Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Miss Rhea Mitchell

Now to a young lady that is virtually forgotten by movie fans today. In fact, I haven't even known about her for very long! 

Rhea Mitchell was born on December 10, 1890 in Portland, Oregon. She was the only child born to Willis, a shipping clerk, and his wife, Lillie. 

Along with his duties as a shipping clerk, Willie also spent his time working for local theatres as a stage hand. Rhea sometimes accompanied him and it is probably here where she got bitten by the acting bug. Although, she didn't begin acting on stage until she was around the age of seventeen. 

She joined a theatre stock company and eventually went out tour with them along the west coast performing in cities like San Francisco and Vancouver. It was in the latter city that she was spotted by a movie scout. 

Rhea's first credited film role was in 1913's A Frontier Wife. She reportedly appeared in a short called The Hidden Trail the year prior, but was not credited. 

Rhea and Richard Bennett

She was mostly cast in Westerns, most likely because they were churned out a mile a minute in those days. Gotta have a leading lady! One of her most frequent costars was cowboy actor, William S. Hart. 

Rhea made a brief splash in films, enough to get her noticed by fans, but she never made it to movie stardom. Her movie career last for roughly 40 years with over 100 titles under her belt. Her later years were spent appearing in hit films, but only in small or uncredited roles. Two of these said films were In the Good Ole Summertime (1949) and Annie Get Your Gun (1950). I am gonna have to go back and watch both of these with an eagle eye and try and spot Rhea!

Her last film appearance was as a townswoman in 1952's The Member of the Wedding which starred the glorious Ethel Waters. After this film, Rhea decided it was time to retire from Hollywood. She eventually got a job as a manager in a large house which had been divided up in apartments. 

On September 16, 1957, Sonnie Hartford Jr., a janitor who worked in the apartment building where Rhea lived, went to her home in order to pay her back $30 that she had loaned him. He later told police that he made a comment to Rhea that could have been taken as obscene and she threatened to tell the building manager. Sonnie said he couldn't have her getting him fired so he grabbed her by the throat and began strangling her. He then grabbed a blue silk cord from her bathrobe and began strangling her with that until she was still. After he saw she was dead, he ran out of the building.

At around 9 am the next morning, the reality company in charge of the apartment building received an anonymous phone call from a man. "Miss Mitchell is dead," is all he said before hanging up. It was soon after that Rhea's body was discovered on the floor of her dressing room. 

The police, friends, and family were at a loss as to who might have down this to Rhea. The police first thought that maybe it was connected to a string of other homicides in the area, but then they administered a lie detector test to Sonnie Hartford Jr. He failed. At first, he denied having anything to do with the murder until he finally recanted and described what had happened. He also mentioned that she was a really nice woman, and he wasn't sure exactly why he had gone so far and killed her. 

Hartford went to trial but I am not sure what the verdict was or what he was sentenced to. Which is very annoying.

Rhea Mitchell is TECHNICALLY interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, however, she had an odd clause in her will that stipulated that she was not to have a final resting place. So, she has been lying in a receiving vault for over 50 years. Strange, huh?

She never married or had children. 

She was nicknamed "Ginger" and was referred to as such in most if not all of the newspaper articles I found about her death. During her silent movie days, she was nicknamed the "Little Stunt Girl" because she was always willing to perform dangerous and daring stunts. 

She was friends with Anna Q. Nilsson and May McAvoy, who both tried to help the police try and figure out who could have killed Rhea.

"Just for once, I wish they'd let me romp around in comedy and curls - not brick-in-the-hat and pie-in-the-eye comedy, but bright, sunshiney roles. But, they never will." ~~ Rhea Mitchell in Photoplay - April 1918


  1. I never heard of her and what a sad end and useless end-she deserved better. She also deserves to be known more so thank you for giving her a bit of a spotlight

  2. In Superior Court on March 20, 1958, Sonnie Hartford Jr was sentenced to five years to life on a murder two rap.

    1. THANK YOU! I seriously could not find a thing when I was looking!
      And five years?! That's a joke!