‘FEUD’S ROBERT ALDRICH, JOAN CRAWFORD & LEE MARVIN

From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”

The original cast of “Feud” (L-R): Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and Robert Aldrich.

That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”

I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that portrays him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:

Director Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK! co-stars Lee Marvin and the ‘late’ William Smithers.

“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’

To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:

“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.

Newlyweds Betty and Lee Marvin around the time Lee was offered a ‘role’ opposite Betty’s former employer, Joan Crawford.

What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”

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5 WAYS TO CELEBRATE LEE MARVIN’S HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY

Sunday, February 19th, marks the 93rd birthday of 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) as covered in the book. 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  ‘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 a at least one occasion while they were making Point Blank. It certainly wasn’t a new phenomena 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 theses 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’d 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. Of course, if you prefer a paperback signed by the author directly to you, there’s always Ebay. It may not be as adventurous but it’s certainly a lot safer. Besides, you can do the other five vicariously through him when reading his exploits.

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UNTOLD TALES ABOARD THE SHIP OF FOOLS

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the very strange events that took place during the making of 1965’s Ship of Fools. If you haven’t read it, then by all means, please do so as you’re in for quite a surprise! I was fortunate to interview such participants as Producer/Director Stanley Kramer and others who told unimagined tales of the film’s strange production.

Original ad for Ship of Fools with critics praising the individual performances, even if Christianne Schmidtmer's is a little less lofty.

Original ad for Ship of Fools with critics praising the individual performances, even if Christianne Schmidtmer’s is a little less lofty.

With such a huge and eclectic cast, strange events are bound to happen and I couldn’t get them all in the book. Such as this little anecdote from Lee’s then wife, Betty:

A p.r. still of Lee Marvin for Ship of Fools looking strangely like Boris Karloff.

A p.r. still of Lee Marvin for Ship of Fools looking strangely like Boris Karloff.

“Here’s a very good example. Who was that wonderful dwarf? Michael Dunn? Yes! Michael came over. They had done Ship Of Fools together. The only one to dance with me….He’d put his head in my belly. Lee didn’t mind but he thought it looked funny. Michael always wanted to hold hands with me. Michael was also a wonderful sculptor. Michael came through my studio one time. I think he took the wrong door. He came through my studio. He was like this little wild rooster. He saw this one piece and he fell in love with it. He brought it in. ‘I love this. Who did this?’ Lee said, ‘I don’t know. Where did you get it?’ I’m very modest. I know I may not seem that way but it when it comes to my work,..so, I said, ‘Michael, it’s mine.’ I also had a sculpting studio. So the two of us went out. He’s molding this wonderful head and..we had the best time. It lasted about two hours. It was very funny.”

Lee Marvin on the railing with costar Vivien Leigh in what would be her last film.

Lee Marvin on the railing with costar Vivien Leigh in what would be her last film.

This anecdote, told to me by costar Barbara Luna is a hoot. Sorry it didn’t make it in the book but that which did make the cut, is even better!

“One afternoon, Lee called me into his dressing room and he proceeded to give me a pep talk. I mean, a pep talk! He was a bit inebriated. He was angry with me. He was angry with me because..well, I realized later that he was projecting because, often times, if you’re not where you want to be as a human being, you recognize it easily in others. He started to tell me that I was not doing with my talent what I ought to be doing. I wanted to hear it but I didn’t want a lecture at that moment. Yet, I admired him dearly for doing it and wanting to do it because he cared enough. After about maybe 45 minutes to an hour, I thought ‘Geez!’ I could see that he was really tipsy. I tried to get up to leave and…

Actress Barbara Luna as she looked in Ship of Fools.

Actress Barbara Luna as she looked in Ship of Fools.

He wasn’t flirting with me. Not by any means. He was seriously giving me a pep talk about why I am not utilizing my talent….I think maybe the biggest culprit was because it took him so long to get his career off the ground. I think he just identified so strongly with my talent or what ever it was. He was identifying strongly. I finally couldn’t sit there any longer and plus, I probably had to get out on stage. He wouldn’t let me out! I was starting to get peeved. So, I finally got out the door. He probably turned his back for a second. He chased me! Now he was really drunk. Oh, he chased me around the stage! What stopped him, finally, he was barreling after people. He got his foot caught in you know, those butt buckets? They’re bucket they keep around for cigarettes. He tripped and he got his foot caught in one. Then he really got mad. He started to run with the bucket, I must have..Maybe I ran out the door. I don’t know where I ran. Everybody was sitting around because we had to be there everyday. Simone Signoret and Vivian Leigh and..So, that’s my biggest memory of Lee. It was so funny. You know how he was.”

Lee as Bill Tenney in Ship Of Fools, as he also looked when he cornered Barbara Luna.

Lee as Bill Tenney in Ship Of Fools, as he also looked when he cornered Barbara Luna.

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