Tribute to the late James Mitchell: Former star of All My Children

James Mitchell - File photo

James Mitchell, known to millions as the controlling, cantankerous, powerful businessman, Palmer Cortlandt on the daytime drama All My Children, died on Friday from chronic destructive pulmonary disease complicated by pneumonia, ABC disclosed. Being a leap year baby, he would have turned 90 this year on March 1.

Mitchell, who began on All My Children in 1979, had not been a major character since 2002, and was only seen sporadically on the soap until 2008. His last appearance came when he appeared on the show’s 40th anniversary episode on January 5, 2010. During his tenure on the soap Mitchell earned seven Emmy nominations, and he quietly retired from television in 2009.

Our Prattville recently spoke with Taylor Miller who played Mitchell’s daughter, Nina, from 1979 until 1984 and from 1986-1989. She described her television father’s character as “such an evil man … with just that little twist of humor in there. He was just so perfect.”

That was such an accurate description of Palmer Cortlandt; the actor made us hate him in his manipulations of family and friends and then forced us to cry when the contriving character went too far in his evil deeds, losing the affection of his beloved daughter, usually due to his attempts to keep her apart from Dr. Cliff Warner, Nina’s true love.

In speaking of the man, Miller described Mitchell as “the person (from the show) who was the nearest and dearest to me.” In addition to Peter Bergman and Susan Lucci, Miller had also kept in contact with Mitchell during the years after her last appearance on All My Children in 1989.

When Our Prattville spoke to Miller on Saturday about his death, she said, “James Mitchell is a dear, dear man. I will miss him so much.”

Mitchell was living in Los Angeles (where the cast of All My Children moved in December) so he could have come back on the daytime drama if he had felt like it, according to Daniel Kennedy (ex-Petey Cortlandt) who played the crafty patriarch’s son.

“I worked on two episodes with him and I wish there were more. He is very nice,” said Kennedy in an Our Prattville recent interview.

Cady McClain, who last appeared on the soap in June of 2008, returns for a short stint as Dixie Cooney Martin in early March. The actress portrayed Cortlandt’s beloved niece off and on from 1988. She described her feelings for the gifted actor with Our Prattville.

“James was a very funny man as well as a serious actor and professional,” McClain said. “I deeply enjoyed working with him … he was elegant, hilarious, understated, and unique.”

“Over the years we developed a deep care and respect for one another,” continued McClain. “Although I am relieved he is out of his recent discomfort, I will very much miss his dry humor and twinkly eyes.”

Years before Mitchell donned his Palmer Cortlandt hat, the multi-talented actor, was a professional dancer and had a longstanding association with Agnes de Mille, an award-winning dancer and choreographer. She cast Mitchell as a dancer in Bloomer Girl, a Broadway musical that premiered on October 4, 1944, about Amelia Bloomer, the daughter of the manufacturer of hoop skirts.

As one of her favorites, Mitchell also continued to perform at de Mille’s request as a principal male dancer in the original Broadway productions of Brigadoon, in which he won a Theatre World Award and a Donaldson Award, and Paint Your Wagon. Also at her invitation, he later danced with the American Ballet Theatre where de Mille was a charter member, and at the Agnes de Mille Dance Theatre that she founded in 1953.

In 1942, Mitchell made his first screen appearance in a feature film called Moonlight in Havana in which he appeared as a member of the Lester Horton Dancers, and was again credited as one of the Horton dancers in the 1943 film Rhythm of the Islands. His other film credits include The Band Wagon, Deep in My Heart, Oklahoma, and The Peacemaker,

Mitchell found more work in television from the late 1950s until 1979 with guest spots on Shirley Temple’s Storybook, Kraft Television Theatre, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Play of the Week, Blue Light, Hawk, Charlie’s Angels, and Lou Grant.

And All My Children was not his first taste of a soap opera. In 1964, Mitchell portrayed the corrupt Captain Lloyd Grifin on The Edge of Night. Then from 1969 until 1973, Mitchell originated the role of Julian Hathaway on Where the Heart Is, his character a literature professor with a penchant for the many women he taught at the university.

Mitchell is survived by longtime partner Albert Wolsky, an Oscar-winning costumer designer and member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Whatever the role or venue, James Mitchell brought many years of entertainment pleasure to millions. He will always be remembered as a multi-talented performer to his audience and a cherished friend to those who knew him.

Article by Melissa Parker

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1 thought on “Tribute to the late James Mitchell: Former star of All My Children

  1. I worked on All My Children as an extra from 1982 until 1987 and then from 2002 until 2008. I had the pleasure of not only meeting James Mitchell but also chatting with him on many occasions and I found him not only to be the consummate professional actor, but also a delightful, elegant, gentleman. He will be missed.

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