From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”
That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”
I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that so far has portrayed him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:
“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’
To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971) that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:
“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.
What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”