By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
American film, television and stage actor Cameron Mitchell, born in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, in November 1918, spent the last years of his life in Pacific Palisades on Altata Drive.
Mitchell’s mother and father were both church ministers. Mitchell’s birth name was Cameron McDowell Mitzell. He grew up with a thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent and pitched for his high school baseball team.
When not on the pitching mound, where he would catch the interest of several major-league teams, Mitchell would work odds jobs, such as dishwasher and theater usher.
But Mitchell’s fate seemed to point him in the direction of church work, following the footsteps of his parents and relatives before them.
“All the men in our family as far back as I can remember were ministers,” Mitchell once said. “We had a corner on the market. It just figured that I would follow along.”
But, despite his father’s wishes that he enter the ministry, Mitchell followed his desires and made a career out of his thespian talents.
Stage parts came early in Mitchell’s acting efforts—when he was just breaking into his 20s, Mitchell landed a part in the 1939 Broadway production of “Jeremiah.”
Ten short years later, in 1949, Mitchell gained recognition for his portrayal of Happy, one of Willie Loman’s sons, in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
Between the two plays, the wavy-haired Mitchell was busy—both professionally and personally. The actor worked as a page at Radio City in New York City.
He got married in 1940; His 20-year marriage to Viennese actress Camille Janclaire would last the longest of his three marriages.
Mitchell joined the U.S. Army, serving as a bombardier in the Air Force during World War II.
Also during the 1940s, Mitchell would be signed on contractually to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
His MGM contract would lead to him being placed in films with major actors like Lana Turner, Clark Gable and Wallace Beery. Mitchell secured roles in films such as the 1945 film “Timberlane” and 1946’s “Gallant Bess.”
“I guess ‘Gallant Bess’ was my first Western,” Mitchell once recalled. “The horse in that film was remarkable. She knew a couple hundred verbal commands.”
The five-foot, eleven-inch actor parlayed his stage success of Happy by also playing the role in the 1951 film version of “Death of a Salesman.”
Mitchell’s career choice and its success would make him a traveling man. He referenced the protagonist in “Death of a Salesman” when describing his busy life.
“I feel like Willy Loman, because I’m always packing my suitcases,” Mitchell shared. “I don’t think anybody’s traveled more than I have.”
Just a few years before moving into The Huntington on Altata Drive, Mitchell landed his signature role: Mitchell played the 50-something, two-fisted, heavy-drinking Buck Cannon on the TV series “The High Chaparral.” The show ran from 1967 to 1971.
“You should see the letters I get,” Mitchell said of his fan mail. “A mother asked me for some pictures of Buck which she’s going to mount against a background of other Western stuff and give to her son for his graduation gift. I got a 47-page letter from a 65-year-old gal in Pittsburgh who thinks I’m the greatest thing on her TV set. These things move me.”
Toward the last year or so of “The High Chaparral” run, Mitchell took up residency on Altata Drive, according to online real estate listings that show Mitchell’s house being purchased in 1970 and sold, long after the actor’s death, in 2007.
The Altata Drive home was described in real estate listings in 2007 as being a “fabulous mid-century” with a “lagoon-style free form pool” on a “large lot.”
A lot of activity happened while Mitchell lived in the Palisades—and not all was good.
In 1970, Mitchell was in the last years of his second marriage. He had married Lissa Jacobs Gertz in 1957 and divorced her in 1974.
He married Margaret Brock Johnson Mozingo in 1973, prior to finalizing his divorce from Gertz. This 1973 marriage was annulled in 1976.
Just a few years into his stay on Altata Drive, things inside Mitchell’s Palisadian five-bedroom household continued on a downward trend.
In 1974, Mitchell declared bankruptcy for the second time in his life.
“I have only $26 in two bank accounts, despite receiving $200,000 in movie residuals during the last two years,” the actor said at the time.
Mitchell offered an explanation of his poor state of finances.
“The reasons are the same as have happened to other actors over the years,” he said. “Stupid, bad investments. Parasites who live off you. Too much trust in people who handle your money.”
Despite his personal life being in shambles, Mitchell soldiered on in his acting career.
“Still, I like to act,” he stated in 1975, “because I don’t like myself very much and acting is an escape.”
Mitchell kept busy with both TV and film projects for the remainder of his life.
He died at the age of 75 in 1994 from lung cancer.
His former home on Altata Drive would be demolished soon after it changed hands in 2007.
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