With the recent winter blast that has hit most of the country, I thought it a good time to bring up the subject of Lee Marvin’s take on wintery times. Dating back to his great uncle, Ross Marvin, who lost his life during the Peary expedition of the North Pole, the Marvins have had a quite a history with inclimate weather. Lee’s father, Monte, would regale his two sons with tales of their uncle’s noble adventures in the frozen north, but never told them Ross’s true fate. That tale was uncovered in Lee Marvin: Point Blank (pp. 13-14).
Spending his childhood up and down the eastern seaboard, Lee Marvin was no stranger to brutal winters. In fact, after returning from his first Arctic expedition, his uncle Ross told a reporter that New York winters felt colder than the North Pole!
After WWII, Lee Marvin’s uncertainty of his future had him thinking about colder climates for a time. In a letter to his brother after the war Lee wrote, “My feet are getting itching again and I want to be on the move. Where I don’t know but just some place that I haven’t been before, like the Yukon or some other desolate place. I just want to strike out and do something constructive with myself….The main thing that I regret is that there is no longer any frontier to work on which is just my speed. Therefore I must conform to convention which I have a very deep-set distaste for.” (Lee Marvin: Point Blank, pp. 49-50).
Once he dedicated himself to becoming an actor, he discovered one of the perks was being able to do on film what he was unable to do in life. The majority of his films however, rarely took place in the winter until much later in life. Beginning with the disaster-plagued 1979 flm Avalanche Express…..
Express was filmed throughout Eastern Europe but the beautiful locations nor the impressive special effects did not help the Cold War thriller. Lee had better luck the following year with Sam Fuller’s epic, The Big Red One. Several winter scenes, also shot in Eastern Europe, were trimmed before release but later restored in 2006…..
Ironically, he once advised his friend Ralph O’Hara, “Avoid the scripts that says ‘As he put on his snow shoes…'” His very next film saw the older actor doing just that in 1981’s Death Hunt. Reteaming with previous costars Charles Bronson and Angie Dickinson, Marvin hoped to work again with director Robert Aldrich but the film was ultimately helmed by Peter Hunt.
Dickinson noted the older Marvin’s unpleasant demeanor during the Alberta, Canada shoot when she pointed out to Marvin the beautiful mountains. He growled, “”Yeah, I saw’em. I’ve been looking at’em for two months!”
His last foray into chilly environs was 1983’s Gorky Park. Helsinki doubled for Moscow but the cold was still so chilly, Marvin spent the first few days rehearsing from a hospital bed when his ephysema became too much to bear.
Having fulfilled his youthful desire to trek through the Yukon, albeit on scree, Lee Marvin lived out the last decades of his life in the much more warmer climate of Tucson, Arizona. One wonders what he would have had to say about the recent blizzards as his wit and tenacity are both sorely missed.