THE URBAN LEGENDS OF LEE MARVIN

Urban legends have a way of never fading into permanent obscurity no matter how great the effort is to exterminate them. You all know the ones: The faked moon landing, the origins of AIDS, the scuba diver scooped up by the water helicopters and then burned when dumped in a wildfire. My personal favorite has to do with Neil Armstrong and what he may have actually said when he stepped on the moon’s surface, but that, as they say, is another story.
Believe it or not, there are actually several such urban legends with Lee Marvin as the central focus.  Google the following words or phrases and you’ll see what I mean:
– Lee Marvin’s life was saved in WWII by Bob “Captian Kangaroo” Keeshan.

Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo (L) and Lee Marvin probably never even met, despite urban legends to the contrary.

– James Coburn is Lee Marvin’s brother.
– Marvin had his sciatic nerve severed when wounded on Saipan which earned him the Navy Cross.

Within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, readers will not find any reference to these myths, for the simple reason that they are not true. Simply denying them is not enough for some folks, which I guess is the reason the website Snopes came into existence. One of the things that keep such rumors alive (or at least believable) is the amount of details they are given to make them seem true. I can’t tell you the amount of people I’ve heard say to me, “I know it’s true about Captain Kangaroo because I saw Marvin tell it on Johnny Carson.” As they say, the devil is in the details.
As for James Coburn, well there is indeed a certain resemblance, but that’s as far as it goes. Lee Marvin did have a brother, though, Robert, who bore no resemblance to James Coburn.

Lee Marvin & James Coburn looking brotherly on an episode of M SQUAD.

(L-R) Actors Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Katy Jurado and director Sam Peckinpah enjoying themselves in the late 70s.

I remember once many years ago being in the great memorabilia shop, Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, when I overheard an argument about the very same subject. The owner walked over to me to settle it, calling me the resident Lee Marvin expert. A simple shake of my head may have lost somebody a very big bet.
As to Marvin’s war wound, that’s harder to disprove as Wikipedia and elsewhere still repeat it. I’ve seen his service record which includes a medical report. His sciatic nerve was NOT severed and he did NOT win the Navy Cross. Purple Heart, yes, but not the Navy Cross.
I’m sure such urban legends will continue no matter how great the effort is to squelch them. Instead of wondering whether they’re true or not, I have a better idea. Read Lee Marvin Point Blank. The real story of Lee Marvin is infinitely better than any urban legend.
– Dwayne Epstein

Urban legends aside, in LEE MARVIN POINT TBLANK yours truly DOES  write about these two miscreants and get the inside scoop on their “related” lineage to Lee Marvin.

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ROYCE EPSTEIN, ON THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF HER PASSING

Royce Epstein, my mother, passed away exactly ten years ago as of September 18th of this year. A lot has happened in those ten years that I wish she could have lived to see. Her first granddaughter, Natalie, graduated from Cal Tech, went on to Cornell, married a great guy and is living her dream as a research scientist. Her other granddaughter, spunky little Danielle, also graduated with honors, works in a phenomenal occupation and is engaged to a future U.S. Army officer.

My niece, Natalie (left), my mom (center) and Natalie’s sister Danielle at Natatalie’s Cal Tech graduation.

My sister, Belinda, Natalie & Danielle’s mother, has successfully retired from the phone company and is spending her retirement volunteering for various causes for which my mother would have been very proud. My other sister, Fern, is a surgery R.N. specially trained in robotics and is looking forward to retirement soon. Not bad for a family of transplanted Coney Islanders.
As for me, my mother missed out on the one accomplishment she would have also been extremely proud of but was also partly responsible for….

How was she was responsible? My love of movies came directly from her, and although she wasn’t much of a Lee Marvin fan, she knew and appreciated his work, which is why she would have been proud to see Lee Marvin Point Blank published, let alone make the NY Times Bestseller list.

Naturally, I miss her dearly but she was a difficult person to get along with a lot of times. As a cousin of mine said when my mom came up in conversation, “Your mother, Royce Epstein, was a force of nature.” I considered that an apt description.
There were good and bad times in dealing with my mom but now that she’s been gone for a decade, I like to remember the good times. My favorite childhood memory of her was watching old movies together. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night by her if a classic she always wanted me to see was on the Late Show, or if a cherished favorite was being repeated. When I reached adulthood, and went to the movies with friends, I’d get home late at night and she’d ask me to tell her all about what I had seen. Usually, is was a classic playing in downtown L.A. somewhere and I’d spend the next hour or so telling her all about it. She made me, like herself, a lifelong movie fan. For that reason, more than probably anything else, I am most grateful to her. I do regret that she, nor my dad, lived long enough to see my book published. I like to think of it in terms of the last few lines Bruce Springsteen wrote in a song about his mom called “The Wish.”  This is for you, ma…

“And if it’s a funny old world, ma,
where a little boy’s wishes come true.
Well I got a few in my pocket and a special one just for you.”

– Dwayne Epstein

Some time in the 1980s, my mother and I in our family room doing what we did best, watching old movies.

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ERNEST BORGNINE: THE ELUSIVE INTERVIEW

When I began Lee Marvin Point Blank, I had a handful of people I wanted to interview that I considered holy grails: Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Jack Palance and Ernest Borgnine. Well, I got two out of four to go on the record and the other two I came excrutuatingly close to getting an interview on he record. Why these individuals? Well, each of them worked with Marvin several times throughout their respect careers, making their insight quite valuable to my work.
I was fortunate enough to get a brief interview with Jack Palance when he read some of his poetry at an event here in Long Beach. He was wonderfully theatrical in his own way and that which he was willing tell me about Lee Marvin (especially about Monte Walsh) definitely went into the book. The restaurant story is one of my favorites.

Video grab: Clowning around on location with costar Jack Palance during THE MAKING OF MONTE WALSH.

I met Angie Dickinson (finally!) during a taping of the A&E Biography episode on Lee for which we were both interviewed. The stars were aligned that day as the very private star relented, allowing me to spend the day at her house just reminiscing about her projects with Lee Marvin.

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

The A&E producers had told me they didn’t get much out of Angie for the show, so I was quite pleased with what she had gone on the record about with me.

And then came Bronson. The closest I got to the extremely reclusive star was when I had dinner at a friend’s house who lived literally across the street from Bronson. Former publicist and renowned biographer, Peter Levinson, invited myself and Sam and Christa Fuller to dinner one rainy night and conversationally, he mentioned that Bronson was his neighbor across the street.

Bronson & Marvin on the set of their last film together, DEATH HUNT.

I spent a good part of the evening staring out the front window and trying to figure out how to approach him but, alas, it was not to be. I’m just happy to say I got that close, though.

And what, prey tell, became of Ernest Borgnine, the actually subject of this blog? Well, that was the most frustrating of all. From the earliest point in my research I tried to make contact with him but with little to no luck.

Lee Marvin (left), looking like a wax museum figure from the Hollywood Museum gets his orders from General Ernest Borgnine in the lackluster DIRTY DOZEN sequel.

His agent at the time, a gentlemen named Harry Flynn, tried in vain to get Mr. Borgnine to talk to me but he kept telling me that Borgnine was too emotional when it came to talking about Lee Marvin. Keep it mind, this was before the advent of social media so periodic attempts at contact were snail mail, fax and e-mail. Flynn kept telling me he was working on Ernie and told me when to check back, which of course, I did. That is until……

The cover of Borgnine’s 2008 autobiography.

Apparently, the truth was Ernst Borgnine was saving up his own stories about Marvin for his own autobiography which of course, is his right. What insight into Marvin was there from his frequent costar’s memoirs? Luckily, not much.

I enjoyed the book, actually, but that which dealt with Marvin was what I had already gleaned. So, with that in mind, save your time and read Lee Marvin Point Blank as Borgnine’s anecdotes are all in there….and so much more!
-Dwayne Epstein

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