HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY, TOSHIRO MIFUNE

The first of April is known to most folks as April Fool’s Day (or Easter this year!) but to some observant film fans it also the birthday of Lee Marvin’s favorite co-star, Toshiro Mifune. Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are well aware of Marvin’s feelings for Mifune.

Original release ad for HELL IN THE PACIFIC, Marvin & Mifune’s only film together.

Marvin’s affection for Mifune was rare for a man of his generation and despite the difficult circumstances during their one project together, their friendship grew and lasted until Marvin death in 1987.
Mifune was a legend in the Japanese film industry, due largely to his collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa. He achieved the rarely seen success of international celebrity in the burgeoning film market of the postwar years, including a handful of American films despite his inability to speak English. It did not matter as his appeal required no words. As Lee Marvin famously said of Mifune: “This guy hypnotizes you with his genius. Those eyes! The battered samurai warrior standing alone, not wanting outside help.”

(L-R) Toshiro Mifune, Lee Marvin, Michele Triola and Mifune’s wife, Sachiko Yoshimine.

Of the one film they made together, Hell in the Pacific is given it’s just due in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Other sources for its production are detailed in director John Boorman’s memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy and Stuart Galbraith’s IV mammoth tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.  Personally, I found it to be a noble failure as both allegory and filmmaking. Upon the heavily edited version released to theaters at the time, Marvin himself felt the same way but, despite it’s reception,  it remained on of his personal favorite films. It’s not without its merits, chief among them being the two actors’ presence and the eye-popping cinematography of Conrad Hall.

(L-R) Cinematographer Conrad Hall (seated), Lee Marvin, director John Boorman and Toshiro Mifune on location during HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968).

While Galbraith and Boorman give wonderful accounts of the rigorous production, both seem to lack insight into the one element that seems to accompany any Lee Marvin project, and that is humor. Thanks to exclusive interviews with Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin and his career-long agent, Meyer Mishkin, I was able to secure several hilarious anecdotes to put in my book that would have been lost to time had they not agreed to open up to me.
Still in all, Hell in the Pacific is worth viewing, if only for the powerful presence of both Marvin and Mifune, two actors at the top of their game in a film personal and important to them both. Watch it again for the great Mifune’s heavenly birthday and when Marvin shouts out “Come and get it!” raise a sakazuki in the great man’s honor.
– Dwayne Epstein

Director John Boorman’s 2003 memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy.

Author/Historian Stuart Galbraith’s massive 2001 tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.

 

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BETTY MARVIN, JULY 16,1928- MARCH 9, 2018

Betty Marvin, first wife of Lee Marvin and mother of his four children, passed away from complications following the flu just a few months short of her 90th birthday. When I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank and throughout the entire 20 year journey to its publication, she was the single most important individual source in getting it see the light of day. It’s for that reason I loathe writing such blog entries as this but it’s also the reason why I feel it must be done.
I don’t recall exactly how I was able to come in contact with her but my best guess would be through her former brother-in-law, Robert Marvin. At one point, I was with Robert in Woodstock, NY, when I needed to speak with Betty Marvin on the phone. While she and I spoke, Robert eventually asked for the phone. When I gave it to him, I witnessed Robert, who had not spoken to Betty in decades, poignantly apologize to Betty for their lack of contact and they way he had treated her when they had been in contact. I never asked what that was in reference to but I was genuinely moved to hear Robert speak the words. Betty Marvin was the kind of a person that could elicit such words.

Newlyweds Lee and Betty Marvin.

That first night I met Betty Marvin, way back in 1994, remains a cherished memory. Prepared for the interview as best as possible, I drove up to Montecito from Long Beach with the intent of being as professional as I knew how. That didn’t last long. Upon meeting her, I was completely disarmed by her frankness, hospitality and good humor. In no time at all it seems the initial interview went into the wee hours, making it too late to drive back home for the night. She graciously offered me her guest bedroom and the next morning we went to her storage facility where she was even more gracious in allowing me access to her family photos and years with her ex-husband. Many of those never-before-seen photos ended up in the book.

A photo from her own book depicts Betty’s home in Santa Barbara County where she graciously welcomed me. On the left side of the home towards the back is where her son Christopher planted cactus from cuttings taken from his father’s original plants.

I should also point out that during that first long confab, she constantly asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink. When I eventually acquiesced, she put out a wonderful spread of homemade goodies and uncorked some wine. As the wine flowed through the night, so did the laughter and on occasion some tears.
We stayed in contact regularly after that first get-together and even went to the movies and had dinner on occasion. There are no amount of positive adjectives that can best describe what a wonderful person I discovered her to be. Once she put her faith and trust in what I was working on, she could not be more helpful. She gave me additional contacts, the aforementioned photos, as well continuing insights and anecdotes I could never have gleaned from anyone or anywhere else.
Whenever I was enroute to northern California to visit my girlfriend’s family, we always stopped by and saw Betty on the way, who offered such surprising delicacies as hearty homemade bread and delicious wild mushroom soup on our journey. She said the recipe  came from her good friend, Julia Child….

Betty Marvin (left) with good friend Julia Child depicted for one of her wonderful Xmas cards.

My favorite thing she managed to do was get her son Christopher to agree to go on the record with me. Reticent at first, I met Christopher at a going away party for his mother as she was about go on an around the world excursion all by herself…in her 70s! Betty got both of us together during the party by rounding us up in the midst of the revelry and said to her son, “Now you go in the next room with this man and you talk to him!’ Since it was her party, Christopher sheepishly agreed and another great exclusive (and friendship) was put on the record.
As the worldwide trip can attest, Betty was also quite a lover of life. She painted, sculpted, got her pilot’s license, created biodomes in Mexico and more, all while most people were languishing in retirement. Just an amazing woman! When she was considering writing her own memoir (Tales of a Hollywood Housewife) she asked me if she thought it best to use her own name in a straight forward account of her life or a fictitious telling and non de plume. I told he she should call herself “Mrs. James Coburn.” We both got a kick out of that.

Betty Marvin’s own account of her life, which is still very much available and HIGHLY recommended!

I have so many wonderful memories of Betty I can keep this one blog entry going forever. Suffice to say writer’s cramp makes that idea rather prohibitive but on occasion, when the mood strikes, I will revisit some of those memories here once more. In the mean time, below are several more images from her book and other images that may show just a portion of what a terrific lady she was.
I’ll miss her dearly but the memories are intact and will be as long as I’m alive. I’m pretty sure the same can be said by anyone who knew her. So long, Betty. Your time here helped change and enlighten many a life. I know it did mine.
– Dwayne Epstein

Betty photographed by Lee holding their ten day old son, Christopher.

Typical Xmas card Betty sent me and her friends a few years back.

At Betty’s book signing in her Santa Barbara home, her close friend tab Hunter agreed to sign my copy on the page pictured above.

 

 

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LEE MARVIN BIOPIC CAST PART II: BIOPIC FAMILY

Because Lee Marvin Point Blank proved to be as successful as I hoped it would be, a film adaptation seems plausible, so, to continue that line of thinking from the previous blog entry, how about considering the biopic family casting? Lee Marvin’s parents, brother, costars and friends were an integral part of his life story and casting them would round out the biopic family nicely.

(L-R) Lee’s father Monte, mother Courtenay and Lee shortly after he finished USMC basic trying.

 

First up, his father Monte. Described in letters and first-hand accounts as being physically imposing (Lincoln-esque by one account), one friend of Lee’s who knew him said, “If someone went in a bar to give everyone shit, they’d walk a wide circle around Monte. Monte was pretty tough”

Actor J.K. Simmons

Several actors come to mind for the role, such as Tommy Lee Jones, this year’s Oscar winner Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, even Bruce Willis. The two most impressive to my mind would be either Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, or Lee’s Emperor of the North costar, Keith Carradine.

For the role of Lee’s mother, Courtenay Washington Davidge, certain specific characteristics are also most prominent. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty, Lee’s mother had a soft little voice with a Virginia accent that she used to subtley manipulate her husband and two sons. A veritable steel magnolia by way of Tennessee Williams, by some accounts. Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet and even Meryl Streep come to mind. Then again, Meryl Streep comes to mind for every role. Based on what I’ve heard and read about Mr.s Marvin, my personal choice would be Renee Zellweger.

Actress Renee Zellweger.

Rounding out the Marvin family cast is Lee’s older brother, Robert. I had the good fortune to get to know Robert towards the end this life and at that point in his life, I would describe  him as rather curmudgeonly, irascible and eventually, quite affable. What I learned about him was that as a younger man he was understandably quite jealous of his brother’s success. Only 18 months apart in age, the Marvin brothers were both close and distant with each other throughout their life times.

Robert visiting his brother in Tucson in the early 70s.

For that reason, I see the character of Robert Marvin as being portrayed by an actor who can elicit both laughs and sympathy, such as Will Ferrell, Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), John C. Reilly and the like. My own personal choice would by Bill Hader, the SNL alumni who was a gifted mimic on the show, but more importantly the possessor of both funny bones and an as yet untapped dramatic talent.

SNL alumni and underrated actor, Bill Hader.

 

Another major supporting role might be several real-life individuals rolled into one. The reason has to do with an aspect of Lee Marvin’s persona I discovered in my research. Early on, Marvin learned that if he’s going to get in trouble for some of his nefarious escapades, it’s always better to do it with a partner to take part of the heat for whatever transpires. Whether riding his motorcycle through the Beverly Hills BMW showroom with Keenan Wynn, wreaking havoc upon the ‘Vegas Vic’ sign while filming The Professionals with Woody Strode, causing a barroom brawl over a game of darts in London with Bob Phillips while filming The Dirty Dozen, or creating the bizarre prank of ‘the vibrator salute’ with Tony Epper while filming Paint Your Wagon, the legendary exploits he indulged in always required a partner.

Woody Strode and Lee on the set of THE PROFESSIONALS.

 

Any number of contemporary actors could do it but if it were up to me, I’d like to see it be along the lines of someone more like Woody Strode. As he told me himself, “We were like brothers.” So, with than in mind, Dwayne Johnson would be a nice choice or, barring the monetary chances of that, some well-built, talented young up-and-coming actor would do nicely.

A Woody Strode Google search resulted in this young actor, France’s Eebra Toore popping up. Anybody know if he speaks English…without an accent?

And so, with lead role possibilities considered, possible directors in mind, and now supporting cast members short-listed, all that’s left is a wise producer willing to take a chance on a story that resonates like a cross between Mad Men and The Hurt Locker. Hey, just because Lee Marvin was famous doesn’t make a movie. A fascinating story is mandatory no matter who it’s about and Lee’s life, work, and influence more than covers all those bases. After all, what Hollywood faked, he did for real.  Any takers?
-Dwayne Epstein

 

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