Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin. Both names conjur countless images of never-to-be-forgotten films enacted by two men who although similiar, were far from identical. Each had their own persona, that sadly, other than a few brief scenes in Stanley Kramer’s Not As A Stranger (1955), never crossed paths on the silver screen. Along with Frank Sinatra, the 3 iconic actors played med students in producer Kramer’s directorial debut as seen right….
Marvin’s one big scene in the film comes when the med students (all men, by the way) gather before class to discuss their future fortunes. Marvin, as Brundage, informs one and all that it’s not what you practice but where, as in Beverly Hill. The most idealistic of the students, Robert Mitchum’s Lucas Marsh, is clealry disgusted by Marvin’s philosophy…..
Through the years, the two men would meet socially on occasion but were never close. More is the pity as they actually had much in common. Both men had a superficial veneer of indifference that shielded some deep-seeded emotional scars. For Marvin it was the war-induced PTSD, while Mitchum’s childhood abandonment, wanderlust and incarceration was rarely spoken of with any depth. When they did meet socially, as in the candid photo below with French director Roger Vadim, they kept the conversation light….
I would have liked to have interviewed Mitchum for my book Lee Marvin: Point Blank, but sadly, never got the chance. I did however, speak with his character actor brother, John, in 1994 at the Lone Pine Film Festival the unused portion of which can be read below. He had co-starred with Marvin in Paint Your Wagon and as a famed storyteller, he had a fascinating take on working with Marvin and his older brother’s thoughts on men of their generation…..
D: If I could, Mr. Mitchum, just talk to me about Lee Marvin.
J: Well, you want the truth, don’t you?
J: You can edit it any way you want. Well, the first two weeks on Paint Your Wagon, Lee had been drinking a great deal. I don’t think he needed an excuse… Now, as you remember, I played the Mormon with two wives. I had this big black outfit. They flew me in a helicopter on the day before I was to shoot so they could try my outfit on. So, here I got this big outfit on and Lee came over and he grabbed me by the collar, drinking, mind you. He said [slurred] “Well, Mitchum, tonight when we wrap, why don’t you wear this outfit down in Baker so they’ll know you’re an actor?” Then I found out why he was so incensed because I had done nothing to merit that. He had a babysitter named Boyd Cabeen, who’s gone now, too. They hire babysitters to work with the star, so if the star get in a fight in a bar, the babysitter walks in and stops it. He says, “If you want action, try me on for size.” So, Boyd was talking to Lee and said, “Why don’t you quit drinking, Lee? You can’t handle it. You don’t know your rear end from the Grand Canyon after you’ve had two beers. I used to babysit Mitchum at Metro and he would be drinking until six in the morning, be on the set at seven, never drop a line. But you can’t….” But the name Mitchum, “Ah Ha!” That was stewing in his mind. So, when I came up there — of course, I’m the closest target — Bob wasn’t anywhere around. Lee did apolgize a couple of days later after he saw the rushes. His apology was very left-handed. They showed the rushes of my coming in on the jackass with two women, the first scene at the trading post, there. He stood up and looked at the whole cast and crew and said, “Finally, we got an actor up here who’s got balls.”
D: [laughs} That sounds like Lee Marvin.
J: That’s a Lee Marvin compliment.
J: But Lee was a very complex man. He was in the Marine Corp during the war. By the way, I saw him up on Paint Your Wagon do a karate kick straight up in the air. If he wanted to kick your chin off, he could have done it in a second. He was that agile. During the war, he made a number of invasions. He was a very, very tought man. With all that movie star stuff, he was very tough.
D: Was there any rivalry betweent him and your brother, at all?
D: They were often up for the same parts.
J: No, I don’t think there was any rivalry. As far as my brother is concerned, he didn’t understand that, at all. He did a picture with Bruce Dern, That Championship Season. I said, “Bob, what was it like working with Bruce?” His answer was clarifying. He said, “He [Dern] still doesn’t know that acting is not a competitive business.”
D: Bruce Dern obviously thinks it is.
J: Oh yes. “You have to compete with so and so..” Now, how can you do that? You can do that by upstaging and picking your nose at the wrong time.
D: And in the long run, you’re going to suffer for it.
J: That’s right.
D: Did your brother know Lee Marvin, well?
J: He knew him, but he didn’t know him closely.
D: They were also offered the same roles on occassion, like Patton. Was there any animosity between them?
J: No, no such thing. No way, with either of them. They’re too manly. They’re men. They’re not little boys. Both of them were extraordinary men, as far as I’m concerned.
D: Oh, defintiely.
J: Extraordinary. See, I worked on “M Squad” with Lee. I did it years ago.
D: Any stories about that?
J: Only that he was a marvelous man to work with. There was no heroics. No, ‘I’m the star.’ None of that.
D: Just a professional.
J: Total professional. Total. Which to me, is the most beautiful way to work. People just do their jobs, shut up and go home. None of this posing around. Neither one, Bob or Lee, would do that, whatsoever.