HAPPY MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY FROM LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

Since Monday, January 15th marks the 88th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recount Lee Marvin’s contribution to civil rights during the 1960s. Granted, it is indeed an extremely minor contribution compared to Dr. King and other civil rights leaders but in his own way, Lee indeed contributed.
One would think, based on his upbringing, that Marvin would hardly be in favor of civil rights and equality for all races, particularly African-Americans. His mother Courtenay Marvin was an old-world southern Virginian and all that would entail. However, his father Monte Marvin had been in command of a black calvary unit during WWI and had a much more liberal view of African-Americans. Then again, according to Lee’s brother, Robert, both parents hit the roof when Robert briefly dated a young black woman.  And yet again, both boys were cared for by a black maid named Erlene whom they adored. Growing up on the eastern seaboard also meant encounters with various races throughout their formative years, resulting in a rather different view of black people than the one held by their parents.
All that said, Lee Marvin was still very much a product of his time and not above using racially-charged language. However, if one believes that actions speak louder than words, even in those less enlightened times of the early 1960s, Marvin’s more liberal attitude was very much in evidence. Case in point: his lifelong friendship with black actor, Woody Strode. They met during the making of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and remained tight for the rest of their lives.

Although they had no scenes together, Woody Strode (left) and Lee Marvin are pictured at a cast ‘tea party’ during John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

I was extremely fortunate to get what I believe to be the last interview with Strode. His love of Lee Marvin (as well as John Ford) knew no bounds. Their hilarious initial meeting on the set of the film is well-documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Strode, by the way, was not as happy working on the film with Hollywood icon John Wayne. Consequently, he did enjoy watching Ford tease both James Stewart  and Wayne unmercifully for the sake of the performances he wanted from them. Like Ford, Marvin also teased the two conservative Republicans, particularly, Stewart. Reportedly, he needled Stewart by telling him that when the black man rises up, Stewart had better be rightfully frightened in his sleep. He may of course simply had been in character as Liberty Valance but such comments rankled Stewart and tickled both Strode and Ford.

Woody Strode (center) clearly enjoys seeing John Wayne (right) dumbfounded by Jimmy Stewart’s belt in the mouth in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Several years after Liberty Valance, Marvin and Strode appeared on screen again, this time in Richard Brooks’ underrated western adventure, The Professionals.

Lee Marvin discusses a scene with Burt Lancaster, writer/director Richard Brooks and Woody Strode on the Set of The Professionals.

It remains one of Marvin’s best films and should be required viewing by any fan. According to Woody Strode, it was Lee Marvin who managed to get Strode earlier screen time in the film. Again, all is explained in Lee Marvin Point Blank and is not said to deter from Burt Lancaster in any way. The man was only human and had his own foibles and insecurities as anybody else does. In fact, Strode explained to me why he only appeared in the outfit he wore in his opening scene, only in that opening scene. Want details? Gotta read the book.

Woody Strode as he appeared in the opening title sequence of The Professionals.

This may all sound far afield from the original intent of this blog entry but it actually does serve to make the point concerning Martin Luther King Day. King fought and died for civil rights as we all know and Marvin may not have done nearly as much but he did his part, getting his good friend unheard of billing in a period western. More to the point, as King famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  According to Woody Strode, Lee Marvin upheld that creed and became one of the few white friends Strode had in Hollywood. One of the last times Strode saw Lee Marvin was after his success in Europe’s popular ‘Spaghetti Westerns.” As he tells it:

I hadn’t seen Lee for about four years. I got a job in New Mexico called Gatling Gun (1972). By now, I got a Mercedes. The good life had touched me. I called Lee. I said, “Lee, I’m working in New Mexico and I’m coming to see you when I finished.” We finished the picture. I didn’t let him know I was driving a Mercedes. Well baby, it took a couple of days for us get there. I parked out in front of the house, I think in Tucson. I honked the horn. He come out saying, “Who the hell is honking that horn?” He come outside and I said, “Hello, you son-of-a-bitch.” He said “Woody!” I said, “You see what I’m driving?”I got to the fucking money, in a foreign country.” …..So, we had our little weekend. […] When I got there, a writer from Australia was doing an article on Lee Marvin. He saw our relationship and said, “You guys are like brothers.” I been in Europe almost four years and he ain’t seen me in years. I’m in a Mercedes, got a little bank account. It made him feel good.”

As was said, they were like brothers.
If that’s not a worthy story for Martin Luther King’s birthday, I don’t know what is.
-Dwayne Epstein

 

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SPRING CELEBRATION WITH A RARELY SEEN LEE MARVIN!

Since March 20th, was the first day of Spring (although you’d never know it by some of the weather across the country), I thought I’d add something appropriate for the time of the year, that naturally includes Lee Marvin.
As I’ve stated previously, I was extremely fortunate in my research for Lee Marvin Point Blank to be able to get Lee’s older brother, Robert, to open up to me. It wasn’t easy at first, as he had never done so before, but once he did, the results were incredible. I genuinely believe it’s one of the many encounters that has made the book a better portrait of the man than anything else that has been published about him before. Robert allowed me full and unfettered access, and whenever I found a new archival treasure, I brought it to him to get the story behind it. The overwheleming majority of these discoveries can be found in the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank as we sat for hours on end with him regaling me with amazing tales with a tape recorder between us. In fact, his wife Joan asked me at one point, “What are you and Robert talking about so much?” I answered truthfully, “Just his childhood and life with Lee.” She then paid me a wonderful compliment by stating, “I only asked because I have not heard Robert laugh so much in years!”

In Woodstock back in the mid-90s as Lee Marvin's brother Robert drives home a point to me during Sunday Brunc. I know it's Sunday as he's wearing a tie, as he said his mother always told him to do on Sundays.

In Woodstock back in the mid-90s, as Lee Marvin’s brother, Robert, drives home a point to me during Sunday brunch. I know it’s Sunday because he’s wearing a tie, as he said his mother always told him to do on Sundays.

One of the best parts was showing him pictures, such as the montage of photos shown below. To be present as he laughed or teared up over the long-forgotten images cannot be duplicated in words. I can, however, add the following transcript of our conversation…..

Dwayne: Was this Halloween, this shot of you and Lee and your mother?
Robert: That’s out in Jackson Heights. Look at the hat my mother is wearing. Isn’t that something? That was the way the girls dressed. That was the style and it looked pretty good, too. That was the Spanish Gardens Apts. It still exists too, I think.
D: Was that where you lived? (nods) Was that the name of the complex…
R: Yes it was.
D: Let me ask you a tough question. I’m assuming you were dressed for Halloween. What were you guys dressed up as? Do you recall?
R: I’d be a scarecrow…maybe its Thanksgiving. My brother’s dressed as, I suppose, a green pea, maybe. No, wait a minute! It was a Spring celebration at school so it must have been like March, or something like that.
D: School pageant kind of thing. Look at that chubby face on Lee.
R: And my dear mother. God.
D: Pretty cool, huh? You’re lucky you have this stuff. Some families don’t even have these.

Top pictures from the left: Young Lee Marvin (left) holds his mother Courtenay's hand along with older brother Robert (right). On the right, both Marvin brothers are smiling for their fathers camera. Bottom pictures: Lee's parents, Courtenay and Monte Marvin, smile in front of their Spanish Gardens apt. in Queens N.Y. On the right, a much happier Lee 'Green Bean' Marvin smiles for the camera.

Top pictures from the left: Young Lee Marvin (left) holds his mother Courtenay’s hand along with older brother Robert (right). On the right, both Marvin brothers are smiling for their fathers camera.
Bottom pictures: Lee’s parents, Courtenay and Monte Marvin, smile in front of their Spanish Gardens apt. in Queens N.Y. On the right, a much happier Lee ‘Green Bean’ Marvin smiles for the camera.

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HAPPY 92nd BIRTHDAY TO LEE MARVIN!

It was on on February 19, 1924, that Lee Marvin came into the world in New York’s Booth Memorial Hospital, which still exists, by the way. His very existence — described in a flowery letter by his mother in Lee Marvin Point Blank – was a result of the union of Virginia’s Courtenay Washington Davidge and Elmira New York’s Lamont Waltham Marvin. Their stormy relationshsip is also describedin the book via his mother’s letters to his father, seen below in their halycon dating days in the early 1920s (left) and then, later, during the Depression where they lived in Queens, New York (right)…

Lee's parents as young newlyweds (left) and later as parents of Robertt and Lee Marvin while living in Queens, N.Y.

Lee’s parents as young newlyweds (left) and later as parents of Robert and Lee Marvin while living in Queens, N.Y.

 

On the rooftop of their Manhattan apartment, baby Lee is seen perched on a pillow with his mother, smiling his tongue-wagging smile even as an infant, as he would do decades later in his film career….

Baby Lee with mother Courtenay photographed by Father Monte.

Baby Lee with mother Courtenay photographed by Father Monte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because Lee’s father, Monte, worked for Kodak in the 1920s, the Marvins were one of the few families at the time able to take such images as shown below, as his parents trade places to pose with baby Lee and his brother, Robert, older by 18 months….

The young Marvin family on the roof of their Manhattan apartment in the 1920s.

The young Marvin family on the roof of their Manhattan apartment in the 1920s.

The only known nude scene of Lee Marvin (right), shown here along with his brother, Robert (left), playing in the bucolic setting of Woodstock, New York. Beneath it is an image of curly-haired Lee as a toddler already assuming the stance and defiant curl of the lip he’d maintain in many film performances. Some things are just ingrained….

Lee Marvin (right) in his only known nude scene with brother Robert (right) and below, exploring the terrain of Woodstock, N.Y.

Above is Lee Marvin (right) in his only known nude scene with brother Robert (right) and below, exploring the terrain of Woodstock, N.Y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, as it his birthday, Lee is shown at another neigbor’s birthday party enjoying one of the party favors given to all the guests.

In this screen capture from his father's home movie, young Lee is shown aiming a toy gun at a friend's party just as he would as Liberty Valance, decades later.

In this screen capture from his father’s home movie, young Lee is shown aiming a toy gun at a friend’s party just as he would as Liberty Valance, decades later.

In total, just my own humble way of saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEE MARVIN! Anyone and everyone interested in discovering the details of his fascinating life can find them in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. Feel free to check it out, if you haven’t done so already. If you have, what better time then to give it another look? Stand it upright, hold a glass of your favorite beverage up high and salute the man who, for better or worse, created the modern American cinema of violence. Semper Fi, Mr. Marvin.

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