Thomas Mitchell was an American actor, playwright and screenwriter. Among his most famous roles in a long career are those of the father of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, the drunken doctor in John Ford’s Stagecoach, and Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life. Mitchell was the first person to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony Award.
Mitchell was born to Irish immigrants in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He came from a family of journalists and civic leaders. Both his father and brother were newspaper reporters. Like them, the younger Mitchell also became a newspaper reporter right after high school. Soon, however, Mitchell found he enjoyed writing comic theatrical skits much more than chasing late-breaking scoops.
He became an actor in 1913, at one point touring with Charles Coburn’s Shakespeare Company. Even while playing leading roles on Broadway into the 1920s Mitchell would continue to write. One of the plays he co-authored, Little Accident, was eventually made into a film by Hollywood. Mitchell’s first credited screen role was in the 1923 film Six Cylinder Love. Mitchell’s breakthrough role was as the embezzler in Frank Capra’s 1937 film Lost Horizon.
Following this performance, he was much in demand in Hollywood. That same year, he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in the film The Hurricane, directed by John Ford.