TCM’S “SUMMER UNDER THE STARS” SUBJECT: ANGIE DICKINSON ON LEE MARVIN

Of all the actors Lee Marvin worked with, he worked with one woman more than any other: Angie Dickinson. They first worked together on the TV show “M Squad” and then in The Killers (1964), Point Blank (1967), Death Hunt (1981) and several Bob Hope comedy specials. Their mutual chemistry on screen was palpable but circumstances and timing on each of their projects kept them from doing anything about it offscreen. However, on more than one occassion, it came frustratingly close, as documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Dickinson was one of the few truly important subjects I sought to interview for my book but in spite of her many public appearances, she is an intensely private person. At one point, she and I had both been interviewed for the A & E Biography of Lee and it was then that she finally relented. The show’s producer offered some foreshadowing when I was told Angie really had not said much that the show found useable.
She finally agreed to sit down with me in her southern California home. Polite, courteous and wonderfully acommodating, she nonetheless proved understandably reticent when it came to opening up about her frequent costar. Amazingly, she came up with a great idea. She left the room briefly and returned with the poster from The Killers and said, “Maybe this will jog my memory.” It did the trick. Memories came flooding forth and the day flew by as she remembered all the anecdotes of Lee that eventually went in the book. Most of what she had to say about Lee and her observations and experiences were quite impressive. Some of the few comments that did not make it in the book, follows the pictures from their three films together:

The original ad for THE KILLERS.

The original ad for THE KILLERS.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

Their final film together, Angie Dickinson found Lee Marvin to be much more curmudgeinly during the making of DEATH HUNT.

In their final film together, Angie Dickinson found Lee Marvin to be much more curmudgeonly during the making of DEATH HUNT.

“Lee was the personification of a man.. Ohhh!….He was more than good. You wanted to be good with him. You wanted to be good for him. …Sometimes, as an actor, a certain thing is expected of you, period. But there’s another time, there’s just something more you want to be. He did have a sadness about him. Sad, sad, sad. When people are sad, you want to make them not sad. For me at least, it just made me want to be better. I never analyzed it beyond that. It was just a natural instinct. Of course, the professional side of you, you want to look good in the presence of greatness…. With all of his courage and toughness, he was so shy. That sounds like a dichotomy but it’s not. You can be firm in what you believe in and be shy in how you go about it. He was certainly basically a shy man. He was shy about himself and strong and tough about his principles and therefore his acting.”

 

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THE LION IN WINTER: LEE MARVIN IN A COLDER CLIMATE

With the recent winter blast that has hit most of the country, I thought it a good time to bring up the subject of Lee Marvin’s take on wintery times. Dating back to his great uncle, Ross Marvin, who lost his life during the Peary expedition of the North Pole, the Marvins have had a quite a history with inclimate weather. Lee’s father, Monte, would regale his two sons with tales of their uncle’s noble adventures in the frozen north, but never told them Ross’s true fate. That tale was uncovered in Lee Marvin: Point Blank (pp. 13-14).

Lee Marvin's great uncle, Ross Marvin, pictured above in Arctic gear during the Peary Expedition.

Lee Marvin’s great uncle, Ross Marvin, pictured above in Arctic gear during the Peary Expedition.

Spending his childhood up and down the eastern seaboard, Lee Marvin was no stranger to brutal winters. In fact, after returning from his first Arctic expedition, his uncle Ross told a reporter that New York winters felt colder than the North Pole!
After WWII, Lee Marvin’s uncertainty of his future had him thinking about colder climates for a time. In a letter to his brother after the war Lee wrote, “My feet are getting itching again and I want to be on the move. Where I don’t know but just some place that I haven’t been before, like the Yukon or some other desolate place. I just want to strike out and do something constructive with myself….The main thing that I regret is that there is no longer any frontier to work on which is just my speed. Therefore I must conform to convention which I have a very deep-set distaste for.” (Lee Marvin: Point Blank, pp. 49-50).
Once he dedicated himself to becoming an actor, he discovered one of the perks was being able to do on film what he was unable to do in life. The majority of his films however, rarely took place in the winter until much later in life. Beginning with the disaster-plagued 1979 flm Avalanche Express…..

Lee Marvin, Linda Evans & Mike Connors in 1979's all-star dud, Avalanche Express.

Lee Marvin, Linda Evans & Mike Connors in 1979’s all-star dud, Avalanche Express.

 

Express was filmed throughout Eastern Europe but the beautiful locations nor the impressive special effects did not help the Cold War thriller. Lee had better luck the following year with Sam Fuller’s epic, The Big Red One. Several winter scenes, also shot in Eastern Europe, were trimmed before release but later restored in 2006…..

On location for The Big Red One's winter scenes.

On location for The Big Red One’s winter scenes.

 

Ironically, he once advised his friend Ralph O’Hara, “Avoid the scripts that says ‘As he put on his snow shoes…'” His very next film saw the older actor doing just that in 1981’s Death Hunt. Reteaming with previous costars Charles Bronson and Angie Dickinson, Marvin hoped to work again with director Robert Aldrich but the film was ultimately helmed by Peter Hunt.
Dickinson noted the older Marvin’s unpleasant demeanor during the Alberta, Canada shoot when she pointed out to Marvin the beautiful mountains. He growled, “”Yeah, I saw’em. I’ve been looking at’em for two months!”

Lee Marvin in 1981's Death Hunt, costarring Charles Bronson & Angie Dickinson, filmed in Canada.

Lee Marvin in 1981’s Death Hunt, costarring Charles Bronson & Angie Dickinson, filmed in Canada.

His last foray into chilly environs was 1983’s Gorky Park. Helsinki doubled for Moscow but the cold was still so chilly, Marvin spent the first few days rehearsing from a hospital bed when his ephysema became too much to bear.

As nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983's Gorky Park

As nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983’s Gorky Park.

Having fulfilled his youthful desire to trek through the Yukon, albeit on scree, Lee Marvin lived out the last decades of his life in the much more warmer climate of Tucson, Arizona. One wonders what he would have had to say about the recent blizzards as his wit and tenacity are both sorely missed.

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IN THE MATTER OF ROSS G. MARVIN

In doing interviews for the promotion of Lee Marvin Point Blank, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “What did you discover about Lee Marvin that you didn’t know before?” That is a simple question with a very lengthy answer, as researching the life of an individual is filled with revelations if you spend the amount of time delving as I did.
One of the earliest discoveries concerned a relative of Lee’s. His name was Ross G. Marvin and was Lee’s great uncle who helped to raise Lee’s father, Monte. He was a fascinating individual on many levels but the most obvious was the fact he sadly lost his life while still in his 20s. He did so being the only known fatality of Admiral Peary’s expedition in the race to the Pole.

The true story of Ross Marvin’s fate seems like something out of a Lee Marvin film, like Death Hunt (1981),but is told for the first time since it happened in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank as a a symbolic building block to Lee Marvin’s life. Below are images of young Ross Marvin as he prepared to leave with Peary in 1908 and aboard ship ready to leave for the unchartered north. Then, Ross Marvin’s headstone, followed by a newspaper clipping ten years later as a plaque is dedicated in his honor in the chapel of his alma mater, Cornell University.

Lee heard the tales of his great uncle’s adventures from his father and consequently became a lifelong admirer of such writers as Jack London and Robert Service. The truth, however, eluded Lee Marvin his entire life. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank discover the facts in the first chapter….

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