Thunder Road

By Brenda S. Brown

Here is some trivial knowledge that is only known by a select few acquaintances; one of my favorite actors is Robert Mitchum, the gravel-voiced hero of countless blockbuster movies. Here is another little know fact, my parents did not allow us youngsters to view "Thunder Road" for years because they thought it was controversial in nature.  

The cult-favorite movie focuses on Mitchum's character, Lucas Doolin, earning a living as a bootlegger by delivering the illegal liquor his father distills and Gene Barry's character, Troy Barrett, attempting to enforce the law against running moonshine whiskey.  The movie was released on May 10, 1958 and it might surprise some readers to know that it is rumored in particular circles to be a preface for NASCAR racing because several of the early champions were also stock-car racers and bootleggers.  

An interesting fact that I discovered during my research is that most of the movie belonged to Mitchum, he co-wrote and produced it, composed the unforgettable theme song, and then created a recording of the song "The Ballard of Thunder Road" that became a successful hit. 

Contrary to the habits of most celebrities, he used part of his given name; Robert Charles Durman Mitchum.  Even though he never apologized for his love and use of cigarettes and alcohol, he managed to stay married to his original wife who was the mother of their three children.  Later in life he was well known as a bad-boy of Hollywood suffering through legal problems and brushes with the judicial system. 

The part of younger brother, Robin was originally offered to Elvis Presley, as requested by Mitchum, and although Elvis was eager to play the part, Colonel Tom Parker demanded an unreasonable price for his efforts and the offer was withdrawn.  James, Mitchum's son, was subsequently given the part and it worked out positively because they looked so much alike.  A little known fact is that Mitchum himself financed the film production. 

His performances included lead parts in The Winds of War and the sequel, War and Remembrance.  Later he was heard in several commercial efforts for the beef industry in "Beef, it's what's for dinner" campaign.   

When Mitchum died at age 79 from emphysema and lung cancer, at his request he was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea by Dorothy, his wife, and Jane Russell, his neighbor.  No formal funeral service was performed. 


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