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Cameron Mitchell; Multifaceted Actor

July 08, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cameron Mitchell, veteran character actor perhaps best remembered for his role as Happy in the stage and screen versions of "Death of a Salesman," has died. He was 75.

Mitchell died of lung cancer Wednesday night at his home in Pacific Palisades, his son, Chip, and Mitchell's agent, Ronald Leif of Contemporary Artists Ltd., said Thursday.

"A true actor isn't tagged. He isn't a heavy, a comic or a juvenile--he can assume any personality the role demands and play it convincingly. Such a man is Cameron Mitchell," Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper wrote in 1952.

Mitchell did assume many personalities over nearly four decades in more than 90 films and the television series "High Chaparral." His films varied from Westerns to the serious "Les Miserables" in 1952 to the lighter "How to Marry a Millionaire" in 1953 to the role of Jigger in "Carousel" in 1956.

Other films included "What Next, Corporal Hargrove?" and "They Were Expendable," which marked his screen debut in 1945; also, "Homecoming," "Command Decision," "Okinawa," "Outcasts of Poker Flat," "Powder River," "Hell and High Water," "Garden of Evil," "Desiree," "Strange Lady in Town," "Love Me or Leave Me," "House of Bamboo," "The Tall Men" and "All Mine to Give."

In the 1960s, Mitchell worked mostly abroad, doing foreign-language films in Italy, France, Germany and Spain. He was cast in such roles as Julius Caesar, Harald the Viking and Cesare Borgia.

Mitchell, a teetotaler, returned to Hollywood in 1967 to play drunken cowhand Buck Cannon in the NBC Western television series "High Chaparral," which ran for four years.

"I firmly believe that our show is the best of all the Westerns," he told The Times at the outset of the Arizona-based series. "There is nothing like it. It's not hip. I'm sick of hip--it's old style. The realism is wonderful. It's like it was."

Mitchell became a student of Western lore and read widely on the history of Arizona.

"On location, where we do most of our shooting," he rhapsodized, "I've walked where Cochise actually walked the land. I've talked to the people, some of the real pioneers of the West. For me, this series is not just a series, it's one long story."

In the 1970s, Mitchell was in lesser films such as "Nightmare in Wax," "Buck and the Preacher," "The Klansmen," "The Taste of the Savage," "Viva Knievel!" and "The Toolbox Murders."

He said he no longer cared to be in movies, noting during his television stint: "Thank God I worked with the great ones: Gable, Cooper, Power. The respect, mystique and imagination are gone from the movies. The old movies were better. Today they're junk."

Mitchell's fortune took a downturn along with his career, and he twice filed for bankruptcy, in 1965 and in 1974.

Mitchell was born in Dallastown, Pa., and grew up in Shrewsbury, Pa., the son of a minister. He began his career on Broadway and served as a bombardier in World War II before he moved to Los Angeles to work in films.

"He isn't handsome. He isn't one of the lucky-break boys or the overnight flashes," Hopper said in the early 1950s when Mitchell was getting his most desirable roles. "Cam has gotten there the hard way over an uphill, obstacle-ridden course."

In addition to his son, Charles (Chip) Mitchell, the actor is survived by his wife, Johanna, five other children--Fred, Camille, Jake, Jono and Katie, and five grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private. The family said a public memorial service will be scheduled within a month.

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