Photo: equiery.com / Mark Harrison
From May 1959 through June 1966, the iconic tough guy actor Robert Mitchum, along with his family, lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
In a 1960 article from Baltimore’s Evening Sun newspaper, Mitchum is quoted as saying, “Maryland isn’t as remote (as other places they’d considered moving to in an effort to get away from Hollywood). I can fly anywhere at no time at all. But when I’m there it’s like being in a different world. My unsocial nature is well known. In Maryland I can be as unsocial as I want and nobody gives a damn.”
Mitchum, like many of his Depression era contemporaries, had a rough childhood. After the death of his father at a young age, he, along with his mom, brother, and sister lived a transient lifestyle moving from one town to the next. Eventually he and his younger brother, John, ended up living on his grandparents’ farm in Felton, Delaware, but as he told the Saturday Evening Post in 1960, “”They thought I was some kind of degenerate (there). They ran me out of town so many times that it finally took.”
He spent the next few years hopping freight trains across America, finding work where he could, “rolling drunks” when he had to, and basically living the life of a wild-boy hobo. In 1933, he was arrested in Savannah, Georgia for vagrancy and was sentenced to a chain gang for 180 days. He escaped after seven.
He was 14 years old.
Mitchum hit the road again, and in 1935 reunited with a girl named Dorothy Spence whom he’d he known during the short time he lived in Delaware. They married in 1940, both in their early twenties. After the wedding he and Dorothy loaded up and moved to Long Beach, California, where his sister, Julie, had settled. Mitchum had $26 to his name and “no job or prospects for one.” After some disastrous employment tenures, Mitchum, encouraged by his sister, joined an acting troupe.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Modern Screen
IMDB says of his career: “Robert Mitchum was an underrated American leading man of enormous ability, who sublimated his talents beneath an air of disinterest. Starting in westerns, in 1945, he was cast as Lt. Walker in Story of G.I. Joe and received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His star ascended rapidly, and he became an icon of 1940s film noir, though equally adept at westerns and romantic dramas. His apparently lazy style and seen-it-all demeanor proved highly attractive to men and women, and by the 1950s, he was a true superstar despite a brief prison term for marijuana usage, which seemed to enhance rather than diminish his “bad boy” appeal.
“(Mitchum) carefully maintained a facade of indifference, always insisting he made movies just so he could get laid, score some pot, and make money…”
“Listen,” he supposedly said of his acting style, “I got three expressions: looking left, looking right, and looking straight ahead. They think I don’t know my lines. That’s not true. I’m just too drunk to say ’em.”
The movie database website notes that Mitchum’s career included 133 acting credits, 20 of them in 1943, his first year onscreen.
Photo: Greenbriar Picture Show
Robert and Dorothy Mitchum had three children, Jim, Chris, and Petrine (Trina). Always a man of contradictions, “a sophisticate and a primitive,” Mitchum routinely praised his wife in public, while perpetuating his notoriety as a world-class womanizer. He was rumored to have an affair with almost every leading lady he ever worked with, and his relationships and flings did not end with his costars. Tinseltown celebrities he was romantically connected to include Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, and Lucille Ball.
Photo: Allan “Whitey” Snyder – Marilyn: The Lost Photos
Perhaps in an effort to curb her husband’s access to female company, or as the Post article puts it in 1960 whitewash phrasing, “the frenetic over-stimulation of Hollywood”, Dorothy instigated the family’s move to a more rural environment.
They ended up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Belmont Farm in Trappe was a secluded 280 acre estate on the Choptank River and Bolingbroke Creek. The main house (c.1845), a stately Georgian Colonial, was built by the prominent Talbot County shipbuilding magnate William R. Hughlett. The Mitchums bought the property for $140,000.
Now a 29-acre parcel, Belmont Farm, having recently undergone significant renovations, sold in early 2017 for a little over two million dollars
When the Mitchum’s hit the Shore, the natives were thrilled, and they banded together to protect the privacy of their new neighbors.
With a well-publicized preference for hanging out with the crews of his movies rather than other stars, Robert Mitchum garnered a reputation locally for being a down-to-earth, hard-working family man who loved animals as much as he loved having a good time, and as a hard drinking roughneck with a bad temper.
No wonder he fit in around here.
For seven years, the Mitchums lived a generally quiet life on the Eastern Shore, while ‘Bob’ made a few of his most noteworthy films, including the D-Day epic The Longest Day, the once derided, now-classic Cape Fear (both released in 1962), and El Dorado, a 1966 John Wayne western.
During the filming of El Dorado, Mitchum made fun of John Wayne’s attempt to play his screen persona in real life. He said Wayne wore four-inch lifts in his boots and had a special roof installed in his station wagon so he could drive around wearing his cowboy hat. Later, when Wayne won an Academy Award for True Grit, Mitchum is reported to have said, “Sure I was glad to see John Wayne win the Oscar. I’m always glad to see the fat lady win the Cadillac on television, too.”
While the Belmont years were by most accounts tranquil, Mitchum was still Mitchum. In a Star Democrat newspaper article, Ken Tighe, the seller in the 2017 transaction, said, “I’ve heard some wild stories. There’s a big crack in the front gate. I heard he and Yul Brynner had bought matching Astin Martin ‘Goldfinger’ cars and they were racing them down Chancellor Point Road and Yul didn’t quite make it.”
And in the 1960 Evening Sun piece, when asked about celebrity seeking rubber-neckers who dared invade his Eastern Shore privacy, Mitchum said he didn’t mind visitors, “But my children shoot at them.”
Perhaps due to the expense and rigors of running the farm, where the Mitchums raised prizewinning quarter horses, or perhaps because nothing could stop the actor’s aggressive philandering, the Mitchums hung a ‘For Sale’ sign on Belmont and headed back west.
“Well, I had a farm in Maryland,” Mitchum is quoted as saying about the move, “and if you have a farm you should have a horse. Right? So I bought a horse. Before I knew it I had 22 and was in business. Then I sold the farm and moved back to California, so what was I going to do with the horses? Get them rooms in the Beverly Hill Hotel? So I had to buy a ranch up near San Francisco to house them.”
In 1987, he returned to Maryland while filming War and Remembrance at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Although Robert Mitchum had numerous affairs throughout his marriage, he and Dorothy remained together until he passed away at the age of 79 in 1997 .
Dorothy died 2014. She was 94.
Ever quotable, Robert Mitchum often remarked on how lucky he was. “I got a great life out of the movies,” he said, “I’ve been all over the world and met the most fantastic people. I don’t really deserve all I’ve gotten. It’s a privileged life, and I know it.”
And with regards to the stories that cemented his public image, he once told a writer:
“They’re all true – booze, brawls, broads, all true.
“Make up some more if you want to.”
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