Since the passing of John Mitchum in 2001, his family has maintained efforts to have John’s contribution to films, television, and American culture be recognized by collecting recordings of his many friends and admirers reciting their favorite Mitchum poem set to music, an idea suggested by Ernest Borgnine and AC Lyles. This has been a long undertaking, as many of these people are busy with their own careers in film and television.
We started this project called “Why We Love Him” late Spring/early Summer of 2001. Dad had suffered a major stroke after learning of the sudden death of his only son, my brother, Jack.
While my half sister Victoria worked with Dad daily on physical rehabilitation and nutrition, giving him back his strength and coordination, I worked toward giving him a purpose to fight. Hence, this book.
When I told Dad he needed a forward for the book and asked who he wanted to write it, he firmly said “you.” Believe me, that took me by total surprise. I was expecting one of his many well-known friends to be named. When I questioned him on his decision he simply said “No one knows me like you.”
When he read what I had written, he looked up with tears in his eyes and said “thank you.”
How many times growing up did my brother and I hear “You are so lucky to have John Mitchum for a father!” We would look at each other and shrug our shoulders. Of course we knew Dad was an actor, writer, poet and singer, but it was no big deal. That’s just who he was. Dad never had an ego attached to anything he did, so we took it all as a matter of course.
Dad had friends from all walks of life. He taught us by example not to be judgmental, bigoted or hateful. We never knew upon opening the front door who or what would be on the other side.
It might be John Wayne to discuss “America, Why I Love Her,” or an unknown but equally important stuntman. It could have been Bill Grote—a geologist for The Department of Water and Power, or Bob Finney who was an engineer at NASA. Or it might have been some hungry kid Dad picked up hitch-hiking. Thirty years later that same hungry kid — Diane Stroebel and her husband Guy were right by my side when Dad passed away. Dad and his friends set the bar of professionalism for all of us. Even to his last performance at the Golden Boot Ceremony if Dad was asked to recite one of his poems or songs he simply cleared his throat, looked skyward to ground himself and he was THERE. Dad was equal in Uncle Robert’s renowned ability to remember lines and stories. In all my life, I never saw Dad “warm up” for anything. His final spoken words to me in ICU was the poem “America, Why I Love Her” in its entirety.
When his mother was turning 90 and the family was having a huge celebration for her, I came up with a great idea. We were living in Las Vegas at the time. I called Dad in Los Angeles and told him to write a poem for Nana. Within 10 minutes he called back with “That’s My Mother,” which my husband put to music. The two of them performed it together for Nana at the party after just one run through.
Dad did just about the same thing this past winter when Dale Evans passed away. I would say her poem was written within 15 minutes.
When I was a child Dad was always busy. He appeared in over 800 TV shows, 60 movies, recorded an album with Dan Blocker, as well as having John Wayne, Ken Curtis, Lorne Greene, and Forrest Tucker record his poetry and songs. He was nominated for a Grammy for John Wayne’s recording of “America, Why I Love Her.”
If that were not enough, Dad was always the first to volunteer for a benefit or charity event. He masterminded several of his own for friends in need. He campaigned across the country with Jim Drury, Jon Locke, and The Sons of The Pioneers for Barry Goldwater in the 1960’s. All of this while keeping our house open to all our friends and strays.
In honesty it wasn’t until I hit my 40’s and really looked back at my childhood before I began to appreciate my father; the life he has given me, the “jewels” in the vast array of beautiful people he has introduced me to, the love of knowledge, beauty, humor and friendship.
Now I look at his body of work and I am in awe. Not only is it enormous, but it is beautiful. When I gathered all the poems and songs together for this book Dad commented “I’ve been rather prolific!” Still no ego there.
Now in giving you this collection of a lifetime of work I can say “Yes, I am lucky to have had John Mitchum for a father.” I miss you Daddy.
Cindy Mitchum Azbill
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