Robert Mitchum was a lesson in contradiction for me. He often seemed to be embarrassed by the makeup man or the camera director placing his chiseled face in a more favorable light. He would make self-deprecating jokes about his face, but when he walked away it would most assuredly be done in the Mitchum stride and strut—the "don't mess with me, I'm a tough guy who rode the rails with the hobos" body language. His voice, which he boomed as a throwaway over his shoulder, had a well-practiced lower register. Yes, he was a man's man in his own mind, but I saw something different.
He used to say, "I'll do this piece-of-s*** script just so someone else won't have to. Better me than them." He was an extremely intelligent man with total recall who didn't need to spend much time memorizing lines or on character analysis. But his lumbering body language seemed to cover what he didn't want exposed. He didn't like to fight. Didn't like to argue (he chose to pontificate instead), and where his ability to make important choices was concerned, I'd have to say he was an emotional coward.
All of his physical body art, his voice, his point of view, while demonstrating his version of himself, actually served to cover his deepest secret—he couldn't decide anything. He was essentially passive. Life happened to him. I happened to him. He rarely made anything happen.
He had been a pin-up favorite of mine when I was a teenager. I loved his huge body and his way of moving on screen; it looked as though he were striding under water. His angular face and protective arms made me swoon. So when he was cast as Jerry opposite me in Two for the Seesaw, I was granted the pleasure of getting to know my teenage dream, assessing him from a grown-up point of view. I fell for him deeply. One of the wonderful things about making movies is that you get to either burst the bubble of your own fantasies or keep them intact. With him I had a little of each, until I realized he was fascinating but not the right man for me.
Next: Danny Kaye