Cameron Mitchell (actor)
Mitchell in 1955
Cameron McDowell Mitzell
November 4, 1918
Dallastown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||July 6, 1994 (aged 75)|
|Resting place||Desert Memorial Park|
Cameron Mitchell (born Cameron McDowell Mitzell; November 4, 1918 – July 6, 1994), was an American film, television, and stage actor. He began his career on Broadway before transitioning into feature films in the 1950s, appearing in several major motion pictures. He would later become known for his roles in numerous exploitation films in the 1970s.
A native of Pennsylvania, Mitchell began acting on Broadway in the late-1930s before signing a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, after which he appeared in several films with Lana Turner and Clark Gable, such as Cass Timberlane (1945) and Homecoming (1948). He subsequently originated the role of Happy Loman in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949), a role he reprised in the 1951 film adaptation. He subsequently signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, who cast in him in lead roles in Les Misérables (1952) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), opposite Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe. He then co-starred opposite Doris Day and James Cagney in the musical Love Me or Leave Me (1955).
Throughout the 1960s, Mitchell transitioned to roles in spaghetti Westerns and Italian films, including several collaborations with Mario Bava, namely Erik the Conqueror (1961), Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Knives of the Avenger (1966). From 1967-71, Mitchell appeared in the western television series The High Chaparral. From the mid-1970s, Mitchell appeared in numerous exploitation and horror films, such as Slaughter (1972), Haunts (1976), and The Toolbox Murders (1978). Mitchell continued to appear in film and television throughout the 1980s, including in supporting parts in the anthology horror films Night Train to Terror (1985) and From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), and the science fiction film Space Mutiny (1988), which was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He died in 1994 of lung cancer, aged 75.
Early life and stage work
Mitchell was born in Dallastown, Pennsylvania of Scottish and German descent, one of seven children of Rev. Charles Michael Mitzell and Kathryn Isabella (née Ehrhart) Mitzell. Young Cameron moved to Chicora, Pennsylvania in 1921 when his father was accepted as pastor of the St. John's Reformed Church, Butler, Pennsylvania, and went on to grow up in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania. He was a 1936 graduate of Greenwood High School in Millerstown, Pennsylvania.[note 1]
In 1939, Mitchell made his Broadway debut in a minor role in Jeremiah. During this time, Mitchell became an NBC page at NBC Radio City, which led him to a minor role in a 1940 production of The Taming of the Shrew, with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne's National Theater Company. On August 17, 1940, Mitchell married his first wife, Johanna Mendel, daughter of self-made Canadian business tycoon Fred Mendel, in Lancaster, New Hampshire. The Mendel family was based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where Fred Mendel founded Intercontinental Packers, a major family-owned meat packing operation. The Mitchells' four children held dual US/Canadian citizenship. Johanna Mitchell gave birth to their first son, Robert Cameron Mitchell, in New York on July 4, 1941; he died in 1981. Although Mitchell and Johanna divorced around 1960, he maintained close ties to Canada. Their daughter, Camille Mitchell (born 1954), and another son, Charles (later known as Cameron Mitchell Jr.; born 1951), are both actors. Cameron and Johanna's second son, Michael Fredrick "Fred" Mitchell (1946–1998), was president of Intercontinental Packers for many years working alongside his mother, Johanna, who was Chairwoman of the Board. Today the company is known as Mitchell's Gourmet Foods and still operates out of Saskatoon, now owned by Maple Leaf Foods.
The year following his marriage to Mandel, Mitchell appeared again on Broadway in The Trojan Women (1941). In 1944, he served as a bombardier with the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
Transition to film
His film career began with being contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1945 for three years, initially with minor roles in films including They Were Expendable (with John Wayne and Robert Montgomery), but Mitchell quickly rose to leading man status. He co-starred with Lana Turner and Spencer Tracy in Cass Timberlane and with Wallace Beery in The Mighty McGurk (both 1947), and concluded his MGM period with two 1948 films starring Clark Gable: Homecoming (also with Turner) and Command Decision.
Mitchell originated the role of Happy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) on Broadway. After its closing, he appeared again in the Broadway production of Southern Exposure (1950). Mitchell reprised the role of Happy Loman in the 1951 film adaptation by 20th Century Fox. Mitchell was contracted with the studio, where he had a prolific career in such films as the 1952 version of Les Miserables (as Marius), and in the 1953 Marilyn Monroe-led comedy How to Marry a Millionaire, in which he portrayed a wealthy man attempting to romance a single woman (played by Lauren Bacall). The same year, he provided the voice of Jesus of Nazareth in the epic film The Robe.
He then appeared alongside Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark in the drama Garden of Evil (1954), followed by a lead role in Samuel Fuller's Cold War drama Hell and High Water (1954). He subsequently co-starred with Marlon Brando in Désirée (1954); with Gable and Jane Russell in the Western The Tall Men (1955); and the film version of the stage musical Carousel (1956). Mitchell was loaned back to MGM to co-star with Doris Day and James Cagney in the comedy musical Love Me or Leave Me, in 1955.
In 1957, Mitchell co-starred with Joanne Woodward and Sheree North in the comedy No Down Payment (1957). The same year, Mitchell and his wife, Johanna, were divorced; in June 1957, after his marriage to Lissa Jacobs Gertz, Johanna filed a lawsuit alleging cruelty, and sought over $2,000 a month in financial support. Mitchell and Gertz had three children: Kate, Jake and Jono.
Television and exploitation films
Mitchell starred in an unsold 1959 television pilot called I Am a Lawyer however, he achieved success on television during the latter part of his career, where he is best remembered for starring as Buck Cannon in the 1960s/1970s NBC western series, The High Chaparral. He had the lead as John Lackland in the 1961 syndicated adventure series The Beachcomber.
Throughout the 1960s, Mitchell starred in numerous Italian sword and sandal, horror, fantasy, and thriller films, several of which were directed by Mario Bava. Among his collaborations with Bava were the action film Erik the Conqueror (1961), playing a viking; Blood and Black Lace (1964), in which he portrayed the owner of a fashion house plagued by a series of brutal murders; and as a knife-throwing viking warrior in Knives of the Avenger (1966). He also appeared in Westerns, such as Minnesota Clay (1964) and Ride in the Whirlwind (1966).
In later years, Mitchell appeared in villainous roles as a sheriff-turned-outlaw in Hombre (1967), a bandit in Buck and the Preacher (1972), and a Ku Klux Klan racist in The Klansman (1974). Beginning in 1970, he intermittently filmed The Other Side of the Wind with director Orson Welles, a project that went unreleased until 2018. In 1975-1976, he portrayed Jeremiah Worth in the Swiss Family Robinson TV series, and had a supporting role opposite Leo Fong in the Filipino film Enforcer from Death Row (1976).
On May 9, 1973, Mitchell married his third wife, Margaret Brock Johnson Mozingo, whom he met when he was in Florence, South Carolina, making The Midnight Man; their marriage took place in Puerto Rico. In February 1974, Mitchell entered his second bankruptcy, with $2.4 million in debts contrasted with $26 in two bank accounts. He told Associated Press writer Bob Thomas: "The reasons are the same as have happened to other actors over the years. Stupid, bad investments. Parasites who live off you. Too much trust in people who handle your money." In the fall of 1976, Mitchell's marriage to Mozingo was annulled after she discovered his divorce from his previous wife, Lissa Jacobs Gertz, had not been finalized at the time of their marriage. In March 1976, Gertz had sued Mozingo for $53,000, a sum she claimed Mitchell and Mozingo agreed to pay her as a divorce settlement.
Mitchell was subsequently featured on an episode of Bonanza and ABC's S.W.A.T.. He guest starred on the "Landslide" episode of Movin' On in 1975. He appeared on Gene Evans's short-lived Spencer's Pilots on CBS in 1976. Mitchell also had roles in horror films and in many exploitation films such as The Toolbox Murders (1978), the creature feature The Swarm (1978), the slasher film The Demon (1979), the slasher film Silent Scream (1980). He appeared again on Broadway in the 1978 production of The November People, and the same year starred as Henry Gordon in the television miniseries adaptation of Black Beauty.
Late in his career, Mitchell played a gangster for laughs in My Favorite Year (1982), and a police detective in the 1983 film, Dixie Ray, Hollywood Star. He had a supporting role in the anthology horror films Night Train to Terror (1985) and From a Whisper to a Scream (1985), as well as roles portraying right-wing General Edwin A. Walker in Prince Jack (1985), and as Captain Alex Jansen in Space Mutiny, a 1988 South African science fiction film that appeared as an "Experiment" in Episode 820 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
On his deathbed, he was surrounded by his wife, six of his seven children (eldest child Robert Cameron Mitchell (1941–1981) predeceased both his parents), and five grandchildren.
- An article in the March 15, 1947, issue of The Gazette and Daily from York, Pennsylvania, says that Mitchell went to New Freedom High School.
- Grimes, William (July 9, 1994). "Cameron Mitchell, 75, Actor; Created Role in 'Salesman'". The New York Times.
- Aaker 2017, p. 303.
- Rev. Mitzell Served St. John's Reformed Church from December 1, 1921 to November 30, 1922."St. John's Reformed Church in Donegal Township Pennsylvania". Archived from the original on July 15, 2017. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
- "Cameron Mitchell, York County Native, Moves Near Top In Movies". The Gazette and Daily. Pennsylvania, York. March 15, 1947. p. 14. Retrieved July 13, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Cameron Mitchell". Playbill. Archived from the original on November 28, 2018.
- "Stage, Film and TV Actor Cameron Mitchell Dies". The Washington Post. July 9, 1994.
- "Cameron Mitchell Sued for Divorce". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene, Texas. Associated Press. June 26, 1957. p. 57 – via Newspapers.com.
- Shipman, David (July 8, 1994). "Obituary: Cameron Mitchell". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on July 15, 2017.
- Willis & Monush 2000, p. 280.
- Blottner 2015, pp. 62–63.
- Meyers 2012, p. 46.
- Aaker 2017, p. 306.
- Dombrowski 2015, p. 80.
- "Actor's wife charges bigamy". The Argus (Fremont). Fremont, California. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.
- Terrace 2011, p. 32.
- Terrace 2011, p. 458.
- Terrace 2011, p. 82.
- Gleiberman, Owen (August 31, 2018). "Venice Film Review: 'The Other Side of the Wind'". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018.
- Terrace 2011, p. 1046.
- Tombs 1998, p. 50.
- Thomas, Bob (February 21, 1974). "Actor Cameron Mitchell Chose Bankruptcy Over Suicide Act". The Robesonian. North Carolina, Lumberton. Associated Press. p. 12. Retrieved July 13, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- Terrace 2011, p. 110.
- "Film profile". iafd.com. Retrieved 2014-08-16.
- Terrace 2011, p. 814.
- "Palm Springs Cemetery District "Interments of Interest"" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-08-16.
- Brooks & Brooks 2006, p. 238.
- Oliver, Myrna (July 8, 1994). "Cameron Mitchell; Multifaceted Actor". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 15, 2017.
- Aaker, Everett (2017). Television Western Players, 1960–1975: A Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-62856-1.
- Blottner, Gene (2015). Columbia Noir: A Complete Filmography, 1940-1962. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-47014-3.
- Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: a Guide to the Cemeteries and Grave Sites of the Rich and Famous. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 978-0762741014.
- Dombrowski, Lisa (2015). The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-819-57610-1.
- Meyers, Jeffrey (2012). The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07854-5.
- Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, North Caroline: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
- Tombs, Pete (1998). Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-18748-4.
- Willis, John; Monush, Barry, eds. (2000). Comprehensive Pictorial and Statistical Record of the 1994 Movie Season. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-557-83233-7.
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