MY 1998 INTERVIEW WITH THE LATE ROBERT VAUGHN

I don’t normally post a blog as frequently as this but the recent passing of Robert Vaughn compels me to do so. I interviewed Mr. Vaughn at the  Beverly Garland Hotel on January 18. 1998. I was well aware of his impressive career and would loved to have talk to him about it at length. However, my purpose for speaking with him had to remain at the forefront, which was his work with Lee Marvin. Since he had known Lee’s first wife, Betty, my mentioning of her gained me entry into a discussion with Vaughn. He was erudite, literate and most of all, a consummate pro. I was nervous but my fears were quickly allayed once we began. Would have loved to talk with him about his wonderful book about the blacklist, Only Victims, or his work on The Magnificent Seven or “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Bullitt, or countless other projects worthy of his talent. Sadly, I never got the chance.
However, here is the actual interview below, unedited and put to good use in fleshing out Lee Marvin Point Blank. Enjoy.

DWAYNE: You worked with Mr. Marvin in Delta Force, right?
ROBERT VAUGHN: Yeah, I worked with him in Delta Force. We shot that in Israel. I guess it was the 80s. He was not well at the time.
D: Yeah, that was his last film.

The late Robert Vaughn as General Woodbridge in 1986's DELTA FORCE.

The late Robert Vaughn as General Woodbridge in 1986’s DELTA FORCE.

R: Was that his last picture? [I nod]. He was very pleasant but he was fragile; getting up very slowly, getting down very slowly. He was not in good health. But I knew him from many, many years ago when he was married to his first wife and they lived out in the canyon area. I remember I was going with a girl named Joyce Gibbs who knew Betty and we used to go out there. Lee used to greet us with a Bloody Mary in his hand about 10:00 Sunday morning. So I knew him very many years, before he did “M Squad.”
D: Do you recall when you first met him?
R: I believe it was in the late 50s. When was “M Squad?”
D: That was in the late 50s.
R: Then it was around that time. I don’t think he had done it…I believe he was a member of that which I was a member of called the Stage Society. I don’t know whether he was a member but I know he was around there. It was a little theater group out on Melrose & Doheny. It was around 20 years in the late 50s and early 60s. It was founded by Gary Cooper and people like that.
D: I’m not familiar with this.
R: Well, Betty was obviously a member of the group but I think Lee was around the theater quite a bit. I don’t think he was actually a member of the group but that’s when I first met him.
D: Was there any shows that he did?
R: He didn’t do any plays there as far as I know.
D: I know he did some plays, like in La Jolla.
R: He didn’t do any there [stage group] while I was there. I know that for sure because I was very actively involved from around ‘52 to ‘56. Maybe that was the time I met Lee.
D: When you think of Lee Marvin, are there any specific incidents that that stick out in your mind as to the kind of man he was?
R: I just thought he was a classic case of movie star appeal. There was just nobody else like him. The X-factor, sex appeal, whatever you want to call it. Lee was Lee and he was just a tremendous force on the screen.
D: What was he like to work with in a scene as another actor?
R: I really didn’t work with him in Delta Force.
D: If I recall, the scenes you had with him in conversation…
R: I was in a room talking, he was on a monitor and I was on a monitor talking somewhere else. Although I saw him quite a bit while we were filming, I didn’t actually work with him in a scene.
D: It’s one of those cases of working with an actor but never actually working with him.
R: I did a movie called Black Moon Rising where I was the principle heavy and the lead was Tommy Lee Jones and we never met. We had a whole sequence at the end of the picture where I was chasing him around a garage in a car but we never actually personally met on film. So, movie magic works its ways.

Also from 1986, Robert Vaughn costarred with Tommy Lee Jones in BLACK MOON RISING but according to Vaughn, they never met!

Also from 1986, Robert Vaughn costarred with Tommy Lee Jones in BLACK MOON RISING but according to Vaughn, they never met!

D: Yes, it does. When you were working on Delta Force, how did he get along with the rest of the cast?
R: Very well. The fellow who directed it was also the producer, Menachem Golan. He was very kind to me. He gave me his chauffeured car and drove me through Jerusalem and various other sights in the Holy Land. He gave me his chauffeur and his car and it so happens his chauffeur was very knowledgeable, as most Israelis are, not only of the history of the state of Israel, but roots to the bible. So this guide took me all over Israel, which is impossible to do in a tizzy, but he was a wonderful tour guide.
D: That was a pretty eclectic cast, with people like Joey Bishop, Shelley Winters and…
R: Chuck Norris. I worked with him on his show a couple of years ago.
D: How did he play with the rest of this kind of cast?
R: As I say, I didn’t really work with any of these guys. Most of my scenes were shot in one room, as I recall. I was talking to somebody on a TV screen. I didn’t really work with any of these people. I just saw them around Israel.
D: Was Marvin drinking during the making of the film?
R: He may have been but not that I could see.
D: He did taper off a lot towards the end of his life.
R: As I say, he looked very, very frail. He was very gingerly getting in and out of chairs and so on. He was obviously very weak but he had a lot of energy and his spirits were good. He was very popular and very well-liked. We had a good time on the rare moments we had to talked together.
D: Do you recall any of the conversations?

A fragile looking Lee Marvin (left), according to costar Robert Vaughn, and toplined costar Chuck Norris in DELTA FORCE.

A fragile looking Lee Marvin (left), according to costar Robert Vaughn, pictured with costar Chuck Norris in DELTA FORCE.

R: I do not.
D: Do you recall when the last time you saw him was?
R: I think it was the last time because he died shortly after that.
D: Yeah, that was his last film. Well, thank you very much for your time, Mr. Vaughn.
R: It was my pleasure.

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LEE MARVIN AT 91: IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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TERRORISM: LEE MARVIN ON THE THREAT TO AMERICA

Terrorism
The 9/11terrorist attack took place more than a decade after Lee Marvin passed away, which meant he never lived long enough to see the threat of terrorism on American soil. He did, however, make a live-action cartoon about the possibilty that which, sadly, proved to be his final theatrical film appearance. Why he agreed to be in the painful-to-watch Chuck Norris opus, Delta Force, is explained poignantly  by his agent within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank.

Marvin’s feelings, however, about dealing with terrorism, were best explained in this article in PREVUE magazine which was meant to publicize the film. Marvin does the journeyman task of promoting the film but, if you read between the lines, you can tell what his real feelings were concerning such an occurence….
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