Cameron Mitchell: The Color of Courage
Cameron Mitchell, 75, died of lung cancer, July 7, 1994. Mitchell’s body of TV work was “Buck Cannon” in NBC’s The High Chaparral. Mitchell was cast as the brother of “Big John Cannon,” played by Leif Erikson. This upscaled TV western ran from 1967 through 1971—it was no Bonanza, but fans loved the actors which included the lovely Linda Cristal, as “Victoria,” “Big John Cannon’s” wife.
As much as you (may have) enjoyed The High Chaparral, this is not about that western TV drama. This is my personal commentary about Cameron Mitchell, his background, career, and how I think that in Hollywood, some slick hucksters, gave him some bum steers, White Elephants and $26 total bucks in Mitchell’s bank when he filed his last bankruptcy.
“It was my fault,” Mitchell laughed. “I lost all of my hard-earned money by listening to shysters who knew how to pull a good con,” he said.
$26, how pathetic. As much as Mitchell was worth, millions, it was revealed, died with only $26 dollars to his name. Sad is not the word. Okay, what is the word? Ah, aha! “Eye for an eye,” sounds pretty good to me.There are “people,” rather, low-lifes, who are still walking around on two legs in 2018, who robbed Mitchell and others who worked very hard. Personally, I think that those very same scums of the earth, deserves to be whipped in public somewhere in Mexico and smeared with ruined mayonnaise—in a little place off the map, where the only law is a good butt kicking.
Of course, Mitchell did a tremendous job as a “co-star,” but in my modest opinion, he was worthy of more than just being a “co” star, or co anything, if you ask me. In my addictive TV-watching years, I enjoyed watching Cameron Mitchell—on shows where was both the good and bad guys. I even got a kick of watching Mitchell play the role of a seasonedThug. The truth is, he was good at it.
You’re probably groping for proof. Mitchell appeared in villainous roles as a sheriff-turned-outlaw in Hombre (1967), a bandit in Buck and the Preacher (1972) and a Ku Klux Klan racist in The Klansman (1974). I am a witness to enjoying Mitchell’s superb acting skills as a KKK racist and what made him amazing, again, he convinced me that he was a died-in-the-wool, card-carrying racist. Convince. That is the key with anyone who is flirting with the idea of sweating and starving just to get noticed in some obscure theatrical production. Convince: more than a verb. A tool for the struggling over-the-road trucker and Bible salesman. Convince. Even this tool comes in handy for the preacher who has to stand every Sunday morning and convince people that there “is” a Lake of Fire and a Heaven above.
Personally, I loved, maybe to an excessive point, of watching those early Police Dramas that called for Cameron Mitchell who was cast in the role of a Mobster, but with class. He wore the expensive shoes, shirts and suits, but when the dialogue was spoken . .. .Mitchell’s gravel-edged voice would drive home the most over-wrought underling telling him to watch yourself, for I have a plan that will make us all rich. And on film, Mitchell’s dreams came true. Not so in his real walk with Real Life. When Hollywood’s Oldest Agencies and Celebrity Managers began to retire, Mitchell had to retire from the flashy Hollywood dramas into a quieter pace in a quieter place where he could just rest a bit and let his own life catch up with him.
Mitchell fought numerous battles—on and out of the range of a TV camera, this was where Cameron’s most-serious Battleground of Life took shape, and Mitchell, knowing the odds before he climbed into the ring, had a distict possibility in his heart that “this” battle with lung cancer might put him on his back on the canvas staring straight up in the lights in the ceiling. I loved the (very old) “Riverboat,” with two younger stars, Darrin McGaven and Burt Reynolds—and when the show had a scene with a, Riverboat Gambler, dressed in fine array, I never desired to gamble in any way, especially in Real Life and against one man such as Cameron Mitchell. In his private life, he was known to be very strong.
I would watch Mitchell stare into the eyes of natural (and dangerous) Beasts and never flinch. To add more power to “convince,” the root word being “con,” he could master most under-written script to impress whatever under or over-paid director might be hoping to taste the sweet success of winning an Emmy or a few Oscar’s. Mitchell was a true man for all roles, because he had that gift of interpreting most scripts to fit the role of what the director(s) wanted.
I cannot go to another commentary unless I leave you with these few lines...... .last evening, Dec. 30, 2017, I had both the pleasure and a bit of nausea, in watching the High Chaparral on the Inspirational Channel, (seen late at night), and plot, although written very professional for the time—even the regulars on HP were on their game, Mitchell included, but the plot was old, been done many times before, and no amount of fine dressing would make it suitable for going to the Harvest Dance.
The High Chaparral episode: “Threshold for Courage,”--had the heroine, Linda Cristal, “Victoria,” being kidnapped by none other than Pat Hingle, a vengeful foe, “Finley Carr,” for “Big John Cannon” Leif Erikson, in his past. Words were exchanged. Heated words. Obviously, “Carr” had bones to pick with “Big John” and he picked them well. “Carr” kept both Cannons, “Big John” and “Buck,” along with “Billy Blue Cannon,” (Mark Slade), “Big John’s” son to a stand-still for fear that “Victoria” would be killed. Fat chance. No one in their right faculties is going to “kill off” the main star as well as the co-star! What kind of TV show would do something ignorant? Anyone in this frame of mind would receive a painful beating like a wild dog in Sante Fe. “Victoria.” You can take this from me: “Victoria” was not in any danger whatsoever.
More words were said. Plans were executed. “Big John,” who tracked “Victoria,” was also captured and put into a make-shift jail made from a shoddy engineering job to make a jail to keep him in until The Big Day when “Carr” would meet him in their final battle so “Carr” could die with dignity. Words were still be said. Guns were fired. “Billy Blue Cannon,” portrayed by Mark Slade was scared and hid behind some rocks.
But all the while, “Buck Cannon,” stayed quiet while his methodical mind was working overtime. In the final moments . . . “Finley Carr” charged at “Big John” who was now released from the shoddy-built jail from pine logs, to fight against “Carr” with a sword given to him by Hingle’s character. The odds were lopsided, but if I am any TV Action Expert, I would have voted “Superb” for the cinematography and suspense.
And with Hingle’s role of “Finley Carr’s” vengeance-driven plan to go into a duel, sword-to-sword with “Big John Cannon,” Erikson, who severed “Carr’s” left hand in the Civil War.. .was ready for blood. No shots were fired. “Victoria,” although scared, covered it well and never shed one tear. “Billy Blue” was now standing up, gun drawn, and looking confident as any man could be given the circumstances—and meanwhile “Finley Carr,” was determined to make “Big John” pay with his life as “Carr” put him on the ground several times with his sword play and expert horsemanship.
With the show’s perfect ending, Good defeating Evil, “Big John” with his still expert swordsmanship, used his sword given to him by “Finley Carr,” (Pat Hingle) and took his life, but spared the horse. Obviously an Unspoken Code of The TV Western.
“Big John” grabbed and embraced “Victoria,” until Billy Blue, “Buck,” and the remainder of the Chaparral hands had mopped-up the band of evil Confederates whom were working for Hingle’s character, “Finley Carr,”--the show came to a suspenseful climax as “Big John” and “Victoria” were still locked in a loving embrace . . .as it should be. No more shots were fired, or horses killed.
I have taken liberties with the main reason that I did NOT like the way that the director designed Cameron Mitchell’s character—and if love to watch TV, you will be able to see such unnoticeable things about a star’s voice, wardrobe, even appearance.
In one scene before this final show-down, “Billy Blue,” “Buck Cannon,” and “Victoria” were sitting at a dining table and having a bite. I noticed as the three were dining that something was not quite right. And if you had been watching, you would have noticed it too . . .or if years ago, you had watched it the first time, you would noticed it the first time: “Buck Cannon’s” hair had been dyed from a strong Brown to a California Surfer Blond color. I almost vomited. This “look” did not help Mitchell’s off-screen image. It looked awful. No wonder (now) that he kept his hat completely secure on his hat even during the final moments of securing “Victoria” and “Big John’s” release.
Even with Mitchell’s hair color being changed . . .some actors would have quit, threatened the network that they were quitting the show if (this) change was going to change the looks of their character. Not “Buck.” And not Cameron Mitchell—he went ahead and kept the course; steady as he went without as much as letting such a big thing as his hair color alter his character’s behavior in any way. Frankly, I did think that maybe Mitchell had attended a wild Hollywood party and somehow challenged someone to a Drinking Contest and lost—the prize: Having his brown hair dyed to a California Blond color. Of course, I was wrong. And Mitchell has his reasons for “going blond,” I cannot tell if he had “more fun” or not.
And in later shows, Mark Slade, “Billy Blue Cannon,” whose hair was already blond, when interacting with “Buck Cannon,” Cameron Mitchell, was a classic case of The Famous Hollywood Blondes during another hit show from The High Chaparral.
Did I also inform you that I used to work for TV Guide?
© 2018 Kenneth Avery