One of the myriad of things that separated Lee Marvin from the current crop of action stars was his theatrical background. It isn’t widely known but Marvin had extensive experience on stage from 1947 to 1951 and stated that his first real goal as a professional actor was to make it to Broadway. Following his debut at Woodstock’s Maverick Theatre, he trod the boards in summer stock productions up and down the Eastern seaboard in the late 40s as this Playbill below attests….
The experience hardened him to the rigors of an actor’s life as he explained years later (Lee Marvin Point Blank, p. 65). It also resulted in his acceptance into the American Theater Wing on the G.I. Bill in which he steeped himself in the classics and learned the practical hands-on experience of becoming a working actor. At the ATW, as shown below, Marvin (far right) cavorts with fellow actors in Shakespearean garb….
Years later that training stayed with him and he surprised many in his later years with his knowledge of The Bard’s work (Lee Marvin Point Blank, pp. 233-234). The ATW did lead to more work and he soon after was able to join Actor’s Equity….
He toured in such plays as Murder in The Cathedral, The Hasty Heart and A Streetcar Named Desire (not as Stanley Kowalski as one might assume but as Blanche Dubois’s lumbering suitor, Mitch). Below is a very rarely seen color image of Lee on stage from an unknown WWII drama…
The work continued and the goal was finally attained in 1950…..
It wasn’t the lead, it wasn’t the main villain, it wasn’t even an important role but the barely speaking role of a Marine in Her Majesty’s Service who escorted Billy Budd to and from his trials and tribulations. In fact, the cast list was 2 pages long with Marvin mentioned on the 2nd page….
The goal achieved, Hollywood beckoned and he never looked back. He would on occasion speak of doing more stage work and did do some at the La Jolla Playhouse in the late 50s. He never found the perfect project he was looking for and other than the American Film Theater’s version of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh in 1973, legitimate theater’s loss was cinema’s gain.