Lee Marvin’s father, Monte Marvin, passed away April 6, 1971 and to say the two men had a complicated relationship is indeed an understatement. Lee both idolized and resented his father through the years as the the two of them grappled with first Lee’s tumultuous childhood and later, his adventurous aduldhood.
One example is the way in which both men remembered Lee’s childhood. In 1965, Lee had this to say about it: “I was a misunderstood child. I got kicked out of 15 prep schools all over the East — mostly for smoking. One of them was a Quaker school and I got booted there for throwing a guy out of a second story window. It didn’t hurt him much.”
Countering that statement, Monte told an interviewer in 1970 that his son was: “Wild, harmless, innocent but a crazy kid. But there was never a period of misunderstanding. I wouldn’t say that he understood me but I understood him. I used to take him fishing. He was thrown out of not — not 15 schools, but let’s say six schools. What a kid. I just had to put him someplace…I put him in Admiral Farragut [Naval Academy]. Shelled out $600 for uniforms, he was there two weeks and Admiral Robson said, ‘Take him away, take him away.’”
Lee’s good friend from Woodstock, David Ballantine, witnessed the relationship firsthand and noted: “One thing I recall Lee said about Monty was that he said, ‘Someone may go in and they may sit in a bar. They will make shit for everyone sitting in the bar and they’ll come to Monty and they’ll pass him by and walk around him and start in on the other side.’ Monty was pretty tough. Monty was in the First World War. Went back in the Second World War. Was offered a commission. Wouldn’t take it. Enlisted as a private. Got into an AA battery and went overseas. So Monty, you can see where somewhat of the non-Douglas Fairbanks form of swashbuckling came from. …I don’t think Monty was..like many men of his generation he was not a dad type. He had not read Dr. Spock. He had not bonded with his children. …There was a dignity about him and it may have been hard for their children to take because some are made to be the pals to their children and the children are pretty much doing what they want to do and sometimes ending up very badly. This did not mean some people didn’t end badly who had serious parents in the past. Of a generation different than the themselves rather than the parents trying to be the same generation of the children, which makes for confusion on everybody’s part.”
Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank are quite familiar with Lee and Monte’s moments of both bonding in conflict. At the end of Monte’s life, they had a grown closer but were still unable to communicate their feelings. As Lee said in Rolling Stone magazine about his father’s passing: “When the Chief died….I went down to Florida….He was in a coma…I came over and kissed him on the head and said, ‘That’s it. Chief. I’ll see you down the line?’ And then I got on a plane and guess what was playing: I Never Sang For My Father.
People hated it, man, but I loved it. It got it all out there. …Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas…Melvyn Douglas is amazing. What a great actor. One of the greatest of all time. I remember that after the movie, people were saying how depressing it was, and I started an argument with them. I was holding forth man to the whole plane. It was great. I got it out. Like that…I felt, you know, cleansed of it…..I think I understand my father more everyday. On some days I can almost…..”