ADVENTURES IN AUTHORING: ANSWERING NEGATIVE CRITICISM

A while back I was having dinner with my publisher, Tim Schaffner, when the subject of negative criticism of Lee Marvin Point Blank came up.
Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of reviews of the book have been largely positive and for that I am eternally grateful.

Paperback back cover of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK (designed by Jake Kiehle) highlighting some of the reviews.

However, the handful of negative criticism still stick in one’s craw. I can chuckle at it now but at the time, you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be pummeled over something the critic claims authority over, yet in reality, knows nothing about….and then blames me!
What had bothered Tim was a review that not only raked the book over the coals, but also tore into what the reviewer thought was the awful editing of the book. Why did that bother Tim so much? He just happened to have been the editor! I told him I had read some other negatives too, but he emphasized to me in no uncertain terms that no matter how tempting it is: DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND. His point being that iit gives them a platform, brings you down to their level, and might even effect sales negatively in the long run if the review is believed.
He was right of course, but seeing as how this is my blog, to help support and supplement my book, run for cover if you are so inclined as I’m-a gonna fire back, once and for all. As James Dean said to Rock Hudson in Giant: “And there ain’t a dang thing you can do about it!”
Okay, Since I had told Tim I wouldn’t respond in kind, and to keep myself as honest as possible, I’ll just focus on two such reviews and I won’t be citing the source of the criticism. I’ll merely quote the inane comment anonymously and then show how frustratingly wrong they can be. Ready? I’ll start with the one that pissed off Tim so much. Here goes….

… Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank isn’t anything close to definitive. A sloppily edited assemblage of interviews, it’s first-draft oral history in which readers with considerable patience can find Epstein issues several medical diagnoses derived from his own conclusions….Marvin fans who can get through all the throat-clearing tedium will find similar quotable bits in these underedited pages.

Heh, heh. Can you see why Tim, the book, editor got so pissed? No proof to back up their claim, no alternative response, not even an example of my ‘throat-clearing tedium,’ other than one sentence in which the quote is taken completely out of context. I hope the idiotic reviewer got paid well for his online rant because he may have kept a lot of well-meaning movie geeks from reading my book and discovering Lee Marvin for themselves. Sadly, it’s their loss.
And now, my personal favorite. There’s the one from a respected and long-in-the-tooth film journal that went to town on my facts. Strange scenario involved as well because the reviewer sent me the review and apologized as it was a last minute assignment for him, thus hinting that he may not have read the whole thing. Like a bonehead, I thanked him for his effort without reading the review first. Still kicking myself over that one. Here’s part of what bugged me….

Epstein does tell of Marvin—during the filming of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), his last great role—taking the stage at a Roman-built amphitheater in Israel to recite a soliloquy from King Lear. That event is as surprising to the reader as it must have been to Marvin’s costars, as there’s no other mention in the book of Marvin having an affinity or aptitude for William Shakespeare or classical drama.

Hmm, do you think he may have missed the section in which Lee studied the classics at the American Theatre Wing (ATW)? Possibly. Then again, he probably also missed this image in the photo section (laid out by graphic artist Jake Kiehle), as well…..

Lee Marvin in LM:PB’s photo section shown in Shakespearean garb while attending the ATW.

I swear to you folks, try as you might, you just can’t make these things up!
Okay, enough ranting. Don’t go by my word as to the book’s value. Certainly don’t go by the word of an online movie geek or pompous film journalist, either. By all means, judge for yourself. Read the book. Find out about Lee Marvin. Rent or download some of his films. Then, do something revolutionary these days: make up your OWN mind.
– Dwayne Epstein

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OTHER SOURCES: JAMES GARNER ON LEE MARVIN

James Garner wrote about Lee Marvin in his 2011 memoir The Garner Files.  Since they never worked together, I never thought to use it as a source for Lee Marvin: Point Blank. However, once I read Garner’s book, I figure his take on Marvin deserves to be recounted here.

The cover of James Garner’s 2011 memoir, THE GARNER FILES.

It’s interesting to note that the TV & movie star belies his easy going charm as his experiences but mostly his point of view are both anything but easygoing. A better word to describe what he writes would be curmudgeonly. Not surprisingly, his cowriter, Jon Winokur, is the author of The Portable Curmudgeon. I get the feeling that Garner sought Winokur out based most likely on that fact. Don’t get me wrong, the book is a great read, mostly for just that reason. His take on his life, work, costars, the culture and society-at-large is a lot of fun. Brett Maverick or Jim Rockford he is not. Well, maybe a little. One minor correction to his comments below. To make his point, he states Lee Marvin’s salary went up to a million dollars a picture after Cat Ballou and he worked less because of it. Not true. Marvin first got a million for Paint Your Wagon and as most fans know he worked a lot after his Oscar winning role. Well, Garner certainly has a right to his opinion and I am a fan of some of his work. It’s just that the facts don’t support his point of view. No matter.
As to his main point about Marvin, of that, I guess he should be taken on his word as others have recounted similar encounters as stated in my book….

“In Hollywood you have to ‘defend you quote’ — keep your fee as high as possible and never accept less. Lee Marvin raised his quote to a million dollars a picture after he won an Oscar for Cat Ballou and had trouble getting parts.
“I never worked with Lee, but I thought that as an actor he was very colorful. As a guy, he was a pain in the ass. He just didn’t care. He was a and drinker. One night in a limousine on our way to a function, he made moves on my wife. That’s a little more than I can handle  and almost decked him.

Garner and his wife, Lois, probably around the time Garner wrote about his encounter with Lee Marvin.

“Anyway, Lee wanted to work but couldn’t take a salary cut. I didn’t want to fall into that trap, so I never let my quote get too high. Actors are paid more than they’re worth anyway.  Producers are idiots for paying the ridiculous prices we ask. We make so much money, the majority of pictures never make a profit. I think movies would be a lot better if more actors waived heir big salaries in order to do worthwhile pictures.
“I don’t think actors today are well served by their agents and managers, who aren’t as good as they used to be. They just want their 10 percent and let their clients do things they shouldn’t. They have one hit and three flops and their careers are over.”

Lee Marvin approximately around the time James Garner knew him.

Oh and for what it’s worth, Garner didn’t like Charles Bronson, either.
– Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN & THE LADIES: ROMANCE?

The allegations against Harvey Weinstein are far from being considered a ‘romance’ but what is it called if flirtations or mutual feelings develop between costars? For Lee Marvin, who only had true romantic leads opposite female costars in only a handful films, the known results of a possible romance are three, based on my research. Of course, there may even be more as Marvin knew the meaning of discretion. As Betty Marvin told me, he was known to have fallen off the fidelity during their marriage but it was never anything one would consider a romance.
Who were the known three? Well, Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know with as much details as I was able to get.

Co-star Barbara Luna at the time she appeared in SHIP OF FOOLS.

Prior to my research, most Lee Marvin fans only knew the version of how he an Michele Triola met on the set of Ship of Fools based on what she told the media leading up to the palimony suit. The truth, however, as witnessed by such participants as Barbara Luna and friend Ralph O’Hara, is VERY different and exclusively documented in my research.

Lee and Michelle shortly after they began dating during SHIP OF FOOLS.

Then of course there’s the amazing Angie Dickinson. I was extremely fortunate enough to spend the day with her during my research and the results were fascinating. She worked with Lee more than any other actress, and to my mind, that was no accident (M Squad, The Killers, Point Blank, Death Hunt, and several Bob Hope TV specials).

Lee and Angie in THE KILLERS, their first film together.

I can’t really add anything here to what I already wrote in the book, other than the surprising results of an interview I considered a holy grail and was forewarned about by the A&E Biography producers. It was how I finally met her in-person and was told she wasn’t very forthcoming for their purposes. Naturally, that made me a little reticent when I finally sat down with here, especially since I wasn’t sure if there were aspects about her life & career that may put her off, such as the JFK assassination that happened just prior to The Killers. Believe it or not, she did indeed open up about that period, at least to the extent that it had to do with the project and Lee. Everything that she told me went in the book, or later, posted here in a previous blog entry. The only thing I can add is what Christopher Marvin told me off-the-record that I can now post here. He volunteered the following encapsulation: “Angie and my dad…WOW!” He didn’t elaborate of course, but truth be told, I  didn’t think he had to.
Lastly, there was a costar who proved to be not only Lee Marvin’s one true moment of onscreen romance, but even more so offscreen. Marvin went out of his way to get the actress to agree to costar with him and when she relented after he came to Paris, the results were true sparks in front of and behind the camera…

Contact sheet images of Jeanne Moreau and Lee Marvin while making MONTE WALSH.

The images from onset candid photographs included here tell the story better than any words can possibly convey. The look on Lee’s face as he talks to her, the way she brushes  his hair back, even the fact that they are completely oblivious to director William Fraker walking behind them, says volumes.

Jeanne Moreau brushes Marvin’s hair back while they speak.

MONTE WALSH director William Fraker walks behind Marvin & Moreau completely unobserved.

Costars such as Mitch Ryan and others were aware of the chemistry between the two stars, as were some of Marvin’s closest confidantes. In fact, when Marvin surprised his associates by announcing his marriage to Woodstock’s Pam Feeley after the film wrapped, the biggest surprised was that it wasn’t Moreau. According to Mitch Ryan, they actually discussed it but as Ryan said, Marvin didn’t want to move to Paris: “Can you see me living in Paris?” he told him.
Since Moreau proved to be his most romantic leading lady onscreen, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film, it does make you wonder: What would have happened if he had more romance onscreen than gunplay? Sadly, we’ll never ever know.
– Dwayne Epstein

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