Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Actor James Mitchell R.I.P.

Actor James Mitchell, a star of Broadway and a regular on All My Children, passed on Januaary 22 at the age of 89. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease complicated by pneumonia.

James Mitchell was born on 29 February, 1920  in Sacramento, Washington to English immigrants. His mother returned to England in 1923 with his brother and sister, and Mitchell had no further contact with her. Having difficulty making ends meet, his father fostered him to vaudevillians Gene and Katherine King. He returned to his father after he remarried. When he was 17 he moved to Los Angeles, where he resumed contact with the Kings. It was while at Los Angeles College that he took an interest in dance, and enrolled at the school of choreographer Lester Horton. After receiving his associates degree, he joined Horton's company, where he remained for four years.

It was in 1944 that Horton went to New York with the intention of founding a new dance company, taking James Mitchell with him. Unfortunately, the company soon collapsed. Mitchell would not remain out of work long, as he successfully auditioned for choreographer Agnes de Mille. de Mille offered Mitchell the positions of principal dancer and assistant choreographer. It was then in 1944 that James Mitchell made his debut on Broadway in the musical Bloomer Girl. Mitchell then embarked on a successful Broadway career, often collaborating with de Mille. He appeared in Billion Dollar Baby (1945), Brigadoon (1947), Paint Your Wagon (1951), Livin' the Life (1957), a revival of Carousel (1957), and First Impressions (1959).

While Mitchell was appearing on Broadway, he also had a career on film. He made his debut as one of the dancers in Moonlight in Havana in 1942. For many years Mitchell appeared in movies as a dancer or in bit parts. His first significant role in a movie was in the Western Colorado Territory in 1949. The Fifties saw Mitchell appear in such films as The Toast of New Orleans, The Band Wagon (in which he played Paul Byrd), Oklahoma, and The Peacemaker. He made his television debut on an episode of Gruen Guild Playhouse in 1952. Throughout the Fifties he appeared on such shows as Producer's Showcase, Casablanca, and Decoy.

The Sixties saw James Mitchell appear on Broadway again, in the plays Carnival and The Deputy. On television he appeared in the shows The Edge of Night, Blue Light, and Hawk. He was a regular on the series Where the Heart Is. He appeared in the film A Touch of Magic. From 1967 to 1969 he was part of Jerome Robbins' American Theatre Laboratory. The Seventies saw James Mitchell appear on Broadway in Mack & Mabel. He appeared in the film The Turning Point. On television he appeared on Charlie's Angels and Lou Grant, as well as the TV movies The Silence and  Women at West Point. It was in 1979 that he joined the cast of All My Children, as Palmer Cortlandt Sr. He remained with the show until 2008.

Although best known for his role in All My Children, James Mitchell should perhaps be best known as a song and dance man. He was possessed of a great and a natural talent for dance that showed every time he performed. He was also a very good actor. He more than held his own as choreographer Paul Byrd alongside such talents as Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Oscar Levant. Although many might remember him as Palmer Cortlandt Sr., he should perhaps best be remembered as the talented singer and dancer he was.

1 comment:

Raquel Stecher said...

He was in Border Incident (1949) too. That's how I discovered him. I thought he had the most amazing face and even though he wasn't even Hispanic, he looked Mexican and made Brown Face look natural. He just had an interesting look. He was great in that film as well.

God Speed James Mitchell.

I'm really glad that you took the opportunity to write about this lesser known actor. I was so sad to hear that he passed.