HAPPY 64TH BIRTHDAY TO SONS OF LEE MARVIN FOUNDER JIM JARMUSCH

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are quite familiar with the connection indie film director Jim Jarmusch has to the legacy of Lee Marvin. Jarmusch turns 64 today and in honor of his birthday, allow me to recount the tale.

Cult director and Sons of Lee Marvin founder, Jim Jarmusch

Jarmusch has been avoiding mainstream success for decades by making and occasionally appearing in his own indie films (Mystery Train, Down by Law, Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man, Ghost Dog, etc). He’s also an avowed Lee Marvin fan, dying his hair white in tribute. Consequently, when I was still in the earliest stages of research of Lee Marvin Point Blank, I came across his tale, or at least his version of it, of how his ‘secret’ organization, The Sons of Lee Marvin, came into existence. I was standing in the middle of the Buena Park Public Library perusing back issues of Film Comment magazine. They used to have a semi-regular column called “Guilty Pleasures,” in which renowned filmmakers detail their love of movies they know are not very good but they love them anyway. I was not yet fully sold on committing myself to a Lee Marvin bio, but when I read Jim Jarmusch’s account of how The Sons of Lee Marvin came to be as part of his column, I was shushed for laughing out loud. It helped sell me on the idea of the book as in all my years of reading and researching films and stars I have never come across such an amazing tale! I was hooked.
In the interim, I was to discover (and later join), a shadow organization known as the BSOL. How they came to be introduced to the real son of Lee Marvin is also an intriguing exclusive of Lee Marvin Point Blank.

The main logo for The Bastard Sons of Lee.

A logo for the more accessible organization known as the BSOL, sometimes seen in Pasadena’s Doo-Dah Parade.

But I digress. The point here is that like all talented filmmakers, even fiercely independent ones, like birthday boy Jarmusch, has a knack for creating mythology. I was to discover how much of a mythology it is when I ultimately met and made friends with Christopher Marvin, Lee’s actual son. As Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know, Jarmusch’s tale of Chris Marvin and Tom Waits is, how shall I say it? As our current POTUS has coined it, an “alternative fact.” To know the truth, read Lee Marvin Point Blank. Until then, enjoy this page from my research binder in which Jarmusch himself recounts the tale in his Film Comment article. Happy birthday Mr. J. and keep the mythology growing! Enjoy……

The original FILM COMMENT article in which Jim Jarmusch explains the formation of the Sons of Lee Marvin.

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EXCLUSIVE CLU GULAGER INTERVIEW EXCERPT

The great Clu Gulager turned 88 years-old on November 16th. In honor of that auspicious event, I chose a never-before-seen excerpt from my interview with him back in January, 1997. It took place on a frosty morning at the Farmer’s Market and he could not have been nicer nor more forthcoming.
Having worked with Lee Marvin in 1964’s The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, Clu Gulager’s input was invaluable to my research to LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK. One of the many stories he imparted that I could not fit into the final version of the book had to do with a scene in the film between Marvin, Gulager and future president, Ronald Reagan in his last acting role. Throughout most of the movie, Gulager and Marvin’s characters had been bullying people to get information. When they get to Reagan, the script called for a secretary in Reagan’s outer office to try and stop them before they get to Reagan. Marvin believed it would be a waste of screen time as the audience would’ve already seen them do it previously in the film. Reagan disagreed as it would be taking lines away from a fellow actor, in this case, the secretary. Director Siegel came up with a compromise in which the actress is shown trying to stop them as they barrel through into Reagan’s office. Gulager had told me that version as seen below. However, when he spoke at Santa Monica’s Aero Theater after a screening of the film, he told a much more colorful version of the same story, adding that actress in question was actually Reagan’s paramour (!)

(L-R) Moderator Jim Hemphill, Point Blank producer Jud Bernard, yours truly, Christopher Marvin and Clu Gulager on stage at the Aero Theater as Gulager gives a VERY different version of the story below.

(L-R) Moderator Jim Hemphill, Point Blank producer Jud Bernard, yours truly, Christopher Marvin and Clu Gulager on stage at the Aero Theater as Gulager gives a VERY different version of the story below.

Dwayne Epstein: OK, on The Killers
Clu Gulager: Let me tell you about that. We came in to do our thing. Where we had to go into the offices of Reagan. I knew nothing of what Don said in his book about this- the lady being Reagan’s sweetheart. I knew nothing about that. Obviously, it had occurred. I think maybe that ticked off Lee because he was pissed off about something. I know they stopped us. It didn’t make any sense to stop us there with the secretary. She said something and then came on. We would have just swept right in there. We wouldn’t let anyone get in out way, apparently.

Lee Marvin's son, Christopher meets up with Clue Gulager who he had not seen since he was a child.

Lee Marvin’s son, Christopher, meets up with Clue Gulager, whom he had not seen since he was a child.

Dwayne: Which was Lee’s idea. He just wanted to rush right into the office.
Clu: Which is the best way. (mimes Lee) “Watch what I’m going to do here”. Lee would rehearse it. We rehearsed it once. Reagan sat behind his desk and Lee did it a certain way in the first rehearsal. Reagan acted a certain way. We rehearsed it again for lights and so forth, so Lee did it another way. He did another interpretation. Mr. Reagan did exactly the same thing he did in the first take. No matter what Lee would do, he would do exactly the same reactions. He had it all planned in his mind. So, we did it a third time, a very complex shot that needed a third rehearsal with the lights and sound, actors up to par, dress rehearsal. Lee did it another way and Reagan did exactly the same thing. Lee said of Reagan at the time, “That guy couldn’t act worth shit. He couldn’t act his way out of a fucking paper bag.” In other words what Lee was saying to me was that you really ride with the situation of the scene. It’s not all preplanned. You have to kind of give and take a little to make it more of a …he was saying that Mr. Reagan didn’t have the ability and so forth. I happened to think, my observation, I loved what Ron did in the scene. I loved what he did in the film. They may have cut out a lot of shit, I don’t know. Whatever they left in, I thought worked for Reagan. Anyway, he was really adamantly against it, Mr, Reagan. I never understood why until I read Don’s book.
Dwayne: Siegel’s book comments on the same incident. I got the sense from other people that Lee’s dislike of Reagan happened even before the movie started. I think they may have worked before together in TV.
Clu: Oh, a lot. What makes me think this is maybe Lee was, I mean Don was stretching it a bit. I don’t believe at that point, Reagan fooled around on his wife. I do not believe that he did. That’s my recollection. I knew him a little bit and I knew her. They were very much in love and I do not believe he had a girl out there who was his paramour and so forth. I didn’t believe it. I don’t believe that Reagan would have stopped the scene and said “Don, I stopped this and I’ll walk off unless….”. I don’t believe it.
Dwayne: Unless I misinterpreted, I remember it as being Reagan, having been SAG president, was very big that every actor gets their line and the woman had several lines. The way Lee wanted to do it, just walk right through. Siegel had said he thought Reagan got on a soapbox; “I’ve never seen such as thing where an actor takes lines out of another actor’s mouth”, etc.
Clu: It happens all the time and it should happen. We know what’s best. Actors are very instinctive.

Clu Gulager signs my copy of Lee Marvin: Point Blank in the lobby of the Aero Theatre. Behind him are (L-R) publisher Tim Schaffner, Lee's daughter Cynthia Michaels, Christopher Marvin, and Cynthia's son, Lee's only grandchild, Matthew Michaels.

Clu Gulager signs my copy of Lee Marvin: Point Blank in the lobby of the Aero Theatre. Behind him are (L-R) publisher Tim Schaffner, Lee’s daughter Cynthia Michaels, Christopher Marvin, and Cynthia’s son, Lee’s only grandchild, Matthew Michaels.

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FOR FATHER’S DAY: UNPUBLISHED THOUGHTS FROM CHRISTOPHER MARVIN

I was extremely fortunate to interview Lee Marvin’s son Christopher, especially since he was understandably reluctant to be interviewed. He eventually came around (with his mother’s urging) and gave some wonderful insights into his father, almost all of which can be found in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. A handful of his observations did fall through the cracks for one reason or another. Sadly, Christopher succumbed to cancer in October 2013 and so, as a lasting a tribute to his father, here are some never-before-published thoughts for Father’s Day:

Left to right is grandfather Monte, father Lee and son Christopher with family dog, Liberty.

Left to right is grandfather Monte, father Lee and son Christopher with family dog, Liberty.

“I think his job was just his job. When he was home, it was a different thing. It was a father-son relationship. That was his gig and it was no big deal. He didn’t boast about it and he didn’t even really talk about it. It was just the thing he enjoyed doing. Once he finished a film, he moved on to another one, or he took time off. That’s it. He enjoyed doing what he was doing. It was tough for him to get the end result the way he wanted it, like anybody else.”

Christopher and his father wearing matching suits in the early 1960s.

Christopher and his father wearing matching suits in the early 1960s.

“He and I had some real delicate time as well; soul searching stuff…. I appreciated it. I don’t think very many people really have that. When he drank, then he got real loud but he never got violent. He never hit me once. There was no reason…. Verbally abusive, yeah he could always be, because he’d be mad at something else. Then, it would just come out. We got a few things back edgewise at each other, you know, one-liners, that made him happy and still pissed off. I’d say certain things to him. Like this one time, I was 17 or 18 and it was about finding work, and not looking for work, and this and that. He would want me to kind of cause an argument, like he would do with his father. I said, ‘I’m not you and you’re not grandpa. This shit stops here.’ Then, when I was 18, he said, ‘I love you but I’m disappointed in you.’ I want you to be a lot better than I am.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Why don’t you just knock me out right now? That’s bullshit.’ He looked at me. He got a snicker out of that.”

Christopher (right) with his father in the 1970s outside his father’s Tucson home.

Christopher (right) with his father in the 1970s outside his father’s Tucson home.

 

“I get a lot of compliments from people who really loved dad. That’s what I really respect. The more I hear that from people, then I get to learn more about what he really represented. Now that I look at it, he really tried to play that character out of himself so he could get people to understand.”

The author of Lee Marvin: Point Blank (right) with Christopher Marvin enjoying a laugh at the American Cinematheque screening of Point Blank & The Killers in 2013.

The author of Lee Marvin: Point Blank (right) with Christopher Marvin enjoying a laugh at the American Cinematheque screening of Point Blank & The Killers in 2013.

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