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 iit 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. There’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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RARE LEE ON STAGE

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….
WATKINSGLENThe 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….

ATWYears 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….

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…
ONSTAGEThe work continued and the goal was finally attained in 1950…..
playbill

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….

castThe 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.

 

 

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