RICK SPALLA: 1960’S LEE MARVIN DOCUMENTARY

Rick Spalla, an independent TV producer of entertainment news shows of substance (i.e. not TMZ or Entertainment Tonight), was one of the first people I sought when I began working on my Lee Marvin biography. I had learned of a TV documentary he had done on Marvin back in 1969 and was desperate to see it and find out more about it. Glad I did.
Don’t recall how I managed it back in those pre-internet days of the 1990s, but I secured an interview with Rick Spalla who graciously let me view the show in his studio on a moviola he set up. The 16 mm film was hardly HD, and stopping and starting it to take proper notes was a challenge, but it was well-worth it for the nuggets of info I was able to mine and put in the book.
Spalla died in 2001 and I never did get to see the show again, that is until now.

Lee Marvin being interviewed by Joe Hyams on location in Oregon during PAINT YOUR WAGON as they enjoy the rehearsal of The Nitty Gritty Band.

Imagine my surprise when Facebook friend and fellow film biographer, Gabriel Hershman, wrote me recently to tell me the show has been posted on YouTube! He sent me the link and I viewed it again as if for the first time. It really was well-done and holds up extremely well, in my opinion.
In fact, it reminded me of the quote I got from Spalla as to how his idea for the show came about: “Initially, I was planning to do the show about Keenan [Wynn] and his racing. Keenan invited Lee along. Then, over the years, Lee just got to be such a big star, we had to do one about him once the series started.”

Closing credit from the show PORTRAIT: LEE MARVIN.

Several of the people interviewed for the show had passed away by the time I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank. Thanks to Spalla, I was able to get quotes from the likes of Keenan Wynn, Robert Ryan, Jack Webb, and others all of which went in the book. Readers know I also got first person exclusives myself with the show’s other guests, like Terry Moore, Eliot Silverstein, Angie Dickinson and more, so feel free to check those out, as well.
All in all rediscovering the show on YouTube thanks to Gabriel Hershman, was a revelation.

Author Gabriel Hershman’s biography of Albert Finney (above) is HIGHLY recommended.

Marvin was candid and whimsical during the on location interview, the film clips are well-placed and the anecdotes told about him are wonderful.

As to Rick Spalla’s opinion of his subject, he told me: “He lived life to the fullest. He loved living. We went down to Mazatlan so I could film him fishing and he was in heaven. He called it ‘Margarita time.’ On the first day he caught 6 sailfish and a marlin. When he was fishing, he was like a kid with a toy. As if he had all the toys in the world. He’d catch a fish and couldn’t wait to throw the line out again. It was like a movie or something. After the first day, he wanted me to go out with him again, but I had enough.”
Luckliy, for the rest of us, we can now see what he meant. So, without further ado, I give you Portrait: Lee Marvin, part one and part two. or click the images below. Thanks again, Gabriel!

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JACK WEBB: HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE!

Jack Webb, the legendary TV icon who created Dragnet, Adam-12, Emergency! and more, would have been 100 years old today.  Known mostly of course for his groundbreaking radio and TV series Dragnet in which played Detective Joe Friday, his deadpan delivery and ping-pong patter became the stuff of both legend and great parody.
What’s less known about the versatile Webb was his offbeat film career. Small parts as the goateed paraplegic buddy in Marlon Brando’s film debut, The Men (1950), as well as the high-energy buddy Artie Green to William Holden’s Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard (also 1950) lead to even bigger roles in film and eventually his own cinematic pet projects. One  such bigger role before major success was You’re in the Navy Now (1951) in which he costarred with Gary Cooper in the naval comedy that marked the film debuts of such New York actors as Harvey Lembeck, Jack Warden, Charles Bronson and, wait for it…Lee Marvin.

(L-R) Gary Cooper, Lee Marvin and Jack Webb in YOU’RE IN THE NAVY NOW, aka U.S.S. TEAKETTLE.

Webb’s versatility went beyond the shows and films he created (as well as wrote, directed and starred in). He had a specifically good eye for spotting young and emerging talent that may have come from his previous film work. In Lee Marvin Point Blank, Lee’s agent Meyer Mishkin recounted to me how Webb not only went out of his way to cast Marvin in an early Dragnet episode, but what he did to ensure the episode got Marvin more work. It was an effort that at the time, may not have even been allowed by the powers that be. Such was Webb’s belief in young talent.
Best of all, was an anecdote I was able to uncover by viewing an exclusive interview Webb gave in a rare late 1960’s interview in which he describes Marvin’s hysterical professionalism during the episode’s key scene. Gotta read the book to find that out!

Lee Marvin and Jack Webb tangle in “The Big Cast” episode of DRAGNET.

Webb’s love of jazz (he was reported to have one of the greatest rare jazz record collections) was something he also shared with Lee Marvin. It made Marvin an easy choice to play clarinetist Al Gannaway in Webb’s loving tribute to 1920’s jazz, Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955). According to costar Martin Milner, Lee Marvin was the only one who avoided Webb’s direction by telling Webb he’d do a scene the way he described it, then, Marvin would perform it the way he intended all along. Milner was amazed at Marvin’s manipulative powers. Might also be the reason Marvin never appeared in any other Webb productions, like The D.I. (1957) and -30- (1957).
All in all, I think Jack Webb’s output, versatility and impressive legacy deservers remembrance. Even if you think his canon of work was campy (“You’re pretty high and far out, aren’t you? What kind of kick are you on son?”) it was certainly ground breaking and I for one was always a fan. Anything Webb did, in my opinion, was infinitely more entertaining than what came after him in the years that followed.

“This is the city…my name is Friday. I carry a badge.”

So, to Jack Webb. Happy centennial! Thanks for all the years of wonderful entertainment…intentional or not.
– Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN MOVIE QUOTES: THE EARLY YEARS, PART II

Lee Marvin Movie Quotes
Writing and researching Lee Marvin Point Blank allowed me good reason to watch ALL of his films and on occasion, he proved to be the best thing to watch. Take for example his official film debut, You’re in the Navy Now (1951) with legendary actor, Gary Cooper.  Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know how he got the handful of lines he spoke in the movie and its a pretty amusing story, thanks to the chutzpah of his acquired agent, Meyer Mishkin. The very fact that he spoke on screen for the first time makes it worthy of some memorable Lee Marvin movie quotes.

Top image shows Marvin waiting to go on camera while bottom image shows hm with costars Gary Cooper and Jack Webb.

Director Henry Hathaway cast Marvin initially as an extra, allowing him to appear throughout the film as a crew member, in this case, the radio operator. Marvin later claimed him he did the voices of 5 other characters offscreen in which he actually talked to himself! Other actors also made their debut in the film, including future Marvin costar, Charles Bronson. Bronson had a bigger role in the flop later retitled USS Teakettle. Marvin’s first words on camera? “Sorry, captain. I can’t get a rise out of them.”

Another example of Marvin’s early, albeit small contribution to film was in the all-star comedy We’re Not Married (1952). Played out like an episode of Love, American Style, it told the tale of 5 different marriages discovering that the clergyman (Victor Moore) who married them was not ordained. The film boasted the likes of Ginger Rogers, Fred Allen, Eve Arden, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Eva Gabor, and a young Marilyn Monroe married to David Wayne (!). The last segment starred Eddie Bracken married to Mitzi Gaynor, who is pregnant with his child but Bracken is going overseas with his Army unit. It being the 1950s, the dilemma of Bracken’s offspring not being legitimate is a major crisis. Since it is the 50s, Bracken’s buddy, Lee Marvin, informs the C.O. that, “He don’t want his kid to be no oddball.”

Marvin & Bracken in the final segment of WE’RE NOT MARRIED.

Don’t you just love that 1950s euphemism for bastard? It’s one of my personal favorite Lee Marvin movie quotes.

And then there’s The Wild One.

Marlon Brando as Johnny and Lee Marvin as Chino in the world’s 1st biker movie, THE WILD ONE (That’s cult legend Tim Carey smiling behind Marvin).

Marvin comes in the middle of the film and commits grand larceny in his scenes with then red hot 50s icon, Marlon Brando. Everything Marvin says and does in the classic is memorable, from his entrance (waving like the prom queen on his chopper as he and his gang ride into town) to his final scene sneaking out of jail when no one is looking. I was lucky to find a letter he wrote his brother before the film was cast and his take on the project is reprinted in its entirety in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Hard to pick a favorite line of his as they’re all delivered brilliantly (“Call my old lady and tell her I’m in the can! Oh, the shame of it all!”) But the one I like best is the one with cultural resonance. When Marvin tells Brando: “We miss ya, Johnny. All the Beetles miss ya.” Apparently another ‘Johnny’ liked that line, too. Any guesses?
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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