EMMY.COM’S LEE TV: STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Emmy.com’s Lee TV article that went online the day after Lee Marvin’s birthday was culled from my book Lee Marvin Point Bank, obviously. The brief story behind it I think is interesting and at the very least, worthy of this blog. If you haven’t seen it, it’s available for your perusal here.  Readers of my book are certain to get a sense of deja vu as it’s contents are largely from my chapter about Marvin’s TV work entitled “Man in a Straitjacket.”
What makes the story interesting? Well, it works like this: In need of some freelance work, I was fortunate to contact the managing editor of Emmy.com late last year and submit my resume. She liked what she saw and eventually offered me some freelance work. My first was an interview with Nick Rutherford of Dream Corp. LLC, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Since it was near the end of the year, I didn’t get another offer until I interviewed Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Vella Lovell this month, which I also enjoyed. It was terrific speaking with these talented up-and-comers, as I discovered not all interesting things for me to write about has to be retro. However…..
I took a chance and pitched the idea of writing about Lee Marvin’s TV work. I was surprised and elated when the Emmy.com’s managing editor went with the idea and so, Emmy.com’s Lee TV was born. I thought it best to take the point of view I had in the book, that Marvin hated the medium contrasted with his versatile performances within the medium.
That proved to be misstep, as I was told the negative quotes from the actor were not in keeping with the TV Academy. If it were to fly, a rewrite was in order. Had this been me, say 10-20 years earlier, I’d have balked and walked. With age comes wisdom and so, less than a day later, I rewrote it and re-submitted it. I’m glad I dd as the editor was right, it reads much better. The result was the currently posted article of Emmy.com’s Lee TV. Live and learn, right?

Lee Marvin (left) & Patricia Donahue in a romantic clinch fro G.E. Theatre’s “The Last Reunion,” something you’d rarely see the actor do on film.

The idea was to show how much Marvin did things on the small screen he never did on film, which includes actually playing a Marine…TWICE!
I got to thinking about it some more and realized there are a plethora of such legendary actors who proved more versatile on television than they ever were on the silver screen. When the medium was still in its infancy, so too were the careers of several future postwar superstars. For instance…..

Paul Newman & Eva Marie Saint are the singing leads in a TV musical of OUR TOWN. Narrator Frank Sinatra had a hit song from it with “Love & Marriage.”

Did you know that Paul Newman actually sang in an original musical adaptation of Thornton WIlder’s Our Town? I kid you not! And how about this…

(L-R) Lillian Gish as Mary Todd Lincoln, Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln, and Jack Lemmon as John Wilkes Booth, in an episode of the dramatic anthology series ‘Ford Star Jubilee’ called ‘The Day Lincoln Was Shot,’ February 11, 1956.

Known on film mostly for his brilliant comedic and dramatic performances as a harried, middle-class contemporary man, Jack Lemmon once played John Wilkes Booth on an episode of an anthology series AFTER Lemmon had already won an Oscar for Mr. Roberts.

Then there’s my personal favorite example. Most folks don’t know that cult favorite Charles Bronson had an extensive career on television long before his middle-aged international stardom n the 1970s. He even had his own series based on a real-life individual…..

The rarely seen smile of actor Charles Bronson from his show MAN WITH A CAMERA as freelance photographer, Mike Kovac.

The possibilities are pretty impressive, don’t you think? I’ll be looking into such possibilities in the not too distant future but in the mean time, anybody need an award-winning, NY Times Bestselling writer? You can reach me here. Thanks!
-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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CHARLES BRONSON PASSED ON THIS DAY IN 2003

Charles Bronson. Charles Dennis Buchinski. They are one in the same and he left us this day 15 years ago, but not before leaving one hell of an impression. I’ve blogged about him previously, as seen here and here but I’ve never given him his due as an actor here. What he may have lacked in acting talent he more than made up for in steely, snake-eyed masculine presence. I am a genuine fan of most of his films, the exception being those god-awful Death Wish and Cannon films. But even those are bearable for his tired visage. His 60s European film and starring roles in 70s American films stand out best for me. If you haven’t see them, you’re in for a treat. I discovered a wonderful side to Bronson’s personality while researching the many films he made with Lee Marvin, as stated in Lee Marvin Point Blank. It’s what Marvin himself called Bronson’s “Little gleam, way back behind the eyes.”
Obviously, I am a fan which is why my Lee Marvin publisher, Tim Schaffner of Schaffner Press, agreed to publish my bio of him. Unfortunately, he then told me he wanted to take his company in a different editorial direction and we agreed to cancel the contract. Sigh. Fear not as there will be some exciting news on that end shortly. When I’m ready, I’ll post.
For now, I toast Mr. Bronson/Buchinski and remember him well as Marvin himself did. So long, Charlie Sunshine.

Obituary for Charles Bronson, August 30, 2003.

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