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Thomas John Mitchell (July 11, 1892 – December 17, 1962) was one of the greatest character actors to ever live, carving out a spectacular career that spanned the entirety of The Golden Age of Hollywood. He never played the lead, but if you needed The Hero to have a sidekick, or you needed a brash Irishman, Mitchell was your first choice.

He was born in New Jersey. His father and brother were newspaper reporters, but Mitchell gravitated to acting, making his stage debut in 1913. He made his first film appearance in 1923 but didn't act in movies again until 1936, when he appeared in the adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Craig's Wife. The next year he landed a prominent part in Lost Horizon, which made him a star and was also his first collaboration with director Frank Capra. Mitchell soon rocketed to spectacular success. In one year, 1939, he appeared in five of the best films Hollywood ever made in that era: Stagecoach (as the alcoholic doctor), Gone with the Wind (as Scarlett's alcoholic father), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (as a hard-drinking reporter—sense a theme?), the most famous adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Only Angels Have Wings. Stagecoach earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

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1946 brought the film he's probably most famous for, It's a Wonderful Life, wherein he played George Bailey's alcoholic (again) Uncle Billy. In High Noon he appeared as the cynical mayor who tells Gary Cooper to give up and run for his life. As the studio system declined in the 1950s Mitchell started to work more on the stage and in television, and wound up winning an Emmy and a Tony to go with his Oscar (if the Grammys had been given out before 1959, maybe he could have cut an album and gotten an EGOT). His final film before his death from abdominal cancer was in Pocketful of Miracles, which was also the final film for Frank Capra. It wasn't Mitchell's last acting gig, though; before his death, he originated the role of Lt. Columbo on stage.


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