Muscular men have been starring in movies since the motion picture was first invented, but few bodybuilders have made as many films as the late Gordon Mitchell. As of September 2002, he’d appeared in more than 200 movies. The only thing that ended Mitchell’s career was death.
He was born as Charles Pendleton on July 29, 1923, in Denver, Colorado, but when his parents split up, the boy moved to Inglewood, California, where he grew up.
After serving in World War II, Mitchell returned to California and went to college, but in his spare time he learned to work out with weights. After moving to the Muscle Beach area, he became friends with such local athletes as Joe Gold, Steve Reeves and Mark Forest’and he began to get bit parts in movies. He was asked to join a group of muscle men working in a nightclub act with sex goddess Mae West. That was Mitchell’s introduction to show business, but it was only the beginning of his performing career.
Thanks to the success of gladiator movies in the early 1960s, muscle men with stage experience were in high demand. Mitchell was invited to Italy, where he starred in a number of sword-and-sandal epics, including ‘Atlas Against the Cyclops’ (1961) and ‘The Giant of Metropolis’ (1963). By the mid-’60s the gladiator movie craze had run its brief course, and most of the former stars left Italy. Mitchell, however, continued to work in Italian films. When spaghetti westerns became popular, he acquired a plot of land and built an entire western town set in the hills near Rome. Mitchell settled into his adopted home, learned Italian and for almost 30 years worked in the Italian and American film industries. The great Italian director Federico Fellini chose Mitchell to play the brigand in his 1969 classic ‘Fellini Satyricon.’
After returning to the U.S. in 1989, Mitchell remained active in movies. He appeared in various low-budget productions, and through it all he retained his zest for life and love of physical exercise. After an active and exciting life, Gordon Mitchell passed away peacefully in his sleep on September 20, 2002.