About Dwayne Epstein

Dwayne Epstein is the author of a number of young adult biographies, covering such celebrity personalities as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Hilary Swank, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Denzel Washington for Lucent Books’ “People in the News” series. Epstein also contributed to Bill Krohn’s bestselling books “Hitchcock at Work” and “Joe Dante and the Gremlins of Hollywood.”Prior to writing biographies, Epstein contributed to film chronicles on a regular basis. He wrote for Filmfax Magazine on subjects such as Bobby Darin, the Rat Pack, television pioneer Steve Allen, film director Sam Fuller, comic book artist Neal Adams, “Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s” Kevin McCarthy, John Belushi and comedy legend Sid Caesar. Epstein later contributed to Cahiers Du Cinema’s “Serious Pleasures” which had a high profile in Europe. He wrote on American films chosen for rediscovery by directors Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood. Early in his career, Epstein earned his first professional writing credit reviewing films for Hearst Community Newspapers. Epstein was born in New York’s Coney Island in 1960, and moved West with his family at age 8, spending the rest of his childhood in Cerritos, Calif. He moved back east, attended Mercer Community College in New Jersey, and also served as an assistant editor for the five area newspapers of Cranbury Publications. Epstein made one more cross-country move and currently resides in Long Beach, Calif. When he is not writing, he enjoys watching and reading about movies and collecting soundtracks.

ROBERT SHAW & THE ILL-FATED AVALANCHE EXPRESS

Robert Shaw would have been 91 years-old last Thursday, August 9th. Sadly, he never lived beyond the age 51, dying shortly after completing principal photography on Avalanche Express, his sole costarring credit with Lee Marvin.

Old style advertising artwork for AVALANCHE EXPRESS, which was infinitely better than the film.

The old-fashioned Cold War spy thriller left Robert Ludlum and John LeCarre nothing to worry about.  Shaw played a Russian master spy defecting to the west with KGB chief Maximillan Schell hot on his trail. Shaw’s defection is arranged through the auspices of American spy master Lee Marvin who plans to use Shaw as bait to ferret out some old KGB adversaries. Mike Connors, Linda Evans, Horst Bucholtz and even Joe Namath join in on the title train’s cliche’d yarn.

AVALANCHE EXPRESS production stills from the film’s pressbook.

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the film’s bedeviled production. For example, veteran director Mark Robson died suddenly, June 20, 1978 as principal photography was near completion, followed two months later by Shaw’s untimely passing from a massive heart attack near his home in Ireland. Producers were left in a quandary about what to do about it as some footage was actually still needed, or in some cases, reshot. Enter maverick filmmaker Monte Hellman, who took over the production in ways only Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know about thanks to an exclusive interview he gave me.

The great Al Hirschfeld’s drawing of the AVALANCHE EXPRESS costars. Can you spot all 3 Ninas?

It proved to be the great Robert Shaw’s last screen appearance as the actor was coming more and more into his own following the success of Jaws (In the role Marvin turned down) and The Sting.
It isn’t widely known but he had actually wanted to be remembered more for his writing than his acting. His play, The Man in the Glass Booth earned him a Tony Award and an Oscar nomination for the performance of his Avalanche Express costar, Maximilian Schell. The loss of Shaw’s talent can never be fully measured.
As for Lee Marvin, he had not made a film in 3 years but came out of semi-retirment just to work with Shaw. He was not disappointed as the two men got along wonderfully, making Shaw’s passing even more tragic for Marvin. He was in Ireland shooting scenes for The Big Red One when he got the news. He said at the time: “In leaving Ireland I am leaving a piece of my heart with Robert Shaw and his family.”
-Dwayne Epstein

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ROBERT ALDRICH: A 100TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE

Robert Aldrich was born one hundred years ago today and we classic movie fans are all the richer for it! Lee Marvin Point Bank readers are familiar with Marvin’s and Aldrich’s working relationship as they made a great film together in almost every decade of Marvin’s career: Attack!, 1956; The Dirty Dozen,1967; Emperor of the North, 1973. In fact, it was almost more than that as Marvin wanted Aldrich to direct Death Hunt (1983), which would have completed the last decade of Marvin’s career.

(L-R) Director Robert Aldrich and costars Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine at the initial script conference for THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Probably the most remembered of both of their careers was indeed The Dirty Dozen.
The success of that film catapulted both the actor and the director to rarified heights of fame and success.

Aldrich demonstrates to Lee Marvin how to kick John Cassavetes in THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Marvin got a million dollar paycheck from then on and was a top ten box office sensation for the next decade. Aldrich continued to direct & produce films that may have defied description, but maintained his high level of quality. His signature style, which included a love of characters bordering on the grotesque (Whatever to Baby Jane?, The Grissom Gang, The Choir Boys) and a distinct brilliance at mounting suspense through editing and character anticipation, put him in league with some of the greatest directors of all time.

Case in point: The powerful climax to one of my favorites of his, Flight of the Phoenix, compares perfectly to the scene in which Lee Marvin goads Clint Walker into a knife fight in The Dirty Dozen. Watch the way Aldrich mounts the suspense in Phoenix by building to quicker cuts, showing the stranded characters’ apprehension in hopes of the resurrected airplane’s ability to start up just one more time. Rosaries are prayed on, sweat builds on the nearly dehydrated men, some of whom begin to jump up and down as the audience’s anticipation reaches a pitch. In Dozen, he does the same with mounting edits, sidelong characters laughing and goading the giant Walker to stab Marvin, as M.P. Richard Jaeckel is shown reaching for his sidearm. Both scenes are signatories of Aldrich’s unique style of cinema and it’s a style that is sorely missed in this day of computerized technology.
Aldrich himself may have had the best last word about such things. When Marvin visited Aldrich in the hospital as he lay dying of cancer, Marvin asked him, “Can I get you anything?” The wizened director commented, “Yeah, a better script.”

Robert Aldrich: August 9th, 1918 – December 5th, 1983.

I think that’s something we could all use now.
-Dwayne Epstein

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PAST BIRTHDAYS REMEMBERED…. OF THE RECENT PAST

Past Birthdays
Having just recently had another birthday (never mind which one!), I’m reminded of some recent past birthdays. One in particular was when I turned 50 and was not feeling particularly happy about it. In fact, I was downright depressed. Both my parents had passed away, my agent was not having much luck finding a publisher for Lee Marvin Point Blank and…I turned 50!
Luckily, my wonderful girlfriend suggested we go to a movie. Not just any movie, mind you, but a screening at the Academy of one of my favorite actor’s films….

Program to the birthday screening at the Academy of John Garfield’s Body & Soul.

It proved to be quite the tonic as I discovered several prominent guests were to be attendance. Film essayist Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun was there, as well as noir maven and Charles McGraw biographer Alan K. Rode, so I came prepared….

Alan K. Rode’s Charles McGraw bio.

I love what he wrote!

The best was saved for last. After the film, there was a Q&A conducted by Morgan and her special guest, John Garfield’s daughter, Julie Garfield. She was a wonderful and poignant storyteller of her father’s legacy. Pretty good actress, too. Check out her performance as Robert DeNiro’s wife in Goodfellas. Anyway, she told a marvelous story about her father’s way of dealing with the persistent FBI agents who hounded him during the Red Scare that got applause when she told it. Great stuff.
After the Q&A, she spoke briefly with the crowd from the raised stage. Due to the subject of the film I came prepared for a possibility and lo and behold……

My copy of author (now actor) Jim Beaver’s wonderful 1970s tome on Garfield.

Beaver’s autograph.

Following my chat with Jim Beaver, I found myself staring up at Julie Garfield from my place below the stage. I briefly mentioned to her that it was my birthday and she made it a terrific one. She smiled at me, knelt down, took my face in both hands and kissed me on the lips!

After kissing me, Julie Garfield signed this page in Jim Beaver’s book.

Naturally, I was in heaven. What had been a rotten birthday was capped with a wonderful evening. Who could ask for more? Some past birthdays are definitely better than others. My girlfriend Barbara and I went out to our car only to find a parking ticket on it.
Yeah, happy birthday.
P.S. a few months later my agent Mike Hamilburg and I were in negotiations with Schaffner Press for the publication of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Yep, some things ARE definitely worth the wait.
-Dwayne Epstein

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