"John Mitchum thinks like I think and writes like I wish I could"
— John Wayne
John had a way of positively influencing people's lives through his stories, songs, and humor. If there was a guitar in the room, you were certain to learn about the songs that were woven into the fabric of American Culture. John was at once a deeply sensitive spirit (Brother Robert would say he could cry at card tricks), yet a very strong and dangerous man to rouse to anger.
What is It that makes a period (e.g., the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s...) so special? Is it the world events that occurred, the music, the marvels of industrialization, or the people? Or is it a combination of all these things? Arguably, I think that people from each generation will hold fast to the idea that there was a certain period while growing up, that made the whole world special.Born in 1954, for me, that period was early to mid-60s. I was nine years old, and it was an age of awareness. At that time, my mother and I lived in Van Nuys, California the epicenter of the SanFernando Valley. It was a place where boys could still play football in the streets, hitchhike, have a paper route, and just be a kid without the worry of harm — well, at least for the most part. It was during those years that we also had great role models and icons to look up to. I’m not talking about Buck Rodgers or Captain America; I am talking about people such as Roy Rodgers and Sgt. Joe Friday. These were solid people of remarkably good character that could be seen weekly on the television. However, there was also another group. These were bigger than life, such as John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Ernest Borgnine, William Holden, and their likes. And that just the shortlist.These movie stars set the pace for every boy. They were your true-to-life hero’s. They were admired by everyone. Yet there were some others who perhaps did not get as much attention or notoriety, but were just as valid, just as important, and made just as big of an impact. These were those actors who played the sidekicks and supporting characters that you looked forward to seeing in every episode of a television show. Shows such as Hogan’s Hero’s and F-Troop were ﬁlled with such characters. Ironically, I cannot recall the name of my favorite character from F-Troop only because I can easily remember John Mitchum, the actor who portrayed him.Better known to me as Uncle Jack, John Mitchum who in reality was a second cousin, had a big impact on my life. My grandmother Gertrude, and his mother, Ann, who I was allowed to address auntie were sisters. Auntie and her husband, the Major, lived in Panorama City, a short ﬁve miles or so away from where mother, grandmother and I lived in Van Nuys, and on nearly every Saturday we were sure to go to Auntie’s house for dinner, or at least pie. Across the street from Auntie lived John’syounger sister, Carroll. Carroll had ﬁve children. There was Wendy, Bambi, Gary, Nikki, and even Stephen. Funny, we always would say it that way even though Stephen is Nikki’s elder brother. Wendi and Bambi were the eldest with Gary and me in the middle. lt’s through their association as being the true nephews and nieces that I picked up the ability to call cousin John, Uncle Jack, and his brother Robert, Uncle Bob.Saturdays, during those years, were predictable. Grocery shopping was done at Hughes’Market, mother, and grandmother always seemed to have a need to spend hours in department stores, especially Butler Brothers, and then if we did not have supper at the Smorgasbord, a Norwegianbuffet, it was off to Auntie’s house. It was there that either Uncle Bob or Uncle Jack would often stop by.To us kids, it was a double treat. We loved them as “uncles” but also as actors and stars.It was rare for Uncle Bob to come to our house. In fact, I do not recall him visiting once until Sixteen, and then it was at the invitation of my grandmother, the aunt who helped raise him Uncle Jack,on the other hand, would show up periodically. While he and Aunt Nancy would visit with mom and grandmother, I spent my time with his son, “Cousin Jackie”, ﬁghting, wrestling, playing rough, and trying to see who was tougher. Of course, both of us agreed that (respectively) “l was.” Jackie and I were rivals in every way. And then there was Cindy his sister — but she was a girl! Without fail, however, at the end of every visit Uncle Jack and I would have a heart-to-heart. My parents were divorced before I was ﬁve, and I think Uncle Jack wanted to make sure that I always received some sort of manly advice. Although he could be the life of the party and brighten up any room, Uncle Jack was a warm, loving, and sincere man. He was always kind and thoughtful. And although he was also at times seen as rugged and virile, Uncle Jack was compassionate, caring, and at times, even soft-spoken. By any means or standard, he was a man and a man that a boy could look up to with respect and honor.Uncle Jack could never take the place of my father, nor did he want to do so, and my father is someone who I shall always respect and love. Regrettably, my father and I were not able to establish a relationship until I was in my teens, but I love and respect him all the same. I was a fortunate child. I had people in my life who, even though I may not have realized it at the time, cared about me. Of the men, there was my father, who I only got to see once or twice a year; there was my Godfather, David Bond, who tried to give me proper direction, both on and off stage; there was Jonesy, a close family friend who always seems to show up at the most interesting moments, and there was Uncle Jack. In 1969 mother, grandmother, and I left the San Fernando Valley and moved to Palmdale, which at that time was nothing more than a small desert town located on the northeast boundaries of Los Angeles County and somehow many of the long-established connections of the past were broken. Much was because the family had become scattered to all parts of the globe. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Uncle Jack and rarely saw Jackie.The last time I saw him was at a memorial for his son Jackie, who was killed in a terrible accident. The wake was held on the terrace of a resort hotel on the coast, just north of Santa Barbara, California. At that time, I was living in Oceano, about an hour and a half further up the coast. It was a gala event ﬁlled with celebrities and some of his closest personal friends. I remember taking a seat next to him and listened as he told me story after story of things that had occurred during his life. He also told me stories about my life. It seems that he had been keeping tabs on me throughout the years, the same thing that my father had done. Perhaps they were in accompany with“each other - l’ll never know.Uncle Jack had grown old and frail, but his character was a big as ever. As tears well up within my eyes while writing this, I don’t think that I can ever put into words the love I felt for him then, and now. I was only able to speak with him once or twice after that before his passing in 2001. To say that he is missed is an understatement, but I wouIdn’t trade a minute of my time with him for all the tea in China, as the saying goes.
John took the colors God had painted
with his graceful hand
and brought that power to our eyes
so that we would understand —
Each stroke of his enduring pen
brought truth to hill and dale;
gave credence to the mountains high
and the mighty waves that sail.
No breezes ever lost their way
when he took his pen to write
and each bird or bear or eagle there
graced every silent night.
The rivers rolled across our minds;
the clouds took peaceful flight,
and all the joys of Nature rose
beneath God's chosen light.
This gentle man of pleasantry,
who gave us gentle prose
has left us with a passion
for the seeds that Nature grows.
John Mitchum, "Minstrel of the Morning Light"
He could trace a flower into fame
or a prairie into flower,
or fill your heart with eyes of light
as the stars rained evenings shower.
His eyes could see the hidden beauty
in a mountains smile,
and declination never rose
when he walked through Nature's mile.
His journey on the Silver Screen
brought us joy beyond compare
and you always knew the plot to view
when John was standing there.
He grew into the circle
of the people I called friends
and he laughed away the pains of life
that waited 'round the bend.
He was a miracle in time
with his grand simplistic flair,
and he lighted up so many smiles
by his just being there.
I watched as he remembered,
and he never missed a beat,
as he talked about his life and times
and how he never knew defeat.
Some day, time will turn us all
toward that final walk to be,
and I know he'll be there waiting
like a pleasant melody.