OREGON ARCHIVES SHOWS LOVE OF LEE MARVIN

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the strange shenanigans that took place during the Oregon location shooting of Paint Your Wagon (1969) and later, Emperor of the North (1973). The interesting thing is, that once a book is released, you come in contact with people you wished you had met while researching the book. Case in point, a recent new friend on Facebook brought to my attention a few rare images of Lee Marvin from the set of both films.
Katherine Wilson is a historian working on a much anticipated book on the history of Oregon filmmaking and looks to be a winner! Here’s a sample of what to look forward to in 50 Years of Oregon Film. When she saw my Lee Marvin book she made friend request and proceeded to share with me two photos from both Oregon locations. The first, seen below is obviously from Paint Your Wagon and, according to Wilson, the photographer was a state employee and were then given to Katherine by the governor’s secretary, Wanda Merrill who is to be credited for her generosity. Pictured left to right are: Nina Westerdahl, the assistant’s wife; Wanda Merrill, secretary to then governor Thomas McCall; Lee (in costume as Ben Rumson); Governor McCall’s wife, Audrey. Clearly, the ladies are enjoying the company, What I like about this photo is that it drives home the point that even though Lee Marvin never had matinee idol good looks, He definitely had what used to be called “star quality” and it shines in this photo. Charisma, Larger-than-life, whatever term fits, Marvin clearly had it without looking like Tyrone Power or Brad Pitt.
A few years later, Marvin was back in Oregon (with script in hand), but this time he was there to film the underrated, Emperor of the North with multi-film costar, Ernest Borgnine. Below, they are seen with Warren Merrill, Oregon’s first film commissioner. What’s going on in this pic is anybody’s guess but it is cool to see them in costume, ain’t it?

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MY 1994 INTERVIEW IN HONOR OF THE LATE DON GORDON

Researching Lee Marvin Point Blank meant never knowing where the work would lead, case in point is my interview with actor Don Gordon, who passed away April 24, at the age of 90. I had long been familiar with his work as I was a lifelong Steve McQueen fan and Gordon and McQueen were close friends.

Steve McQueen (left) as Det. Frank Bullitt with his partner Delgetti (Don Gordon) in a scene cut from the final version of BULLITT (1968).

(L-R) Steve McQueen, Don Gordon, Billy Mumy and Dustin Hoffman disembark for Devil’s Island in 1973’s PAPILLON.

(L-R) Norman ‘Woo-Woo’ Grabowski, Don Gordon and Steve McQueen as firemen confer on how to handle THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).

 

 

I had not thought of interviewing Gordon, that is  until a mutual friend suggested I should as he may have worked with Marvin on  some early live television. The interview was arranged and we spoke briefly about the subject of my book. The interview proved to be full of revelations, despite the fact that Gordon didn’t think he had worked with Marvin. The follow-up interview proved otherwise. As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank discovered — along with the author– many of Marvin’s unheralded TV performances proved his versatility more than most of his films and I owe a debt of gratitude for that to Don Gordon. He helped to set me on the path of discovering Marvin’s TV work and proved to be quite an eye-opener. Like Gordon himself, if you take the time to watch his work, despite the fact he wasn’t that well-known to mainstream audiences, he (and conversely, late life success of Lee Marvin) made an impression in whatever he did. Below is the full, unedited transcription of our phone conversation. It was brief, yet enlightening. He had no reason to be, but you’ll see that he was friendly, honest, forthcoming and insightful. Rest in peace, Mr. Gordon. You will be missed.

Initial Phone Interview, 11/6/94
Dwayne (Call being returned): Hello?
Don Gordon: Hi Dwayne, it’s Don Gordon.
Dwayne: Don, thanks for calling me back. Listen, I don’t know what your schedule is like but you had mentioned you knew Lee Marvin casually and knew Michelle Triola, as well. I was wondering if maybe I could ask you a couple of questions about that now?
Don: Well, I don’t know how much I could tell you. I never worked with Lee but I knew him. I was friendlier with Michelle. I knew Lee years ago. He was a terrific guy. I had heard that he was known to have a bit of a temper but I never saw it.
Dwayne: Really? I never heard that. Where did you hear it?
Don: Well, you know, you read things about that kind of shit but I never saw it. He was always a great guy, as far as I’m concerned.
Dwayne: When would you see him?
Don: Well, mostly at different social functions. I would bump into him at those black tie affairs.
Dwayne: You said you knew him years ago. Was that in New York?
Don: No, no. Hollywood. We were both starting out playing heavies and then he eventually became a big star, which he rightfully deserved. You know, we were all young in those days. We’d see each other kicking around at Schwab’s when there was still a Schwab’s. I might see him at a friend’s house and we’d talk. “Hey, you’re really good. I saw you in such-and-such and you were really good.” You know, that kind of thing. Believe it or not, Hollywood really is a very small town. I suspect it’s still that way, but I’ve been out of the loop for so long, I wouldn’t know.
Dwayne: Really?
Don: Yeah, it’s partly by choice because I’m writing (Children’s books) now and doing some other things, so acting really doesn’t hold my interest anymore. Don’t get me wrong, if the right part came along..
Dwayne: Do you remember the first time you met Lee Marvin?
Don: No, I really don’t. I just remember bumping into him every now and again. We were all young and full of energy in those days, that’s what I remember. He was just a terrific guy.
Dwayne: Having know him over the years, did you see any change in the man over those years?
Don: Absolutely not. No change whatsoever. He was the same guy from the day he had no money to the day he was one of the biggest stars. And there’s very few people you can say that about.
Dwayne: Well, you just gave me a good quote I can use.
Don: (Laughs) Good. See, the thing is, I knew Steve much better. Not just at work, because we did work together a lot but we used to go and do things outside of work. We were friends.
Dwayne: You mentioned that you knew Michelle Triola much better. Why is that?
Don: Well, we got to know each other and found out we share a birthday. Not the same year because she’s a little older than me. But we had that in common and became good friends. In fact, we still are.
Dwayne: Could you put me in contact with her?
Don: I could ask.
Dwayne: I’d really appreciate that. I could provide references, if you need it.
Don: Well, let me ask her first and see what she says then we’ll take from there.
Dwayne: Thanks, that would be great.
Don: I could call you in a couple of days
——————————————————————
Follow-up Phone Interview, 11/10/95
Don Gordon: Got your message Dwayne. What’s up?
Dwayne: Well, I was recently in New York at the Museum of Television and Radio and I remember you telling me you had not remembered working with Lee Marvin. I viewed a tape of a “Studio One” called “Shakedown Cruise.” I realize you did a lot of work in those days and it’s hard to keep track but does any of this sound familiar?
Don: Boy Dwayne, I’ll tell you it really doesn’t. I’m sure you’re right but I just can’t recall.
Dwayne: I can understand that because it’s not one of the most well known shows like “Marty” or “Requiem for a Heavyweight”….
Don: I was in “Marty.” I had a really small part. I played the guy who didn’t want to stay with an ugly girl and wanted to pay somebody to get rid of her.
Dwayne: Yeah, well in this you played a sailor everyone thinks is a coward and you prove them wrong in time of crisis and if I do say so you were excellent in it.
Don: Thank you, very much. I only wish I could remember it. I haven’t seen any of the live shows I did in those days except for “Marty”. See in those days I did a lot of “Studio One”. It kept me alive. Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t pay that well. Only about $200 but it kept you going. I did one or two a month in those days and it was hard work. You would rehearse for about 10 to 12 days and then go out there live.

Don Gordon (left) tries to pawn off his ugly date for $5 to Rod Steiger’s Marty in the 1953 live TV version by Paddy Chayefsky, later made into the 1955 Oscar-winning film with Ernest Borgnine as MARTY.

Dwayne: I guess you could compare it to local theater only the recognition was much greater.
Don: Oh yeah. The next day you’d be walking around New York and all the cab drivers would say, “Hey I saw you last night in that show and you were great.” So the reaction was immediate. Cab drivers are the best that way.
Dwayne: Sure. they make the best critics because they don’t have an axe to grind and they can be totally honest.
Don: Oh, sure. They wouldn’t have any problem saying, “Hey I saw you last night and you stink!” I love New York cab drivers. Listen, I have your number, so if I remember anything, I’ll give you a call.
Dwayne: Thanks, I appreciate it. When they open the Museum out here next March, you might want to check that show out.
Don: I sure will. Take care. (END)

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DRUNK DRIVING WITH LEE MARVIN…AND FRIENDS

L.A. Herald-Examiner article covering Lee Marvin’s 1965 drunk driving arrest.

Biographers have to make choices in terms of what to leave in and what to leave out, and in writing Lee Marvin Point Blank, one of the toughest choices concerned Lee Marvin’s drinking, especially when it came to drunk driving. Like the author, readers may find it fun at first, but after awhile it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. I cut back considerably, keeping in mind what would be enough to make the point that Marvin had a problem versus turning off the reader, entirely.
Lee’s agent, Meyer Mishkin, and his lawyer, Lou Goldman, did what they could to keep the public from knowing but some times, it boiled over into the mainstream press. Mishkin showed me the court order dated December 30, 1965: “To Lee Marvin — Order of probation. The records of this department show that you are a negligent driver and that you have violated the traffic laws and have been involved in an accident. Therefore, as provided in section 14103 of the Vehicle code, you are herby notified that you are being placed on probation by this department. This order is effective January 3, 1966 to July 2. You must obey the provisions of the vehicle code of California and all traffic regulations. You must send all licenses in your possession to this department for probation.”
Another newspaper showed a full version of the photo taken at the time…

The full image of actor Lee Marvin shown in handcuffs and being interviewed for local TV at the time of his drunk driving arrest.

According first wife, Betty Marvin: “He could be totally out of control. Once, I was devastated. He was driving down some back road near MGM and he hit some guy [Robert Hathaway] on a motorcycle. You know the story? He accused the guy on the bike of deliberately getting in his path so he could get a part in a movie. Lee thought the guy planned the whole thing.”

Not known to the general public was such stories as the following, also told by Betty Marvin: “I’ll tell you one day that was absolutely shocking to me. We had been to the beach. It was a beautiful warm day. We had been swimming and we came back. He said, ‘It’s such a beautiful day, let’s put the top down and go to the Luau Bar and have a rum drink.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ We get dressed and we invited our neighbors, who were quite conservative. He was Paul Fix the character actor, and his wife Beverly. Lee called them: ‘C’mon Uncle Paul. We’re just going to go the Luau and have a rum on me.’ I’m thinking, ‘One rum, uh-huh.’ Bright sunny day. We go in and immediately he has two or three strong drinks and a few appetizers. I’m thinking we better get home because the babies are coming home from school or whatever. We have to go. I will never forget it. It was about 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. We are at the intersection of Wilshire and Westwood Blvd. Traffic is crazy. Of course Lee insisted on driving. ‘Sweetheart let me drive.’ ‘No, I’m driving!” Beverly and Paul are in the back and we’re driving in this big convertible and we had the top down. Of course he runs right block past Westwood Blvd. He gets out of the car. Here’s this woman sitting in her seat. She’d just been hit like this. [Slaps her hand]. He said to her, “Start your car and drive away from here or I’ll kill you!’ She is just beside herself. She drives on, you know the cops are coming. We drive away. He says, ‘I don’t want to talk about it. That’s it.’ The phone rings the next morning. Of course, he has hit the executive secretary to the head of the studio at MGM, I think it was. That’s who he hits. He’s ready to sue him, right? They had to quickly settle that. I must say, Meyer had his work cut out for him.”

 

 

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