Lee Marvin at 91
Lee Marvin would have been 91 on February 19, 2015. Schaffner Press’s author of the bestselling, award-winning biography LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK was recently asked how the actor might respond to the world and pop culture of 2015.
Schaffner Press: Much has changed in the years since Lee Marvin passed in 1987. For instance, do you think he would have voted for Barack Obama?
Dwayne Epstein: Interesting question. I’d have to say that a lot of his fans may be surprised by my answer but yes, I think he would have voted for President Obama. It surprises people to know that his personal politics leaned to the left, since he really didn’t comment on that much during interviews. After the assassination of JFK he kept such opinions to himself. He didn’t show up at rallies or demonstrations as some celebrities did but he commented on such things to friends and family. He was very pro Civil Rights. In fact, one of his closest friends was the African-American athlete turned actor, Woody Strode. Strode told me that it was Marvin, not politically liberal costar Burt Lancaster, who got Strode top billing in The Professionals (1966). Towards the end of Marvin’s life I’ve been told he became a little more conservative but by today’s standards, such as with the Tea Party, I think even John Wayne might have been considered a liberal!
Relaxing between scenes on the set of The Professionals are good friends Woody Strode and Lee Marvin.
SP: What about Hillary Clinton?
DE: I’m scratching my head on that one. His first wife Betty was adamant in telling me that she believed Lee was a feminist. Of course, his public image certainly wasn’t of that ilk, especially in light of the infamous palimony suit. Maybe his lawyer from the trial, David Kagon, put it best when he told me, “Lee had the utmost respect for women….in all their various gradations.” If that’s the case, it still leaves me wondering what he would have thought of Hillary Clinton, at least in terms of what gradation he’d classify her.
SP: What do you think Marvin would’ve made of the war against terrorism and all the violence in the Middle East?
DE: At the time of Lee’s passing Middle East terrorism was only just beginning to make itself known to western civilization. In fact, his last film, Delta Force (1986), dealt with the subject, albeit as a live-action cartoon, thanks to the presence of Chuck Norris. However, in doing press for the film, Marvin was remarkably clear-eyed and cogent when he told the now defunct PREVUE Magazine, “”Before the problem of terrorism improves, it’s going to get worse. Americans don’t have a clue about what goes on in the Middle East. Terrorism is transferred into this climate, and people shut the problem out — they don’t want to deal with it.” He sure was on the money, on that one!
Lee Marvin & Chuck Norris in the 1986 live-action cartoon, Delta Force.
SP: Speaking of the problem of the Middle East, what do you think he would’ve thought of American Sniper as being called the “greatest war film of all time”?
DE: Honestly? He probably would’ve laughed at that, took a drag off his cigarette and then rolled his eyes. That’s no reflection on the film, which I myself haven’t seen…YET. It’s more about the statement. Everyone I interviewed told me that Marvin had a built-in bullshit detector and having been around Hollywood as long as he has, he knew pure ballyhoo when he heard it. Based on the subject matter, I can only assume he would’ve liked the film, if only in deference to its director, his buddy and costar, Clint Eastwood. Marvin had very strong opinions on such subjects, as you can gather and it’s a shame he’s no longer around for us to hear exactly what he would have thought of American Sniper.
SP: The cable TV series “Breaking Bad” proved to be quite a cultural phenomena. What do you think he would have thought of it and what part would he have played?
Schuyler White (Anna Gunn) apprehensively waits to see what husband Walter White (Bryan Cranston) will do next, as does son Walter, Jr. (R.J. Mitte) in Breaking Bad.
DE: On reflex, I’d have to say Walter White, the lead of course. Incidentally, I recently heard Bryan Cranston say in an interview that he grew up next to a movie theater and saw Cat Ballou so many times he memorized the dialogue. You never can tell who a Lee Marvin fan might be. But in answer to your question, there may be an analogy to Walter White and Walker in Point Blank. The show starts with White as a mild-mannered science teacher who becomes a meth dealer when he discovers he has cancer. Well, in Point Blank Walker is just an amiable fella doing a favor for a friend, as shown in flashback. It’s only after he’s been double-crossed and left for dead that he becomes this unstoppable avenging angel of death. He’s a professional thief in the novel, but that’s not stressed in the film. Walter White, Walker. Yeah, that works.
Walker’s sister-in-law (Angie Dickinson) and syndicate boss (Carroll O’Connor) apprehensively wait to see what Walker (Lee Marvin) will do next.
SP: What do you think his opinion of say “Downton Abbey” would be and what role would he play?
DE: I think he may have liked it as it depicts the change from Victorian aristocracy to the modern era. Coming from the old South, his mother tried to raise him more like the Crawley’s than the servants, so even though his background was more akin to that, he actually despised the importance put on proper etiquette and such. Based on his film persona, he would’ve been a servant, probably, Barrows. His character is so sinister and has such a dark past, I think Marvin would’ve really relished playing him.
Not a lost scene from Downton Abbey but an early performance of Lee Marvin (center) on stage after the war at Woodstock’s Maverick Theater.
SP: In the scope of current male actors, are there any Lee Marvins out there?
DE: There are actors who have similar qualities as Marvin, sure. I think Josh Brolin has some qualities, as well as Tommy Lee Jones, JK Simmons, Thomas Haden Church and Powers Boothe, but those are just qualities. I hate to sound cliché but there really was only one Lee Marvin…..and thank god for it!