In March of 1962 Lee Marvin became involved with one of the most offbeat yet personally rewarding projects of his career. At the request of clinical pyschiatrist Dr. Harry Willner, the actor advised and oversaw a production of “People Need People,” perfomed entirely by San Quentin prisoners!
As described in Lee Marvin: Point Blank, Willner and Marvin struck up a friendship when the original show was in production a few months before. The show was the debut production of the short-lived anthology “Alcoa Premiere” and was based on the actual case histories of Willner’s work. Willner was a pioneer in the treatment of combat veterans via the then unheard use of group therapy. The stellar cast of the original show included Arthur Kennedy as Willner as well as James Gregory, Marion Ross, Paul Sand, Bert Remsen, Joey Forman and Keir Dullea. The standout, of course, was Lee Marvin as Sgt. Hughes, the most violent and hardcase member of the new group. It would be one of the few times the actor played a Marine on screen and the only time he would win an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Orignal ad from TV Guide the night People Need People aired in 1962.
When Willner later approached Marvin about the San Quentin production, he jumped at the chance. What he was slightly more reluctant about was any publicity surrounding the prison show. A gold mine of free p.r., Marvin preferred to downplay the show and his involvement in it for the most obvious reasons: He did it because he believed in it, not from any positive buzz he could generate from it.
The sole publicity the actor agreed to was a short radio piece done by popular L.A. correspondent, Ralph Story. Story was given exclusive access to the rehearsal process and filed the following story. The pages seen below are Ralph Story’s own original copy (with a few of his own handwritten changes) that were broadcast over CBS Radio more than 50 years ago. Read, enjoy, and know this was something Marvin and everyone invovled did NOT do for the money….
It doesn’t seem possible but on this day in 1987, Lee Marvin passed away at the premature age of 63. I’m often asked if I ever met him but since I began the project in 1994 I missed out on that possibility by a number of years. Writing about the end of life and his final days proved quite a challenge, as one would imagine. Luckily, I was able to speak with seveal people close to the actor at the end of his life, incldudng son Christopher, good friend Ralh O’Hara and Marvin’s Monte Walsh co-star, Mitch Ryan who visited Marvin in the hopsital the day he died. The end result was a different, detailed, and largely overlooked version of his passing then what was reported in the media at the time. Lee Marvin Point Blank’sfirsthand account of the actor’s death differs from say, the article below, published in the now defunct L.A. Herald-Examiner in both major and minor ways…
Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blankmay have noticed some minor discrepancies in the above obituary, such as the fact that Marvin never had to pay any nominal fee to Michele Triola or that his sciatic nerve was not severed from the wound he sustained on Saipan. These are of course minor comapred to the write-up done in People Magazine a week or two later. Once again, readers will not the differences….
The tabloid-style periodical meant well but it is not known for its accuracy.
Perhaps the best way to remember the actor at the time of his passing was what he said of himself. Marvin became good friends with Dr. Harry Willner when the actor gave his Emmy-nominated performance in People Need People, based on Willner’s pioneering research with group therapy on injured veterans. Willner invited Marvin to his symposium of experts on the existence of evil. The actor was flattered and did give a brief statement at the event. As Willner writes in the intro to his book on the subject, Facing Evil, Marvin was scheduled to return, but alas, his passing made that impossible. Below is the dedication to Facing Evil…..
Lee Marvin as Ira Hayes in the dramatic TV special, “The American.”
Ironically, Lee Marvin never portrayed a Marine in any of the films he made but he did on TV, twice, and within a year of each other. Both times he gave what was arguably his best performances as tormented members of the USMC.
On the short-lived anthology show “Breck’s Sunday Night Showcase” he played real-life Pima Indian and WWII hero Ira Hayes in the episode entitled, “The American,” directed by John Frankenheimer as shown above. Marvin’s performance was poignant, subdued and powerful. Later the same year (1960), Tony Curtis played Hayes in the film The Outsider which Frankenheimer hated.
The following year Marvin played a psychologically disturbed Marine entering into a facility to join an experimental group therapy project in a special entitled, “People Need People.” The show was based on fact, with Arthur Kennedy playing real-life doctor Harry Willner, whom Marvin would later befriend and do an amazing thing with as described in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
The TV epsiode had an impressive ensemble, including James Gregory, Kier Dullea, Paul Sand, Jocelyn Brando, Marion Ross and Bert Remsen. The show’s on-air host, Fred Astaire, was reportedly so shaken by Marvin’s performance, it took him all day to shoot his introduction in what normally would have taken no more than an hour. Marvin received his only Emmy nomination for his performance.