on his private plane. She envisions his life as a decadent playboy (Mitchum on his back, surrounded by dozens of leggy women who rip off his shirt and kiss and caress him. He asks one of them, "What are you doing after the orgy?") Convinced he's a no-good cad, she's still miffed when he leaves her alone during takeoff. In a pique, she goes after the "unsmiling cigarstore Indian," as she calls him, until he does smile, and becomes husband number three.

Shirley on Mitchum: "He had a way of teasing me with just enough poetic artistry that I'd be missing the adventure of a lifetime if I just did my job and walked way from what I intuitively knew was a deep and stormy fragility. All in all he was an exquisite challenge. And I went for it, in a big way."

Mitchum on Shirley: "So much talent it was embarrassing. Quick. Responsive. Open and honest. Best of all, she had a weird sense of humor. What more could anyone ask?"

Marilyn Monroe

   River of No Return
The pairing of these two physical archetypes of the 1950s in River of No Return was as big as, well, as a Cinescope epic. With the new widescreen process, the two stars had to really ride the rapids, which necessarily made them more supportive of each other. Actually, Mitchum had first met Monroe via her no-name first husband who had toiled beside Mitchum at Lockheed. He brought in pictures of his pretty wife, and ten years later, she and Mitchum were big box office. Mitchum poked fun at Marilyn's breathy sensuality: once when she was moving sexily in anticipation of a screen kiss Mitchum asked the world at large "How am I supposed to take aim when she's undulating like that?" Mitchum did turn down the chance to work with Marilyn again in The Misfits, which also meant turning down certain physical hardship at the hands of director John Huston. In River, Mitchum and Monroe wrestle lustily before he hauls her out of a dance hall and into respectability--marriage to him! Considering that he all but rapes her first, I can't say that Mitch is a real hero in this one. By the way, his nickname for Marilyn: Madam.

One film insider on Mitchum and Monroe: "If Joe DiMaggio weren't around, I have a feeling they'd be a very hot item."

Jean Simmons

Mitchum's most frequent co-star, after Deborah Kerr. He starred with these two British ladies, and Cary Grant, in The Grass is Greener, an upper-class adultery farce notable mostly for the casting. Jean Simmons was the wacky heiress in the laugh-free comedy She Couldn't Say No, and the psychotic killer of Angel Face. On the set of Angel Face. Mitchum was required to slap Simmons for one scene. Since it was a close-up, he couldn't fake it, but had to really slap her. Hard. Director Otto Preminger, much like Hitchcock, demanded take after take of authentic hard slaps. Finally, Mitchum threatened to start slapping him. Preminger suddenly decided he had the take he needed.

Susan Hayward

   The Lusty Men
Mitchum's co-star in White Witch Doctor and The Lusty Men. In the latter, Mitchum is a washed-up rodeo cowboy who teaches Hayward's husband (Arthur Kennedy) the tricks of the trade. While hubby's busy rising in the ranks of the rodeo world, Mitchum falls for the neglected Hayward. In the film, Hayward, who virtually defined "over the top" in her other performances, underplays it - we credit Mitchum and director Nicholas Ray. During an interview on the set of White Witch Doctor, an African jungle adventure, Mitchum yelled, "Look, there's the old gray mare now," when Hayward passed by. No word on how she took this. White Witch Doctor is not available on video, and The Lusty Men sporadically so.

Laraine Day

   The Locket

This obnoxiously perky actress is supposed to be a femme fatale who ruins three men's lives in The Locket. (Not including the man she kills and one more who takes the rap.) While Mitchum is at his sexiest in The Locket (check out the scene in which he tells her he never goes after women, he just waits for them to come to him! Honey, he ain't lying!) Still, for "Nancy" to get under his skin, causing Bob insomnia, depression and ultimately suicide is ludicrous in the extreme. The film goes right out the window with Bob, but stay tuned if you want to see Day dramatically lose all her marbles.

Loretta Young

   Rachel and the Stranger
The prim and proper Loretta supposedly had a "swear box" on the set of Rachel and the Stranger, with most words running from 25 cents to $1.50. According to the story, Bob ran down all his terms, asking what each one cost. To one of them, Loretta replied, "Oh, that's free." Gosh, I wonder what it was. This anecdote has also popped up in connection with man's man William Wellman and Ms. Young. She was shooting a picture next door to his, and when she wandered onto his set, she demanded money for her swear box, the contents of which she gave to charity. One particularly rough day, she walked in on an ongoing tirade of Mr. Wellman's. Without breaking stride, he walked over to her, gave her a $20 bill and said, "That oughta cover the next five minutes." She took the money and ran. In the western romance, Rachel and the Stranger, Young is a bond servant married to William Holden for purely proprietary reasons. Along comes lusty trapper Mitchum, who responds the way a man ought to when he sees a woman in the wildnerness. Holden comes to his senses, woos her himself, and Mitchum rides off, presumably to catch his own gal.

Olivia de Havilland

Not as a Stranger
In Stanley Kramer's biography, the director relates that during the filming of Not as a Stranger, Mitchum and co-stars Lee Marvin and Frank Sinatra harrassed co-star Olivia de Havilland by pinching her behind every chance they got. In the film, Mitchum marries Swedish nurse de Havilland for her money so he can finish medical school. She, of course, is in love with him and doesn't realize his deception. "She's looking at you like you're a smorgasbord," says Sinatra to Mitchum. Although it was one of Mitchum's few "prestige" films and did nicely at the box office, he's hopelessly miscast as the idealistic doctor. The romance between Mitchum and the film's bad girl, Gloria Grahame, is much more believable than that between him and hausfrau Olivia.