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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LEE MARVIN MOVIE QUOTES: THE EARLY YEARS, PART II

Lee Marvin Movie Quotes
Writing and researching Lee Marvin Point Blank allowed me good reason to watch ALL of his films and on occasion, he proved to be the best thing to watch. Take for example his official film debut, You’re in the Navy Now (1951) with legendary actor, Gary Cooper.  Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know how he got the handful of lines he spoke in the movie and its a pretty amusing story, thanks to the chutzpah of his acquired agent, Meyer Mishkin. The very fact that he spoke on screen for the first time makes it worthy of some memorable Lee Marvin movie quotes.

Top image shows Marvin waiting to go on camera while bottom image shows hm with costars Gary Cooper and Jack Webb.

Director Henry Hathaway cast Marvin initially as an extra, allowing him to appear throughout the film as a crew member, in this case, the radio operator. Marvin later claimed him he did the voices of 5 other characters offscreen n which he actually talked to himself! Other actors also made their debut in the film, including future Marvin costar, Charles Bronson. Bronson had a bigger role in the flop later retitled USS Teakettle. Marvin’s first words on camera? “Sorry, captain. I can’t get a rise out of them.”

Another example of Marvin’s early, albeit small contribution to film was in the all-star comedy We’re Not Married (1952). Played out like an episode of Love, American Style, it told the tale of 5 different marriages discovering that the clergyman (Victor Moore) who married them was not ordained. The film boasted the likes of Ginger Rogers, Fred Allen, Eve Arden, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Eva Gabor, and a young Marilyn Monroe married to David Wayne(!). The last segment starred Eddie Bracken married to Mitzi Gaynor, who is pregnant with his child but Bracken is going overseas with his Army unit. It being the 1950s, the dilemma of Bracken’s offspring not being legitimate is a major crisis. Since it is the 50s, Bracken’s buddy, Lee Marvin, informs the C.O. that, “He don’t want his kid to be no oddball.”

Marvin & Bracken in the final segment of WE’RE NOT MARRIED.

Don’t you just love that 1950s euphemism for bastard? It’s one of my personal favorite Lee Marvin movie quotes.

And then there’s The Wild One.

Marlon Brando as Johnny and Lee Marvin as Chino in the world’s 1st biker movie, THE WILD ONE (That’s cult legend Tim Carey smiling behind Marvin).

Marvin comes in the middle of the film and commits grand larceny in his scenes with then red hot 50s icon, Marlon Brando. Everything Marvin says and does in the classic is memorable, from his entrance (waving like the prom queen on his chopper as he and his gang ride into town) to his final scene sneaking out of jail when no one is looking. I was lucky to find a letter he wrote his brother before the film was cast and his take on the project is reprinted in its entirety in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Hard to pick a favorite line of his as they’re all delivered brilliantly (“Call my old lady and tell her I’m in the can! Oh, the shame of it all!”) But the one I like best is the one with cultural resonance. When Marvin tells Brando: “We miss ya, Johnny. All the Beetles miss ya.” Apparently another ‘Johnny’ liked that line, too. Any guesses?
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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