Hollywood star Mitchell Lewis never forgot Syracuse, or his mother

Pictured is the tombstone of Rosa Lewis as it sits in Woodlawn Cemetery on Grant Boulevard. Born in 1846, Rosa moved to Syracuse around 1875 where she took up residence at 1320 South State Street. Rosa was an active member in several philanthropic organizations throughout Syracuse and was known for her charitable giving of both time and energy. She was also the mother of three sons, one of them being Mitchell Lewis.

Mitchell, born in 1880, was a graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy. After graduation, Mitchell worked as the property man at the Wieting Opera House and Bastable Theater, located in Clinton Square.

Syracuse Herald, 1922

His work at the theater prompted the beginning of a successful career in both stage and film. He quickly began traveling to different parts of the country, going where his motion picture work called him. His mother, Rosa, often accompanied him on these trips.

In 1917, Mitchell moved to Hollywood, California to further cement his career as an actor, a career that would span over 50 years and included over 175 films.

When Rosa, died in 1922 her body was placed in a vault for eight weeks to allow Mitchell to complete filming in a motion picture before returning to Syracuse to see her one last time before burial.

In a June 1932 interview with the Syracuse Herald, Mitchell stated he had visited Syracuse the previous summer to see his mother’s grave. He spoke passionately of his boyhood friends and memories growing up on South State Street, in a home that has since been demolished.

As an actor, Mitchell was best known for his roles in films such as: Ben-Hur, The Docks of New York and Meet John Doe, among so many others. Interestingly enough, he is often remembered as the caption of the Winkie Guards in classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. He had several lines at the end of the movie, including: “Hail to Dorothy, the Wicked Witch is dead!”

In 1956, Mitchell would pass away at the age of 76 after a two month illness. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.