Apr 14, 2009

"Oh Dad! A Search For Robert Mitchum" - Lloyd Robson

Lloyd Robson is a writer and broadcaster from Cardiff. As a poet he has performed and been published on five continents."Oh Dad! A Search For Robert Mitchum" ( reviewed below ) was first published by Parthian Books in 2008.

I dont normally read biographies because they always end the same way. But Lloyd Robson has solved this problem. His "biography" of Mitchum is as much about the author as it is about its subject. Fortunately for the reader both are fascinating characters.

For the hardcore Mitchum fan there is a wealth of biographical information. For instance we are told that at the time of his marriage ( aged 16 ) to Dorothy Spence:- " Mitchum was already a drinker - since he was eight - and Mary-Jane smoker; had already hobo'ed up and down the eastern seaboard; had already served time in jail. She was a good girl and younger. He was sixteen, she was fourteen - the age when according to Mitchum, 'A girl falls for derelicts'."

The book is peppered throughout with amusing and revealing quotes. Here is Mitchum discussing his 'range':- " I have two acting styles: with and without a horse." We are also told that:- "Famously when asked if he followed the Stanislavski method he replied, 'I follow the Smirnoff method'."

The plot of every movie, both major and minor, that Mitchum appeared in is referenced at some point in the narrative, usually in the context of some random encounter on the author's travels through the thirteen states that he visited in order to research this book. And what a strange and wonderful book it is. It works on so many levels. It is a meticulously researched account of the life, times and career of one of Hollywood's greatest actors but it is also a travelogue written from a perspective which should prove particularly interesting to members and readers of this site.

Anyone who has emigrated to these shores from the other side of the Atlantic will recall the many minor 'culture shocks' which they experienced when first they arrived and the many ways in which things seemed 'oddly familiar'. There are many instances of this in the book and it works well as a travelogue. Scattered throughout its 500 pages there are occasional reflections on Wales' image in modern America and on notions of 'Welshness' . At one point Robson reflects on an article in a Bridgeport newspaper about a visit by David Lloyd George which describes him as 'a little Welshman':- " Still at least it proves the American press knew he was not English, and therefore they recognized there was a difference between being Welsh or English. So what's happened since to America's awareness of Wales? It struggles within the swamp of more assertive cultures."

Later in the book he encounters a Southerner who informs him that the "real" South is confined to Georgia and the Carolina's and that other parts of the former Confederacy have changed beyond all recognition. This leads to the following rather interesting reflection ( with apologies for the length of the quote ):- "So many Welsh people consider the major urban spread of Cardiff as not 'really' Welsh, nor the lowlands of Gwent, nor border towns like Chepstow and Monmouth, nor the north-east corner which comes under the influence of Merseyside. So what does this leave us with? Shrinkage. Geographically, culturally and emotionally. A different type of Wales - just as with a different type of the South - is viewed as a change too far. It's like saying, 'There is only one Wales, only one South - and you're not it, whatever you believe yourself to be.' And so we get smaller and weaker. It reeks of the modern age being judged as robbing now-urban areas of their rightful heritage. Well, change happens - we either accept and develop or get very, very lonely in an ever-reducing club, sat all on our lonesome in our chilly tai bach. And that's where we'll stay for as long as the question remains: are you as Welsh, are you as Southern as I am?"

The book is liberally spiced with accounts of bar room encounters and sexual adventures along the way. Indeed at times it is more autobiography than biography. This is not surprising since the author's main concern is to examine the notion of masculinity in the modern age. If Robert Mitchum is the paradigm ( and certainly Robson's father seems to have thought so ), how does he measure up? Together with the standard accounts of boozing, womanizing and fist-fights, there is a determined effort to track down Mitchum's sensitive side. He wrote and self-published his own poetry as a child. What we are left with is an engrossing account of an intellectual and emotional quest which reveals a great deal about both the author and his subject.

All in all this is a first rate read. I'd give it six stars if I could but unfortunately our graphics department was out tonight and she didn't have time to make me a six star jpeg.

Review by Ceri Shaw Email

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