RUDI GERNREICH & LEE MARVIN

Rudi Gernreich, the influential fashion designer of the 1960s, had an interesting connection to Lee Marvin. I bring this up as the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles begins its exhibition of Gernreich’s work  tomorrow, May 9th, thru September 1st.

It may seem strange of course for Rudi Gernreich and Lee Marvin to even be mentioned in the same breath but there is indeed a connection. The designer, famous for many things (most notably the daring topless swimsuit of the 1960s), was also friends with Lee Marvin’s first wife, Betty. According to her wonderful memoir, Tales of a Hollywood Wife,  she almost became the model for that topless swimsuit but instead opted for something else. As she explained in her book….

The cover of Betty’s Book, TALES OF A HOLLYWOOD HOUSEWIFE.

“I was at a cocktail party given by my good friend, fashion designer, Rudi Gernreich. He was introducing his line of rather shocking black knit bathing suits, and early in the evening he asked me to model one for the guests. I ducked into his bedroom and put the the thing on, but I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking.
“Come on, Rudi, I look like my grandfather in this,” I said, posing in the skimpy, tight suit with holes the size of silver dollars. The reflection in the mirror of my small breasts, narrow hips, and long, thin legs was confirmation.
“Wrong,” said Rudi definitively. “You have the body this suit was made for.”
[I said] “You’ve got to be joking.” But he wasn’t.
“Maybe I should give you the topless one to wear!”
“Not on your life,”  I told him, “But, okay, just for this evening I’ll model.”
[…..] Lee also liked  the way I looked in Rudi’s clothes. He thought I had great style. One evening he told me he’d seen me on Wilshire Boulevard. “You looked so damned good. I thought, What a beautiful woman. I’ve got to check her out. I drove up along side the car and there you were — my own wife!”

Betty also recounted how Gernreich helped her enter the world of high fashion, resulting in her pioneering effort to bring haute couture to Rodeo Drive. She dubbed the boutique Paris V for the five French designers she brought to Beverly Hills: Christian Dior, Lanvin, Guy Larouche, Jacques Heim, Jean Desses. The boutique would also become an important factor in her husband’s TV & film career, but not the way she had envisioned it. For the details on that bittersweet story, you have to read Lee Marvin Point Blank….
– Dwayne Epstein

The facade of Betty Marvin’s boutique, PARIS V.

Lee Marvin (far left) and Betty Marvin (far right) entertain guests following the opening of her Paris V Boutique.

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FASHION TRENDS & LEE

According to first wife Betty Marvin: “Lee’s screen appeal in a way was a lot like Humphrey Bogart, except that Lee was actually much better looking than Bogart.”

Fashion trends may seem an unlikely subject for a blog promoting Lee Marvin Point Blank. Choice of firearms may seem a more likely subject. However, based on what several folks have told me over the years about the man, fashion trends is a subject that does indeed deserve some undo recognition.
For example, Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, told me, “Lee, of course, had a great body and looked great in clothes. Lee really had great style. His social wardrobe was just a knockout. We both used to love to dress up. He was very handsome….”

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party.

 

A more recent example came from a friend via social media, Bill Consolo, who recently recounted this memory from his mother:

“My mom was out to dinner with friends at the now long gone Frascati, on the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo Drive. Of course there was a restaurant and a bar and the way mom told it to me was that she noticed Lee Marvin at the bar all alone. Mom knew who he was immediately because as she said when you saw him, he was just as you saw him on the screen. She said he was tall and lean and a very good looking man. What stuck out to her was that he was dressed in blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a pressed white linen dress shirt. Remember this was still the 1960s. My mom was well traveled at these places and knew plenty of celebrities but she said Lee stuck out in Beverly Hills like a sore thumb because she had never seen a man dress like that. Mind you, my mom thought there was nothing wrong with it either, because he looked so damn handsome.”

Backstage after winning his Oscar, Lee wore the requisite formal attire, but topped it off with the then fashionable chevron tie.

Having partied all night after his Oscar win, the next morning Lee held an impromptu press conference at LAX on the way back to the London set of THE DIRTY DOZEN, but still managed to look fashionable in boots, khakis, sport coat and bandana tie.

A 1980 People magazine article pictured Lee doing what contemporaries like John Wayne & Robert Mitchum would never do: Join the roller boogie craze, with fashion trend-y head band and Walkman.

Even in old age, Marvin set fashion trends with a crisp denim shirt and zippered suede vest topped off with a Stetson Open Road Fedora.

-Dwayne Epstein

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ON THE RECENT PASSING OF PAM MARVIN

No sooner had I learned of the passing Lee Marvin’s first wife, Betty, did I discover the passing of his second wife, Pam Marvin, a few weeks later. Strange coincidence without a doubt, but also something that would not get much mention other than this blog, apparently.
I tried several times while researching Lee Marvin Point Blank to get Pam Marvin to agree to an interview but without any luck. It’s unfortunate as I think she would have contributed greatly to the final product.

Pam Marvin’s book, Lee: A Romance.

Her own story and her years with Lee Marvin were chronicled in her own book, Lee: A Romance which I read when it came out and went so far as to let Pam Marvin know her book would not conflict with my project.

I guess she felt differently. As I said, it’s unfortunate she felt that way as I would have welcomed her thoughts for inclusion in my work much the same way Lee’s first wife Betty and I did when she penned her book, Tales of a Hollywood Housewife. Pam’s book is a worthy read and recommended to get another point of view on her husband’s life and work.
I’d like to point out, despite my not being able to interview her at the time, I wish her family and friends my condolences on her the event of her death. I still believe in the old adage of respecting the passing of a human’s life and would have liked to have met her. She stood by her husband during the infamous palimony suit and was in court during every day of the trial. That could not have been easy.

Lee & Pam Marvin during the infamous palimony suit.

They had of course a shared history of growing up in Woodstock N.Y. and together they apparently visited there often. Lee’s brother, Robert, shared this picture of one those visits…

Lee and Pam visiting Robert and Joan Marvin in the 70s in New York.

She also went with Lee on location when his films called for schleps to such far flung places as Malta for the filming of Shout at the Devil

Lee, with ever-present cigarette and wife Pam on location for SHOUT AT THE DEVIL.

 

 

 

 

 

For such reasons and more, I again offer my condolences to her loved ones. Personally, my failed attempt to contact her was of course a disappointment, especially since she eventually agreed to speak with me at one point at the urging of her attorney, David Kagon. Kagon had represented Lee during the palimony suit and as Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know, gave a wonderful account of that episode in Lee and Pam’s life. After several refusals, Kagon did get Pam Marvin to reconsider and sent me the following letter….

Pam Marvin’s response to my many interview requests.

I of course did indeed send a list of questions. I never got a response. More is the pity. Rest in Peace, Pam.

– Dwayne Epstein

 

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