The Harvey Weinstein scandal being the main topic of conversation these days, such behavior is actually not that revelational among the power brokers and others who have reached a level of superstardom in show business. The term ‘casting couch’ is one of the oldest cliches in Hollywood, and as Claudette Colbert once famously said, “The casting couch? There’s only one of us who ever made it to stardom without it, and that was Bette Davis.”
So what does any of this have to do with Lee Marvin? Well, in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank the subject of sexual harassment never became an issue in my research, despite Marvin’s tendency towards boorish behavior on the occasion of some drunken episodes as detailed in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. He could be loutish and embarrassing at times but thanks to his breeding, he always managed to pull himself back from the abyss. As his lawyer David Kagon said to me: “Lee Marvin was a truly Victorian character, particularly when it came to women. He always treated women extremely courteously. I never heard him use a word that you’d want to use, at that time, to qualify for usage in polite society when a woman was present. He always treated them very, almost as if he were Victorian. He was the kind of guy that would open a door for a woman. He’d stand up.”
Due to the kind of films he made, Marvin had little interaction with many of the actresses of the day. When he did, the results were unsurprisingly similar. Basically, Marvin’s treatment of his female costars as he ascended into superstardom fell into three categories: Younger costars were protected in a fatherly way while veteran costars were given the utmost respect. The third category? Well, that was a rare category that may have fallen to more women had he worked with more women.
His Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou catapulted him to stardom but during production, his treatment of the opposite sex didn’t change. In fact, costar Jane Fonda didn’t always see eye-to-eye when they made the film but in retrospect she wrote in her autobiography: “The producers had us working overtime day after day, until one morning Lee Marvin took me aside. ‘Jane,’ he said, ‘we are the stars of this movie. If we let the producers walk all over us, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, you know who suffers most? The crew. The guys who don’t have the power we do to say, ‘shit, no, we’re working’ too hard.’ You have to get some backbone, girl. Learn to say no when they ask you to keep working.’ I will always remember Lee for that important lesson.”
Following Cat Ballou, Marvin worked with the mostly all-male cast in the now classic rugged western, The Professionals. An exception to the testosterone-driven cast was Europe’s Claudia Cardinale…..
By all accounts, Marvin’s relationship with the Italian film star was, as the title suggested, strictly professional and for Marvin that meant respectful.
A good example of how he treated a younger actress is his relationship with Sissy Spacek during the making of Prime Cut. As she is quoted in her memoir about her film debut:
“I loved working with Lee Marvin, and he was actually very protective of me. But he was a prodigious drinker, and he warned me to avoid him when he was inebriated. When we first met on location, I blurted out, ‘Lee, you have the greenest eyes!’
‘Yeah,’ said Lee. ‘And whenever you see them turn blue stay away from me.’
“It was true. When he’d had a few too many, his eyes turned ocean blue and everybody gave him a wide berth. But mostly he was a good guy, and very professional….I was so caught up in the filming I hardly noticed the battles going on behind the scenes. [Director] Michael Ritchie was constantly fighting with the powers that be over the tone of Prime Cut. Michael wanted it to be more of a camp satire; the studio wanted a straight gangster thriller. Lee Marvin shared the director’s vision for the film and it led to some tense moment on location.”
Spacek is right when she said there were some fights during production, but incorrect when she said Ritchie and Marvin shared the film’s vision. In fairness, she readily admits to hardly noticing the battles going on. Lee Marvin told it plain to journalist Grover Lewis in Rolling Stone magazine shortly after the film came out: “I’ve made some mistakes I wish I hadn’t. One of them was working with Michael Ritchie on Prime Cut. Oh I hate that son-of-a-bitch. He likes to use amateurs because he can emotionally dominate them. That chick in Prime Cut, she would’ve sucked my cock on camera if Ritchie’d told her to. One night, I wanted to rehearse a scene and he didn’t want to, so he pretended to get sick. I said, ‘shit fire, Michael. ‘ll get you a fuckin’ doctor.’ Nothing worked with that guy, and the picture just fell apart before we even got started. ” The film’s other female star, Angel Tompkins, concurred with Sissy Spacek’s assessment of Marvin. Clearly, his respect for women was maintained, despite his opinion of the film’s director. As to the handful of other female costars he worked with…
Then there is that rarest of third categories, of which only one is actually known. Well, maybe two if you count an extra during a film. Okay, three if you want to be speculative. To put it another way, Lee Marvin was protective and respectful to his leading ladies. However, there’s absolutely no evidence that he was abusive in any way, but was he ever romantic? Stay tuned…..
– Dwayne Epstein