ROGER FRISTOE INTERVIEW WITH LEE MARVIN

Roger Fristoe, insightful freelancer for Turner Classic Movies (TCM) contacted me a while back when I had blogged about Raintree County. At the time I hadn’t known Roger very well but have since gotten to him better via Facebook. He had good things to say about Lee Marvin Point Blank so naturally, I had to get to know him better. Well, since this week is the anniversary of the opening of Raintree County, I asked him if he’d let me run the interview he did with Marvin back in 1986 for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY, and he agreed.
The opening before the piece is the e-mail response I’ve included here to give a little more interesting background to Marvin’s performance. Here then, in all its glory, is the interview with Lee Marvin conducted by Roger Fristoe on the making of Raintree County

Sunday magazine cover for Roger Fristoe’s piece on RAINTREE COUNTY for the Lexington Courier that included the sidebar interview with Lee Marvin.



“Hi Dwayne,
The Marvin piece was a sidebar to the main story and ran with it. I thought that gave it more prominence. Something that didn’t get into the piece…I told him that I loved his reading of his final line, “I’m from Raintree County!” He said it was an inspiration of the moment as they were shooting the scene that he added that element of surprise: how could this son of Raintree County come to this end??? ….. ” I may have told you that I wrote to all the surviving stars at the time of the story requesting phone interviews, and he was the only one who called. I was quite startled at work that day to pick up the phone and hear that booming voice: “Hey Roger, it’s Lee Marvin, what can I do for you?”

   Hope you enjoy — all the best, Roger Fristoe”
 
Lee Marvin Remembers
“Raintree County” – and Kentucky
“‘Raintree County was the last big film of its kind from MGM and, along with “Paint Your Wagon, my only exposure to that kind of spectacular production you associate with the old days. I thought it was a great book and a great film. But Civil War stories haven’t done well in years, except for those two ‘North and South series on TV. [According to Lee Marvin:}
“Everybody was in love with Elizabeth Taylor. Even today, when you see her, she just makes you want to smile all over. But she and Monty Clift were locked into a kind of privacy that I didn’t really share. I wasn’t really a noted actor at that time and have never been a leading man in the sense of people climbing all over you and tearing your clothes off. In Danville, I immediately mixed in with the locals with no problem.
“My memory now is not so much the film as those people who were so generous and so conducive to making us feel at home there in Kentucky. And, for God’s sake, this was a Yankee story! Now, Kentucky may have been a border state during the Civil War, but it leaned toward the South, right? I got a great kick out of the whole business of all those Rebs cast as extras and dressed in the blue uniforms of the Yankee army. I told ’em, “Look at it this way: this time you’re gonna win!”

(L-R) Lee Marvin and Montgomert Clift as ‘Bummers’ during the Civil War scene in RAINTREE COUNTY.

“You have an awful lot of time to kill between setups, and you’ve got to keep the juices flowing, so I spent a lot of time talking to the extras and helping them get into the spirit of the thing. When they marched by with a flag, I’d yell, “Don’t just wave it. Snap that flag! I’d get ’em going. And they were marvelous about it.
“My memories of the whole project are absolutely stunning. I kept my nose pretty clean, and the local people accepted me very well. They showed me great courtesy and made the location one of the most pleasant I’d ever worked on. It was amazing the things they did for us, the way they opened up their homes to us, the care they took of us. Everyone there was easygoing and accepting as long as you were genteel yourself.
“My mother is from Virginia, and she had brought me up to practice a certain kind of manners. When you do things in a cordial and acceptable manner, people respond in kind.” 

(L-R) Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, director Edward Dmytryk (standing), Elizabeth Taylor, Montgmery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Agnes Moorhead and Walter Abel.


– Dwayne Epstein
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BOB WILLOUGHBY ON LEE MARVIN & RAINTREE COUNTY

Bob Willoughby (1927-2009), famed unit photographer of many classic Hollywood production and magazine covers, also worked on Raintree County, MGM’s failed attempt to recapture the magic of Gone With the Wind, which premiered on this day in 1957.

Lee Marvin (left) and RAINTREE COUNTY costar Montgomery Clift (right) as photographed onset by Bob WIlloughby.

I was fortunate enough to interview several of the important contributors to the film for Lee Marvin Point Blank, including director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter Millard Kaufman, and costar Rod Taylor, all of whom told me wonderful anecdotes about the film and Lee Marvin. I have also written about it here on this blog utilizing several unused quotes and images.
However, this being the anniversary of its release, I recently came across an interesting little quote from Bob Willoughby about his opinion of Lee Marvin while working on the film. The quote is from his 2001 photographic autobiography Hollywood: A Journey Through the Stars, in which tells fascinating tales about his life, work and influence. His coffee table book The Platinum Years is also highly recommended.

RAINTREE COUNTY COSTARS Elizabeth Taylor (left) and Eva Marie Saint (right) turn the tables on photographer bob Willoughby (center).

In the text of Hollywood, he wrote the following concerning Lee Marvin: “Lee Marvin was one of the most unforgettable actors I’ve ever encountered. He seemed to have the energy of two or even three people, an inexhaustible life force. It’s hard to believe that he’s now gone. To give you an example, many years later, Lee got into an elevator at Saks with my wife Dorothy and me. He went two floors, patted me on the back, waved goodbye and the doors closed, leaving us alone. Dorothy said she was so glad he was gone, which I didn’t understand, until she told me that she felt he had up all the of the air in the elevator. That was Lee. He was a fine actor, told outrageous jokes and I liked him very much!”
– Dwayne Epstein

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RAINTREE COUNTY: RARE PIX AND QUOTES

Since TCM  will be airing Raintree County this weekend, it proved to be a perfect opportunity to post some rare images and quotes concerning the mammoth 1957 Civil War era production, but with a distinct emphasis on Lee Marvin’s contribution to it.

Based on the popular novel by Ross Lockridge, Jr., Raintree County was another one of the films Marvin thought would bring him wider recognition, especially since he knew his performance was a standout. Unfortunately, the film’s failure made Marvin’s breakout status take a few more years. Cast as Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins — The Fastest Man in Raintree County — Marvin practically stole the film as the brash, small-town braggart who matures into a war-hardened veteran.

Whenever Marvin would begin a role, he spent an inordinate amount of time just sitting and thinking about his character. Below, with his hair dyed red for the film, Marvin is shown doing just that on the porch of his California beach house….

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Still photographer Bob Willioughby was onset to capture the film’s production, such as this image of Marvin & co-star Montgomery Clift (pre-car accident) waiting on a soundstage to shoot the saloon scene….

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The film also had many locations throughout the southern United States and location shooting meant curious onlookers. When one such young lady brought her dog to watch the shooting, Marvin reacted reacted as expected…

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Bob Willoughby also was there when the filming included this action-packed scene of Marvin (far right) capturing a Confederate officer played by future Star Trek stalwart DeForest Kelley (left, in uniform). The Willoughby images were part of his 1974 coffee table book, The Platinum Years, and is highly recommended….

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As previously stated, Marvin’s portrayal of ‘Flash’ Perkins goes through a remarkable transformation during the course of the film as he weaves in and out of story. When first seen, he is brash and bold as a 19th century dandy…..

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Later in the film, he is a renegade Union soldier, a ‘Bummer’ whose expression goes a long to explain the character’s growth…..

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During the lengthy research of Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was extremely fortunate to  interview many of the important people involved in making Raintree County, including director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter Millard Kaufman, costar Rod Taylor, and Terry Swindol, a Danville Kentucky resident who witnessed the filming. All of what they related to me went into the book, but a few choice tidbits remained unused for various reasons. What follows are several such anecdotes all concerning Lee Marvin:
Rod Taylor
The thing you had to appreciate about him was his sense of humor. He had a great sense of humor but it could be very caustic because it was based on total honesty. I used to work over at Revue and I would see him there because he did the show, what was it “M-Squad”? Revue became Four Star when David Niven built it. That’s where I made The Time Machine. There was a story you may have heard because it’s been around so long. Somebody, I think it was a casting director asked Lee Marvin, “What have you done lately?,” and Marvin responded immediately, “About what?” (laughs) That’s the kind of sense of humor he had.

Millard Kaufman
He was extremely helpful. Let me tell you about one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on screen that was all Lee. There’s a scene in the picture…First of all, I think it was not a very good picture. The casting was great. The direction was terrible and my script wasn’t very good. My script wasn’t very good because I fell in love with the book. It went over a 1,000 pages. I had too much of it in there. I did not follow what Somerset Maugham said: “Find your theme and stick to it it like grim death.” I went off in all directions. I had found grim death. Anyway…Well, one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on screen is in that picture. There’s a scene of a foot race. Monty could not run ten feet without stumbling over his feet. He was so awkward and so uncoordinated most of the time. He used this sort of things on screen, the way he would weave and fool around. He looked like he was almost autistic at times. But, it worked for him. He was sympathetic and charming, in his own way. This time, which called for sheer athleticism…nothing! Lee faked running in such a way that made Monty not only win the race, but look good doing it. That was all Lee. You say in any sport you can’t teach speed. Well, it’s even harder tot teach someone slowing up, which is somehow what Lee did. There was no slow motion or anything. It was brilliant. It looked like a hell of a race….[Lee] had this tremendous lust for life which made him kind of larger than life, and I think that spilled over into everything he did. You got a feeling that this was a very big and powerful and important person, as an actor and a man.

Terry Swindol
All the people who met Lee Marvin said he was really “down to earth.” Apparently, he was one of those people who never met a stranger. A story I especially like tells that somewhere in Danville, Kentucky today is a coffee table with a chip off the corner. It has stayed in this home with the same family since Lee Marvin visited the home during the making of Raintree County. After dinner, he was acting out a story about a play he had done and his boot caught the coffee table and broke off the corner. He was so apologetic and told the family to buy a new coffee table and send him the bill. They never did, and they refuse to get rid of the broken one because of the pleasant memory of Marvin in their home.

Betty Marvin [Lee’s first wife, whose former employer had been Joan Crawford]
At the the premiere, Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderful style, looks right through me. Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on…She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. She calls the next day. Talks right through me. “Is Lee there? Why don’t you come in. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.” He said, “Okay.” He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable. What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, “How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?” He said, “Oh, hardly.” I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, “Well?” He said, “Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.” (laughs) Once again, you know? He was like, “Give me a break.” Oh, she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage. It was just interesting.

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