E. Michael Mitchell

I posted some of my mentors work online:
http://www.lindadornstudio.com/mm.html


E. Mike Mitchell (MM) was my best friend and mentor, beginning in 1996, until I moved away in 2006.

You will not find much info on him, after all he was the one who suggested to the infamously elusive J.D. Salinger to “avoid the press at all costs”. 

Mike and I talked almost everyday, actually he did most of the talking. He would not tell me to much about himself, and avoided direct questions. I never did find out who his agent was. We mostly talked about making art. But over ten years I did get several special stories.

This is what I know about him.

Long before I met MM I had two encounters with him. While looking for a studio rental a real estate agent showed me Mike’s studio, “This is who could be your neighbor!” said the agent. The studio was an old brick building near the wharf in Santa Barbara. The space was huge, it could have easily fit four semi-trucks. There were neatly aligned rows of tables the length of the room. All along the walls and the tables were carefully arranged masterpieces. The art was breathtaking, far beyond anything I had ever seen. Mike was very angry at the agent when he heard this story.

When I told Mike that I use to exercise horses along the beach in Summerland. Mike said “Oh yes, I waved to you everyday, remember?” Sure enough, that was him in the most exclusive beach house within a hundred miles. 

I know that at one point Mike had a 4 houses, in Los Angeles, Manhattan, London, and a 5 bedroom house, (with a staff) in Milan. This was about the time he was an art director for a film in Milan with very innovative design and effects. The film was never finished.

Once I asked Mike how could he afford so much? He got angry “You think I was born with it” he said, “ At one point in New York, I found a ten dollar bill in the street, and it meant everything to me, my wife and I got to eat that night”. All of his success came from his art.

A friend of mine said he ran into Mike in a bookstore, and said “Hey I heard you're a WWII vet!” Mike began to cry, and ask him never to mention again. When I got up the nerve to ask him about it, this is (most) of what he told me. When he was a teenager he left Canada to join the Royal Air Force in Great Britain. I remember something about his age being an issue, but I don’t remember why, the point is he was very young. After the war. Mike and another fellow he flew with were toured across the UK and Canada heralded as war heroes. Mike expressed extreme regret over this. He said it was a horrible thing to be rewarded for, and worst for him to participate in promoting it.

Catcher in the Rye was written by Salinger in the shed behind Mike’s house. Salinger would come in to the house everyday and read to Mike what he had written. Salinger said that Mike was the greatest writer, that didn’t write, he had ever known. Mike was the best man at Salinger’s wedding. Salinger’s short story “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” was inspired by Mike.

Mike was engaged to a member of the French Royalty.

Mike was part of a small group of artists which ruled the fine art world. He said only about 1% of the people in the world could afford their paintings. He had a studio next to Henry Moore. He ran in the same circles as Lucian Freud, Frances Bacon and the like.
He said he hated it, that they were essentially just trophy guests at parties for the very wealthy. He felt he was at the mercy of the wealthy benefactors.

“Yellow Submarine” was Mike’s first film project. The original Art director was having some trouble with substance abuse. A man who bought one of Mike’s paintings offered him the position. It was then he saw Corny Cole’s work for the first time, he saw what was possible, this prompted him to take the job.


Mike had an large art studio in NYC. He could hear Dizzy Gillespie playing in the club across the street at night. Meryl Streep would hang out in the coffee shop below his studio. She caught his eye as an unusually focused student from theater school. He loved finding out that this same studio space recently (this would have been 1998) sold for $40 million.



He went to the club Studio 54 with the Rolling Stones.

Mike developed and sold a film idea with drawings. He developed the story completely visually, no words, no text. Gorgeous pastel drawings. What the film became was so much less than the art conceived it to be. The film was Fern Gully. The original tree cutting truck as Mike envisioned it, was a mile wide.

Not long after we first met, he critiqued my work. He saw I wasn’t taking the critique well and he said “That only shows how much you care about it”. I loved that.

My husband died about six months before Mike died. A year later I went to a psychic to help deal with the loss of my husband. As I was about to leave the psychic said “MM says goodbye”



1 comment:

m@? said...

Thank you for sharing that. Although I never developed the closeness that you shared, I loved my brief encounters and conversations about art with him. I knew even then that there was so much to his life/experience that I was only scratching the surface to getting to know. I appreciate the confirmation as to my assumptions about this wonderful and humble man. Max B