James Mitchell, 1920-2010By Michael Karol Posted: Jan 27, 2010
I will miss James Mitchell, along with his many other fans and colleagues. Mitchell was best-known for his acidly funny portrayal of ALL MY CHILDREN's Palmer Cortlandt, but was a prominent figure in the dance world, and scored on stage and in films, as well. He died January 22 at the age of 89 of complications from pneumonia, in Los Angeles. Mitchell had moved there and quietly retired, but was given one last hurrah on AMC's 40th anniversary episode (which aired January 5), in which he was one of many longtime cast members interviewed (as Palmer) about what life was like in Pine Valley.
Mitchell had played the imperious Palmer for 30 years, and his sparring with other Pine Valley-ites (especially wife Opal and business, and personal, rival Adam Chandler), were legendary on AMC, and made Palmer one of the show's most identifiable, larger-than-life characters. Palmer showed his softer side occasionally, usually where daughter Nina and niece Dixie were involved…but only for a scene or two at a time!
Mitchell was studying drama at Los Angeles City College when teacher/choreographer Lester Horton, famous for adding Native American and jazz flourishes to his dances — sparked Mitchell's interest in dance. Horton took Mitchell with him when he started a company in New York in 1944; the company failed, but that led to an audition for Agnes de Mille, which resulted in a partnership that spanned 25 years and included TV, films, stage and concert dance.
As a young dancer, Mitchell was also known for his physical beauty and dry wit. He figured prominently in a closeted but unique show-business clan during the 1940s and 1950s, rating mentions in such diverse biographies as Farley Granger's Include Me Out (Granger called Mitchell "one of my best friends"), Arthur Laurents' Original Story By, and Alan Helms' Young Man from the Provinces. A bust of Mitchell by Harlem Renaissance artist Richmond Barthé was sculpted and exhibited in 1947.
He was also associated with choreographers Gower Champion and Jerome Robbins. Mitchell's Broadway shows included Brigadoon (for which he won the prestigious Theater World and Donaldson Awards in 1947), Carousel, Carnival and Paint Your Wagon. He also danced with New York's American Ballet Theater and toured with many productions, including Funny Girl and The King and I; a tour of The Rainmaker co-starred future AMC cast mate Frances Heflin (Mona).
His TV career kick-started in the 1950s, and included everything from the anthology series that were so popular in the 1950s, such as ARMSTRONG CIRCLE THEATRE, to CHARLIE'S ANGELS in the 1970s.
His soap career began in 1964, with the role of Lloyd Griffin on THE EDGE OF NIGHT; he followed it with a lead, English professor Julian Hathaway, in the drama WHERE THE HEART IS (1969-'73). But the capper to his TV career undoubtedly was his stint as Palmer, which spanned 30 years and brought him seven Daytime Emmy nominations.
Later in life, he also taught movement and dance at Yale and Drake University. The latter school awarded Mitchell an honorary doctorate in fine arts. His film roles include the classic 1955 Oklahoma, in which he danced the role of Dream Curly, and 1977's The Turning Point.
Survivors include his longtime partner, Oscar-winning costume designer Albert Wolsky.