Thomas Mitchell was a veteran Holly-wood actor when he came to play Willy Loman in 1950. Today he is best remembered for two roles: as Scarlet O’Hara’s father in the epic Gone with the Wind (1939), and the forgetful Uncle Billy in the classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) starring James Stewart.
Mitchell was a first generation American of Irish immigrants who settled in New Jersey. In 1913 he decided to become an actor. He met another future great screen character actor, Charles Coburn, who had his own company, the Coburn Players. Mitchell gained useful experience with them, playing Shakespeare. He also began to write his own plays.
It is no exaggeration to say that since his Hollywood debut in 1923, Mitchell appeared in many of the greatest films of the 20th century. In 1939 alone, he had key roles in five classic films: Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Only Angels Have Wings, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Gone with the Wind. As the drunken Doc Boone in Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, Mitchell won the best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
Throughout the 1950s Mitchell played regularly in the theatre and on television. He created the part of Lieut. Colombo on stage (his last appearance) which was later turned into the enduringly successful TV series with Peter Falk. Thomas Mitchell died in 1962 aged 70.