Remembering Robert Mitchum at 100

Robert Mitchum was born 100 years ago, on August 6, 1917. During the early 1940s he worked at the Lockheed munitions plant with Jim Dougherty, and claimed to have met Dougherty’s pretty young wife, Norma Jeane, remembering her as ‘shy and sweet.’ (Dougherty has denied this early encounter between the two future stars occurred.)

One of Hollywood’s most celebrated tough guys, Bob starred with Marilyn in River of No Return (1954.) He and Marilyn remained friendly and worked well together, although neither got along with director Otto Preminger. Bob recalled that she didn’t take her ‘sex goddess’ image seriously, playing it as a kind of burlesque. He was later offered another chance to be her leading man in The Misfits, but was unimpressed by the script and the role went to Clark Gable instead.

Robert Mitchum died in 1997. River of No Return will be screened at this year’s New York Film Festival, as part of a major Mitchum retrospective. You can read more about the shoot here.

Stanley Rubin 1917-2014

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Stanley Rubin – the producer of River of No Return, who along with his actress wife, Kathleen Hughes, was a regular guest at Marilyn’s annual memorial services – died on Sunday, March 2, aged 96, reports the L.A. Times.

Born in the Bronx in 1917, Stanley took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles in 1933. Though he would not complete his degree at UCLA, he quickly made his mark on Hollywood.

By 1940, Rubin was a screenwriter at Universal, and became one of the first to win an Emmy in 1949. He wrote scripts for 19 films, and produced over two dozen feature and TV films. His personal favourite, The Narrow Margin (1952) was shot in 13 days and became a classic film noir. Rubin had refused to obey RKO head Howard Hughes’ demand that he re-shoot it with an all-star cast.

Stanley first met Marilyn Monroe in 1948, when she auditioned for a TV series. Although impressed by her, the producer decided that she was too inexperienced for the role.

By 1953, Marilyn was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Rubin met her again when Twentieth Century-Fox asked him to produce a new Western, River of No Return.

Director Otto Preminger was not Rubin’s first choice, and Marilyn soon became unhappy with his tyrannical ways. However, Rubin told Michelle Morgan (author of MM: Private and Undisclosed) that Marilyn’s leg injury, incurred while filming on location, was genuine and not staged.

A year later, Rubin married Kathleen Hughes, best-known for her role in the sci-fi classic, It Came From Outer Space (1953.) They had four children together.

Rubin’s final screen credit was in 1990, as co-producer for Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart. In recent years, he resumed his studies at UCLA, and was the subject of a 2008 documentary, Stanley Rubin: A Work in Progress.

Remembering Tommy Rettig

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Writing for the Times-Ledger, the The Greater Astoria Historical Society takes a fresh look at the career of child actor and native of Queens, New York, Tommy Rettig.

“Thomas Noel Rettig was born Dec. 10, 1941, and grew up in Jackson Heights. His father, Elias, was an aircraft parts inspector for Lockheed and his mother, Rosemary, a housewife. He began his acting career at 5 when he was discovered by an acting coach who lived in the same apartment building. Before beating out nearly 500 other boys for the leading role in Lassie in 1954, Rettig already had a lengthy acting résumé.

After touring with Rogers and Hammerstein in Annie Get Your Gun, Rettig also appeared in the films The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a fantasy film written by Dr. Seuss, and the Western River of No Return, where he acted alongside Monroe and Mitchum.

Rettig endured stiff competition in the casting of wholesome Midwestern farm boy Jeff Miller in Lassie. Appearing in the leading role for the first four seasons of the program, the child actor bonded so closely off screen with his canine co-star that the dog began to disobey his trainer so the two could then only interact on screen.

He soon discovered, however, that dreams of stardom were replaced by grueling, long hours on the set and a rapidly disappearing childhood. The star complained bitterly of his treatment in the industry, and it is reported that he did not receive any residual payments for his performance in the series. After four seasons as everyone’s boy next door, the boy from Queens wanted to come home and was released from his contract.

Acting work, however, soon began to dry up as Rettig struggled to transition from Lassie to the increasingly in demand Rebel without a Cause roles for young men in the late 1950s.”

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Tommy was 12 years old when he appeared in River of No Return (1953) opposite Marilyn and Robert Mitchum. He initially avoided MM because his priest had told him she was a ‘scarlet woman’. But she soon won him over, even taking him along on a fishing trip with Joe DiMaggio.

Unfortunately, Monroe’s dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess, frightened Tommy by telling him that if he didn’t take acting lessons, his talent would dry up by the time he was 14. Director Otto Preminger had Lytess removed from the set, though she later returned after Marilyn intervened.

Tommy also became Marilyn’s ‘youngest ever date’ when she escorted him to a screening of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T, a fantasy based on a story by Dr Seuss in which Tommy also starred.

Rettig’s later life did not always run smoothly, as the Times-Ledger explains:

“Finding it difficult to support his wife and two young sons, he left Hollywood for a farm in rural California. Here his litany of scrapes with the law began, chalking up arrests for growing marijuana and cocaine possession.

Only after hitting rock bottom did the former child celebrity begin to turn his life around. Going on the road as a motivational speaker, Rettig built a new career based upon newly discovered computer skills he developed building databases for his mailing lists.

Starting in the early 1980s, the star of Lassie shone once again as a computer programmer and author. He was one of the earliest employees of software company Ashton-Tate, and later founded software consulting firm Tom Rettig Associates.

In 1991, Rettig revisited his roots with a guest appearance in the series The New Lassie along with former co-star Jon Provost. Rettig’s new beginning was sadly cut short when he died of a heart attack in 1996 at age 54.

His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean near his home in Marina Del Rey, with Lassie, a descendant of his TV sidekick, there to say goodbye.

In his later years, looking back on the elusive, fleeting nature of his childhood dreams, Rettig confided, ‘I wanted to be a real kid and see what the real world was like. I wanted to be one of those people I portrayed.'”

Rare Footage: Marilyn on Crutches

 

Rare footage of Marilyn is hard to find: and colour film, all the more so. This 1953 home movie of Marilyn at an airport, during filming of River of No Return in Canada, accompanied by co-star Robert Mitchum, was posted to YouTube today by user SGTG77.

Marilyn had sprained her ankle after filming a dangerous canoe scene. However, her friend Shelley Winters claimed she exaggerated the injury as revenge against tyrannical director Otto Preminger.

Screen caps by Yvon Molostoff

Marilyn and Jean Seberg

Actress Jean Seberg had a few things in common with Marilyn. They shared two directors, Otto Preminger and Joshua Logan. I have often thought that Jean’s role in Logan’s Paint Your Wagon might also have suited Marilyn.

Both Marilyn and Jean were monitored by the FBI during the J. Edgar Hoover era. Marilyn was followed, and perhaps even bugged, because of her connections with liberals like Arthur Miller and, possibly, the Kennedys (whom Hoover hated.)

During the 1960s, Seberg was pursued for her radical views on issues like civil rights. The FBI used illegally obtained information to plant a false story in Newsweek, claiming that a leading member of the Black Panthers had fathered her child.

Some researchers believe that the FBI campaign against Jean led to her suicide in 1979. Like Marilyn, she suffered from depression, and died of an overdose. Unlike MM, however, Jean left a note.

Seberg’s death is now the subject of a docu-drama, The Murder of Jean Seberg, and the stills of Daphne Guinness as Jean are somewhat Monroe-esque.

‘I want to write that allusions to Marilyn Monroe coupled with the presence of alcohol and cigarettes indicate self-destruction. I want to write about the sunglasses that often conceal Guinness’ eyes, and the way her eye sockets turn into hollow holes of light when she takes them off—that this suggests a lack of identity. I want to write about the inclusion of limiting traffic signs (“No Parking” and “Dead End”), and the voice-overs and footage from past political horrors, which allude to society’s capacity to subordinate. I want to write that these elements are all suggestive of the way Hollywood and society metaphorically- or literally- murder those whom we worship, and rob the famed of individual identities through exploitation. I want to say that the film is a meditation on fame’s destruction of the celebrity. But I shouldn’t…’

Wonder Mode

Marilyn and Otto Preminger

Of all Marilyn’s directors, Otto Preminger was probably the least suited to her sensitive nature. He was notorious for bullying actors, and while filming River of No Return, Marilyn was forced to do dangerous stunts and subjected to constant insults from Preminger through his megaphone.

Marilyn finally got the upper hand after an accident while filming a boat scene. She suffered a leg injury, and while some friends like Shelley Winters believed it was only a minor sprain, doctors ordered complete rest. Marilyn won the cast and crew’s sympathy and Preminger had no choice but to bow to her demands.

Over at IndieWire today, ‘The Playlist’ reviews Preminger’s career. He directed many classic Hollywood films, including Laura, Whirlpool, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Carmen Jones, The Man With the Golden Arm, and Anatomy of a Murder.

It is generally agreed that River of No Return was not one of Preminger’s best works – or Marilyn’s. They were both assigned to the project by Twentieth Century Fox as a contractual obligation.

However, I still admire Preminger’s pioneering use of Cinemascope, and Marilyn’s brilliant musical numbers: One Silver DollarI’m Gonna File My Claim, Down in the Meadow, and River of No Return. She was at the peak of her beauty, and her vocals are incredible even if her acting was hampered by a mediocre script.

‘You Remind Me of Marilyn Monroe…’

It seems that Marilyn wasn’t the only actress to face the wrath of Otto Preminger, who directed her in River of No Return. Kim Cattrall (Samantha Jones in Sex and the City) told The Guardian this week:

When the veteran director Otto Preminger signed the 17-year-old Cattrall to a contract with Universal Studios, he informed her: “Darling, you remind me of Marilyn Monroe – not in looks of course, but in lack of talent.”

“Actually, he was right,” Cattrall says. “I was terribly unformed. I was this scruffy provincial with wild hair and jeans who had been raised in the wilds of British Columbia, not glamorous at all. It eventually dawned on me that, whether I liked it or not, my appearance was going to be every bit as important as my ability. It made me realise that maybe I needed to dress up a bit.”