REMEMBERING LEE MARVIN’S BUDDY, STUNTMAN TONY EPPER

This past October 2nd marked the birthday of legendary stuntman/actor, Tony Epper. Part of a family dynasty of stunt performers, Epper’s career included doubling for Burt Lancaster throughout Lancaster’s career and appearances in some of the most famous films & TV shows of all time….

A rare p.r. still of Tony Epper early n his career.

A rare p.r. still of Tony Epper early n his career.

Tony’s important contribution to film history has included some of the most impressive stunts ever performed, such as the tumble off the canyon wall during the gunfight scene n The Professionals. He also worked as an an actor, but ironically, it was sometimes under tons of make-up, as in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy…..

Under mounds of make-up is Tony Epper as Steve the Tramp in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy.

Under mounds of make-up is Tony Epper as Steve the Tramp in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy.

Or, as shown below, his last role as a drunken Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Epper as a drunken Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Epper as a drunken Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Tony succumbed to cancer in 2012 but in another October, back in 1994, I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend the day with him talking about one of his favorite subjects, his friend Lee Marvin.

Tony Epper as he looked around the time of our 1994 interview, minus the beard he had grown at the time.

Tony Epper as he looked around the time of our 1994 interview, minus the beard he had grown at the time.

The stories he told were ribald, fun, poignant, and insightful. The most impressive of which are between the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank and must be read to believed, such as the real events behind the famous Vegas Vic sign (!) In honor of the legendary stuntman, here’s an excerpted anecdote from our interview together that did not make the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. It took place in the quiet little of town of Baker, Oregon where Paint Your Wagon was filmed. Epper recalled the rented house the more rambunctious members of the crew stayed in and what happened when they tried to get Lee Marvin to the set:

“I remember times Tommy Shaw calling. I could always get Lee because I never get that drunk. I was never that kind of guy where I lost control, where Lee would. They had to shoot that day something very important. They had it backed up. They had 10 million dollars in Paint Your Wagon. See Tommy Shaw was prod. mgr. & Frank Orsatti was a fellow stuntman. Anyway, they called that they can’t find Lee. Frank & I had been up all night because we knew we didn’t have to work that day. This was about 6:00 am. I knew right where Lee was.
Anyway, we were hungover so we took a big ol’ slug. Me and ol’ Frank went down to find him. I remember all these hippies had come to town. Lee, he just loved that because he had an audience. If Lee had an audience, oh boy! I remember coming down there. We ran down the street knocking hippies off the sidewalk. We were such rednecks, let’s face it. All of us were in those days. Knocking these guys off the street, you’re not hurting anybody bad. We just bulled our way through in a big old black Cadillac sedan. We were Just pissed off because we had to get Lee. We didn’t get any sleep. Me and Frank had been up all night partying. We went anyway, got in a fight and god almighty…..
Anyway, Lee escapes out the back door. He goes and jumps over the goddamn fence.. He wasn’t hung over. Shit, he was still bombed! He hadn’t been to bed yet. He didn’t want to go to work. He didn’t want to get caught. Anyway, he knew we were after him. So, I knew, we looked through town so I said, “Aw, bullshit. Fuck him. We’re going back. I’m tired.” We had a hard night and the girls were still in the house. Anyway, we go back, open the door, and there’s Lee sitting in my chair. He knew we’d catch him sooner or later so he just ran around the damn neighborhood — it was about four or five blocks.  Doubled back and came back to the house [Mimes Marvin in chair]. With a big bottle of gin in his hand. You couldn’t help but laugh at him. He had the goofiest look on his face.
Shaw was downstairs and we said, “He won’t work today. You better figure out something to shoot around him because he ain’t going to do it.” So, Shaw said, “Put him in a car and let’s get him out there.” I said, “All right.” Anyway, they came and got him. I wouldn’t go. So, Lee goes out to the set. I guess he was going out and he threw up out the window. I mean, the window was up. The guys that were there, stopped, took him around and took him home. I really don’t want to talk about that [I laugh]. He’d done that more than once.
What was funny about the story, though, after all us going and getting him — how picture companies can get away shit in those days. The Chief of Police called us on the phone. He said, “Mr. Epper and Mr. Orsatti? We understand you were in town riding your car through the sidewalks, running people off the sidewalk. You went in and got in a fight in bar with all the people…” He couldn’t say hippies. He said, “You’re under arrest. Would you guys come down to jail at your convenience?” I swear to god, “At your convenience.”

Using an infrared lens, still photographer Bob WIlloughby captures Lee Marvin during the filming of Paint Your Wagon. Probably the way he looked to Epper at the time.

Using an infrared lens, still photographer Bob WIlloughby captures Lee Marvin during the filming of Paint Your Wagon. Probably the way he looked to Epper at the time.

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