WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND…LEE MARVIN?

William Shakespeare is not usually a name associated with the likes of Lee Marvin. More is the pity as the actor had several brushes with the bard as recounted in my book Lee Marvin Point Blank. First, as a fledgling postwar acting student at the American Theater Wing (ATW), in which several hilarious anecdotes are retold by David Ballantine, a friend from Lee Marvin’s Woodstock days.

Lee Marvin (far right) cavorts  with fellow students during his American Theater Wing days in costumes from a play by William Shakespeare.


Later, on the set of The Big Red One, in which costar Kelly Ward recounted an amazing incident at sunset in an ancient Israeli ampitheater. 
Apparently, my research struck a chord with one who would definitely know more about the subject of William Shakespeare’s work than I ever would. Through the wonders of the digital age, noted actor/writer/historian David Weston sought me out to contact recently and wrote me the following:
“I was an actor for more than 50 years and I agree with all you say about Marvin’s talent and magnetism. He would have been game-changing in several Shakespearean roles..” 
 I was humbled by his words once I found out more about him via the internet. Not only does he know his stuff, he’s married to actress Dora Reisser, who knew Marvin well, ever since her costarring role as Telly Savalas’s victim in The Dirty Dozen. When I asked David if I could use his comments concerning William Shakespeare and Marvin on my blog, he sent me the following mini-essay. To call it a wonderful surprise, is an understatement. Here now is David Weston making the point better than I ever could. Enjoy….
– Dwayne Epstein

(L-R) Dora Reisser and David Weston.

Lee Marvin as a Shakespearean Actor

Shakespeare’s plays are full of violence and comedy, two things Lee Marvin revelled in. Titus Andronicus, probably the Bard’s first play, contains mutilation, rape, ripped out tongues and cannibalism. As far as I know Lee Marvin never appeared in a Shakespeare play, although he told my wife, Dora Reisser, that when he was filming The Klansman with Richard Burton, he would make up mock Shakespearean speeches and ask the inebriated Welshman to guess which plays they had come from. I will give some examples of roles in which Marvin could have excelled at various stages in his life. It could have happened. Richard Burton, like Marvin, no the weak spinner of fanciful tales, once told me that Marlon Brando had wanted to join him for a season at the Old Vic, only to be rejected by the board.

As a young actor Lee Marvin was never a Romeo, but he would have been a superb Mercutio [Romeo’s best friend], revelling in the bawdy comedy.  His catlike movement would have been ideal for the sword fights and tragi-comic death.

Richard Burton was a pretty good Petruchio [in The Taming of The Shrew], but can you imagine Lee’s drunken antics or his savage treatment of Kate – Gloria Graham’s coffee springs to mind.

Likewise he was born to play Bottom [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. Kevin Kline attempted it recently but he would not have touched Lee’s befuddled wonder at acquiring ass’s ears and the love of the Fairy Queen.

His lighting quick humour and savagery would have made him a terrifying yet hilarious Richard III. Kevin Spacey was a pussy cat in comparison.

Sean Connery was the best Hotspur I’ve seen [Henry IV, Part I], but Lee would have run him close.

Shakespeare could have written the part of Pistol, the bawdy braggart, with Lee in mind, but in the same plays in his more mature years he would have been one of the great Falstaffs. I can close my eyes and see him in the tavern scenes, bragging, wenching, hilarious – yet over brimming with pathos, glimpses of which we saw in Cat Ballou.

Marlon Brando was a superb Marc Antony [in Julius Caesar), in what I consider to be the second best Shakespeare film ever made after Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, but Lee Marvin would have been better.

So many actors can play King Lear in their old age – it is in fact one of Shakespeare’s easiest leading roles – but Lee’s fury would have been terrifying and his grief over Cordelia’s death heart-breaking. As a young actor he would have revelled in the sadism of the Duke of Cornwall in the terrible scene when he takes out Gloucester’s eyes.

Last of all Iago [in Othello]. Again the humorous villainy and savagery – Liberty Valence in tights.

There is something for him in every play. It is our loss he was never asked.
– David Weston

Covering McKellen by David Weston.

Covering Shakespeare by David Weston

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ADVENTURES IN AUTHORING: ANSWERING NEGATIVE CRITICISM

A while back I was having dinner with my publisher, Tim Schaffner, when the subject of negative criticism of Lee Marvin Point Blank came up.
Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of reviews of the book have been largely positive and for that I am eternally grateful.

Paperback back cover of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK (designed by Jake Kiehle) highlighting some of the reviews.

However, the handful of negative criticism still stick in one’s craw. I can chuckle at it now but at the time, you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be pummeled over something the critic claims authority over, yet in reality, knows nothing about….and then blames me!
What had bothered Tim was a review that not only raked the book over the coals, but also tore into what the reviewer thought was the awful editing of the book. Why did that bother Tim so much? He just happened to have been the editor! I told him I had read some other negatives too, but he emphasized to me in no uncertain terms that no matter how tempting it is: DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND. His point being that it gives them a platform, brings you down to their level, and might even effect sales negatively in the long run if the review is believed.
He was right of course, but seeing as how this is my blog, to help support and supplement my book, run for cover if you are so inclined as I’m-a gonna fire back, once and for all. As James Dean said to Rock Hudson in Giant: “And there ain’t a dang thing you can do about it!”
Okay, Since I had told Tim I wouldn’t respond in kind, and to keep myself as honest as possible, I’ll just focus on two such reviews and I won’t be citing the source of the criticism. I’ll merely quote the inane comment anonymously and then show how frustratingly wrong they can be. Ready? I’ll start with the one that pissed off Tim so much. Here goes….

… Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank isn’t anything close to definitive. A sloppily edited assemblage of interviews, it’s first-draft oral history in which readers with considerable patience can find Epstein issues several medical diagnoses derived from his own conclusions….Marvin fans who can get through all the throat-clearing tedium will find similar quotable bits in these underedited pages.

Heh, heh. Can you see why Tim, the book editor, got so pissed? No proof to back up their claim, no alternative response, not even an example of my ‘throat-clearing tedium,’ other than one sentence in which the quote is taken completely out of context. I hope the idiotic reviewer got paid well for his online rant because he may have kept a lot of well-meaning movie geeks from reading my book and discovering Lee Marvin for themselves. Sadly, it’s their loss.
And now, my personal favorite. Here’s the one from a respected and long-in-the-tooth film journal that went to town on my facts. Strange scenario involved as well because the reviewer sent me the review and apologized as it was a last minute assignment for him, thus hinting that he may not have read the whole thing. Like a bonehead, I thanked him for his effort without reading the review first. Still kicking myself over that one. Here’s part of what bugged me….

Epstein does tell of Marvin—during the filming of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), his last great role—taking the stage at a Roman-built amphitheater in Israel to recite a soliloquy from King Lear. That event is as surprising to the reader as it must have been to Marvin’s costars, as there’s no other mention in the book of Marvin having an affinity or aptitude for William Shakespeare or classical drama.

Hmm, do you think he may have missed the section in which Lee studied the classics at the American Theatre Wing (ATW)? Possibly. Then again, he probably also missed this image in the photo section (laid out by graphic artist Jake Kiehle), as well…..

Lee Marvin in LM:PB’s photo section shown in Shakespearean garb while attending the ATW.

I swear to you folks, try as you might, you just can’t make these things up!
Okay, enough ranting. Don’t go by my word as to the book’s value. Certainly don’t go by the word of an online movie geek or pompous film journalist, either. By all means, judge for yourself. Read the book. Find out about Lee Marvin. Rent or download some of his films. Then, do something revolutionary these days: make up your OWN mind.
– Dwayne Epstein

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5 WAYS TO CELEBRATE LEE MARVIN’S HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY

February 19th, marks the another birthday for Lee Marvin. Granted, it is what’s often described as a heavenly birthday as he passed in 1987. However, even though it’s only in spirit, there are some ways to pay tribute to his heavenly birthday. By the way, all photos shown herein is a just a small sample of the images in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

John Wayne: You shoot pretty good drunk.
Lee Marvin: Better drunk than sober.
-The Comancheros

 

 

  1. Get Drunk And Bring Out The Heavy Firearms: According to several sources, such as his first wife, Betty, as well as Keenan Wynn’s son, Ned, Lee did that on more than one occasion.The amazing thing is no one ever got hurt in the process. Sort of like the lines of dialogue between Marvin’s Tully Crowe and John Wayne’s Jake Cutter in The Comancheros. Matter of fact, if guns weren’t available, he’d resort to pantomime. Safer than heavy firepower but not nearly as much fun for him. Sure, the guns in the hands of a drunken ex-Marine might be scary but hey, would you expect anything less from Lee Marvin?

On the left, Marvin in costume as British Marine ‘Hallam’ in the Broadway production of Billy Budd. On the right, in Shakespearean garb while studying at the American Theater Wing.

2. Get Drunk & Wear Period Clothing: Marvin did it for pay in his sole Broadway appearance in Billy Budd. However, bet you didn’t know he was also well-versed in the Bard, did you? The training he received after the war at the American Theatre Wing included fencing, movement, and yes, Shakespeare, which he could quote verbatim. He did so even later in his career, impressing everyone during an improvised dramatic moment on location for The Big Red One. I don’t know if he was sober when the picture in Elizabethean togs was taken but he certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself. By the way, the story concerning his fencing class is a personal favorite.

Lee Marvin ‘s Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou included this hard-to-get famous sight gag,.

3. Get Drunk & Go to Work: Marvin’s professionalism was as legendary as his drinking exploits. However, tales of his drinking on the job were mostly exaggerated. There were occasions when work and drink did converge (The Killers, Sgt. Ryker, The Professionals). The specific scenes are covered in the book so you can see exactly where in the given performance it occurred. His Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou had one such instance, according to director Elliot Silverstein, but the famous sight gag seen here was not one of them. Got to read the book to find out, which also details how they got the horse to look ‘inebriated,’ as well.

A Jeep full of drunk Marines just before shipping out overseas, with Lee top center.

4. Get Drunk & Re-enlist:
According to director, John Boorman, Lee had done exactly that on at least one occasion while they were making Point Blank. It certainly wasn’t a new phenomenon as he admitted to doing it even shortly after the war ended. Not something to be advised for everyone, as Lee was politely turned down each time due to his disability status. Doubtful other drunk ex-Marines may be as lucky.

Lee battles SEINFELD’S Uncle Leo in Shack Out on !01.

5. Get Drunk & Start a Fight: Lee Marvin’s barroom exploits became so famous they actually earned titles like, “The Robin Hood Party,” 6-foot tall Black Helen, “The Vibrator Salute,” and “The Battered Banjo player Lawsuit.” Several of these debauches were more  legend than fact in terms of Marvin’s involvement, such as my personal favorite: The English pub that had the bad luck of being Marvin’s choice of celebratory indulgence for his birthday while filming The Dirty Dozen. Why is it a favorite? As retold by Bob Phillips, if it wasn’t for the 6-foot barmaid dubbed “Black Helen,” it’s doubtful Marvin would have gotten out alive!

Maybe it’s best to just get sober, take the pledge and buy the hardcover of Lee Marvin Point Blank. It’s also available as a Kindle and paperback with extra material. It may not be as adventurous but it’s certainly a lot safer. Besides, you can do the other five vicariously through Lee Marvin when reading his exploits. So happy heavenly birthday, Mr. Marvin!
– Dwayne Epstein

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