Betty Marvin, first wife of Lee Marvin and mother of his four children, passed away from complications following the flu just a few months short of her 90th birthday. When I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank and throughout the entire 20 year journey to its publication, she was the single most important individual source in getting it see the light of day. It’s for that reason I loathe writing such blog entries as this but it’s also the reason why I feel it must be done.
I don’t recall exactly how I was able to come in contact with her but my best guess would be through her former brother-in-law, Robert Marvin. At one point, I was with Robert in Woodstock, NY, when I needed to speak with Betty Marvin on the phone. While she and I spoke, Robert eventually asked for the phone. When I gave it to him, I witnessed Robert, who had not spoken to Betty in decades, poignantly apologize to Betty for their lack of contact and they way he had treated her when they had been in contact. I never asked what that was in reference to but I was genuinely moved to hear Robert speak the words. Betty Marvin was the kind of a person that could elicit such words.
Newlyweds Lee and Betty Marvin.
That first night I met Betty Marvin, way back in 1994, remains a cherished memory. Prepared for the interview as best as possible, I drove up to Montecito from Long Beach with the intent of being as professional as I knew how. That didn’t last long. Upon meeting her, I was completely disarmed by her frankness, hospitality and good humor. In no time at all it seems the initial interview went into the wee hours, making it too late to drive back home for the night. She graciously offered me her guest bedroom and the next morning we went to her storage facility where she was even more gracious in allowing me access to her family photos and years with her ex-husband. Many of those never-before-seen photos ended up in the book.
A photo from her own book depicts Betty’s home in Santa Barbara County where she graciously welcomed me. On the left side of the home towards the back is where her son Christopher planted cactus from cuttings taken from his father’s original plants.
I should also point out that during that first long confab, she constantly asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink. When I eventually acquiesced, she put out a wonderful spread of homemade goodies and uncorked some wine. As the wine flowed through the night, so did the laughter and on occasion some tears.
We stayed in contact regularly after that first get-together and even went to the movies and had dinner on occasion. There are no amount of positive adjectives that can best describe what a wonderful person I discovered her to be. Once she put her faith and trust in what I was working on, she could not be more helpful. She gave me additional contacts, the aforementioned photos, as well continuing insights and anecdotes I could never have gleaned from anyone or anywhere else.
Whenever I was enroute to northern California to visit my girlfriend’s family, we always stopped by and saw Betty on the way, who offered such surprising delicacies as hearty homemade bread and delicious wild mushroom soup on our journey. She said the recipe came from her good friend, Julia Child….
Betty Marvin (left) with good friend Julia Child depicted for one of her wonderful Xmas cards.
My favorite thing she managed to do was get her son Christopher to agree to go on the record with me. Reticent at first, I met Christopher at a going away party for his mother as she was about go on an around the world excursion all by herself…in her 70s! Betty got both of us together during the party by rounding us up in the midst of the revelry and said to her son, “Now you go in the next room with this man and you talk to him!’ Since it was her party, Christopher sheepishly agreed and another great exclusive (and friendship) was put on the record.
As the worldwide trip can attest, Betty was also quite a lover of life. She painted, sculpted, got her pilot’s license, created biodomes in Mexico and more, all while most people were languishing in retirement. Just an amazing woman! When she was considering writing her own memoir (Tales of a Hollywood Housewife) she asked me if she thought it best to use her own name in a straight forward account of her life or a fictitious telling and non de plume. I told he she should call herself “Mrs. James Coburn.” We both got a kick out of that.
Betty Marvin’s own account of her life, which is still very much available and HIGHLY recommended!
I have so many wonderful memories of Betty I can keep this one blog entry going forever. Suffice to say writer’s cramp makes that idea rather prohibitive but on occasion, when the mood strikes, I will revisit some of those memories here once more. In the mean time, below are several more images from her book and other images that may show just a portion of what a terrific lady she was.
I’ll miss her dearly but the memories are intact and will be as long as I’m alive. I’m pretty sure the same can be said by anyone who knew her. So long, Betty. Your time here helped change and enlighten many a life. I know it did mine.
– Dwayne Epstein
Betty photographed by Lee holding their ten day old son, Christopher.
Typical Xmas card Betty sent me and her friends a few years back.
At Betty’s book signing in her Santa Barbara home, her close friend tab Hunter agreed to sign my copy on the page pictured above.