POLITICALLY INCORRECT LEE MARVIN

Politically incorrect is not something most celebrities would want on their resume’ but it was something Lee Marvin had no trouble with, at all. Granted, it wasn’t bandied about as much in his time as it is today, but it was certainly witnessed in his work, almost from the beginning.
Being politically incorrect, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “Not avoiding language or behavior that could offend a particular group of people.” In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I quickly discovered a few examples of such behavior in the subject, and the subject was usually women. Wouldn’t always be a matter of the language used by his characters so much as his extreme behavior, most notably….
The Big Heat

The attitude of Vince Stone toward his annoying girlfriend is shown building to a painful climax in Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT (1952).

As bad guy Vince Stone, a glimpse of his attitude towards women is shown early on when he stubs his cigarette out in Carolyn Jones’ hand. The worst is yet to come when he throws a pot of scalding hot coffee in girlfriend Gloria Grahame’s face. Fear not, as she gets her revenge before the film ends.

The Killers

Terrorizing Angie Dickinson in THE KILLERS.

Throughout director Don Siegel’s classic remake the violence comes fast and furious from the very beginning. Lee Marvin’s Charlie Strom terrorizes a school for the blind and later, wreaks havoc on femme fatale, Angie Dickinson. As the actress told this writer, “Oh but I had it coming.”

 

Ship of Fools

Vivienne Leigh drives home her point to Lee Marvin in their heated debate concerning women’s shoe styles in Stanley Kramer’s SHIP OF FOOLS.

Mistaking the aging Vivien Leigh for an onboard prostitute, drunken Marvin grabs and kisses the embittered ‘past-her-prime’ beauty until he shockingly realizes his mistake. She helps him realize the mistake by beating him to a pulp with the heel of her shoe.
The legend is that Marvin kept very few mementos from his career, but he kept that shoe out of his deep respect for Vivien Leigh.
There are of course several other examples of such behavior (on screen and off) and it was not always limited to the ladies. For better or for worse, when it came to being politically incorrect, Lee Marvin was the shining beacon on the hill.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

 

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ERNEST BORGNINE: THE ELUSIVE INTERVIEW

When I began Lee Marvin Point Blank, I had a handful of people I wanted to interview that I considered holy grails: Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Jack Palance and Ernest Borgnine. Well, I got two out of four to go on the record and the other two I came excrutuatingly close to getting an interview on he record. Why these individuals? Well, each of them worked with Marvin several times throughout their respect careers, making their insight quite valuable to my work.
I was fortunate enough to get a brief interview with Jack Palance when he read some of his poetry at an event here in Long Beach. He was wonderfully theatrical in his own way and that which he was willing tell me about Lee Marvin (especially about Monte Walsh) definitely went into the book. The restaurant story is one of my favorites.

Video grab: Clowning around on location with costar Jack Palance during THE MAKING OF MONTE WALSH.

I met Angie Dickinson (finally!) during a taping of the A&E Biography episode on Lee for which we were both interviewed. The stars were aligned that day as the very private star relented, allowing me to spend the day at her house just reminiscing about her projects with Lee Marvin.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

The A&E producers had told me they didn’t get much out of Angie for the show, so I was quite pleased with what she had gone on the record about with me.

And then came Bronson. The closest I got to the extremely reclusive star was when I had dinner at a friend’s house who lived literally across the street from Bronson. Former publicist and renowned biographer, Peter Levinson, invited myself and Sam and Christa Fuller to dinner one rainy night and conversationally, he mentioned that Bronson was his neighbor across the street.

Bronson & Marvin on the set of their last film together, DEATH HUNT.

I spent a good part of the evening staring out the front window and trying to figure out how to approach him but, alas, it was not to be. I’m just happy to say I got that close, though.

And what, prey tell, became of Ernest Borgnine, the actually subject of this blog? Well, that was the most frustrating of all. From the earliest point in my research I tried to make contact with him but with little to no luck.

Lee Marvin (left), looking like a wax museum figure from the Hollywood Museum gets his orders from General Ernest Borgnine in the lackluster DIRTY DOZEN sequel.

His agent at the time, a gentlemen named Harry Flynn, tried in vain to get Mr. Borgnine to talk to me but he kept telling me that Borgnine was too emotional when it came to talking about Lee Marvin. Keep it mind, this was before the advent of social media so periodic attempts at contact were snail mail, fax and e-mail. Flynn kept telling me he was working on Ernie and told me when to check back, which of course, I did. That is until……

The cover of Borgnine’s 2008 autobiography.

Apparently, the truth was Ernst Borgnine was saving up his own stories about Marvin for his own autobiography which of course, is his right. What insight into Marvin was there from his frequent costar’s memoirs? Luckily, not much.

I enjoyed the book, actually, but that which dealt with Marvin was what I had already gleaned. So, with that in mind, save your time and read Lee Marvin Point Blank as Borgnine’s anecdotes are all in there….and so much more!
-Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN & THE LADIES: ROMANCE?

The allegations against Harvey Weinstein are far from being considered a ‘romance’ but what is it called if flirtations or mutual feelings develop between costars? For Lee Marvin, who only had true romantic leads opposite female costars in only a handful films, the known results of a possible romance are three, based on my research. Of course, there may even be more as Marvin knew the meaning of discretion. As Betty Marvin told me, he was known to have fallen off the fidelity during their marriage but it was never anything one would consider a romance.
Who were the known three? Well, Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know with as much details as I was able to get.

Co-star Barbara Luna at the time she appeared in SHIP OF FOOLS.

Prior to my research, most Lee Marvin fans only knew the version of how he an Michele Triola met on the set of Ship of Fools based on what she told the media leading up to the palimony suit. The truth, however, as witnessed by such participants as Barbara Luna and friend Ralph O’Hara, is VERY different and exclusively documented in my research.

Lee and Michelle shortly after they began dating during SHIP OF FOOLS.

Then of course there’s the amazing Angie Dickinson. I was extremely fortunate enough to spend the day with her during my research and the results were fascinating. She worked with Lee more than any other actress, and to my mind, that was no accident (M Squad, The Killers, Point Blank, Death Hunt, and several Bob Hope TV specials).

Lee and Angie in THE KILLERS, their first film together.

I can’t really add anything here to what I already wrote in the book, other than the surprising results of an interview I considered a holy grail and was forewarned about by the A&E Biography producers. It was how I finally met her in-person and was told she wasn’t very forthcoming for their purposes. Naturally, that made me a little reticent when I finally sat down with here, especially since I wasn’t sure if there were aspects about her life & career that may put her off, such as the JFK assassination that happened just prior to The Killers. Believe it or not, she did indeed open up about that period, at least to the extent that it had to do with the project and Lee. Everything that she told me went in the book, or later, posted here in a previous blog entry. The only thing I can add is what Christopher Marvin told me off-the-record that I can now post here. He volunteered the following encapsulation: “Angie and my dad…WOW!” He didn’t elaborate of course, but truth be told, I  didn’t think he had to.
Lastly, there was a costar who proved to be not only Lee Marvin’s one true moment of onscreen romance, but even more so offscreen. Marvin went out of his way to get the actress to agree to costar with him and when she relented after he came to Paris, the results were true sparks in front of and behind the camera…

Contact sheet images of Jeanne Moreau and Lee Marvin while making MONTE WALSH.

The images from onset candid photographs included here tell the story better than any words can possibly convey. The look on Lee’s face as he talks to her, the way she brushes  his hair back, even the fact that they are completely oblivious to director William Fraker walking behind them, says volumes.

Jeanne Moreau brushes Marvin’s hair back while they speak.

MONTE WALSH director William Fraker walks behind Marvin & Moreau completely unobserved.

Costars such as Mitch Ryan and others were aware of the chemistry between the two stars, as were some of Marvin’s closest confidantes. In fact, when Marvin surprised his associates by announcing his marriage to Woodstock’s Pam Feeley after the film wrapped, the biggest surprised was that it wasn’t Moreau. According to Mitch Ryan, they actually discussed it but as Ryan said, Marvin didn’t want to move to Paris: “Can you see me living in Paris?” he told him.
Since Moreau proved to be his most romantic leading lady onscreen, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film, it does make you wonder: What would have happened if he had more romance onscreen than gunplay? Sadly, we’ll never ever know.
– Dwayne Epstein

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