HAPPY MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY FROM LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

Since Monday, January 15th marks the 88th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recount Lee Marvin’s contribution to civil rights during the 1960s. Granted, it is indeed an extremely minor contribution compared to Dr. King and other civil rights leaders but in his own way, Lee indeed contributed.
One would think, based on his upbringing, that Marvin would hardly be in favor of civil rights and equality for all races, particularly African-Americans. His mother Courtenay Marvin was an old-world southern Virginian and all that would entail. However, his father Monte Marvin had been in command of a black calvary unit during WWI and had a much more liberal view of African-Americans. Then again, according to Lee’s brother, Robert, both parents hit the roof when Robert briefly dated a young black woman.  And yet again, both boys were cared for by a black maid named Erlene whom they adored. Growing up on the eastern seaboard also meant encounters with various races throughout their formative years, resulting in a rather different view of black people than the one held by their parents.
All that said, Lee Marvin was still very much a product of his time and not above using racially-charged language. However, if one believes that actions speak louder than words, even in those less enlightened times of the early 1960s, Marvin’s more liberal attitude was very much in evidence. Case in point: his lifelong friendship with black actor, Woody Strode. They met during the making of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and remained tight for the rest of their lives.

Although they had no scenes together, Woody Strode (left) and Lee Marvin are pictured at a cast ‘tea party’ during John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

I was extremely fortunate to get what I believe to be the last interview with Strode. His love of Lee Marvin (as well as John Ford) knew no bounds. Their hilarious initial meeting on the set of the film is well-documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Strode, by the way, was not as happy working on the film with Hollywood icon John Wayne. Consequently, he did enjoy watching Ford tease both James Stewart  and Wayne unmercifully for the sake of the performances he wanted from them. Like Ford, Marvin also teased the two conservative Republicans, particularly, Stewart. Reportedly, he needled Stewart by telling him that when the black man rises up, Stewart had better be rightfully frightened in his sleep. He may of course simply had been in character as Liberty Valance but such comments rankled Stewart and tickled both Strode and Ford.

Woody Strode (center) clearly enjoys seeing John Wayne (right) dumbfounded by Jimmy Stewart’s belt in the mouth in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Several years after Liberty Valance, Marvin and Strode appeared on screen again, this time in Richard Brooks’ underrated western adventure, The Professionals.

Lee Marvin discusses a scene with Burt Lancaster, writer/director Richard Brooks and Woody Strode on the Set of The Professionals.

It remains one of Marvin’s best films and should be required viewing by any fan. According to Woody Strode, it was Lee Marvin who managed to get Strode earlier screen time in the film. Again, all is explained in Lee Marvin Point Blank and is not said to deter from Burt Lancaster in any way. The man was only human and had his own foibles and insecurities as anybody else does. In fact, Strode explained to me why he only appeared in the outfit he wore in his opening scene, only in that opening scene. Want details? Gotta read the book.

Woody Strode as he appeared in the opening title sequence of The Professionals.

This may all sound far afield from the original intent of this blog entry but it actually does serve to make the point concerning Martin Luther King Day. King fought and died for civil rights as we all know and Marvin may not have done nearly as much but he did his part, getting his good friend unheard of billing in a period western. More to the point, as King famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  According to Woody Strode, Lee Marvin upheld that creed and became one of the few white friends Strode had in Hollywood. One of the last times Strode saw Lee Marvin was after his success in Europe’s popular ‘Spaghetti Westerns.” As he tells it:

I hadn’t seen Lee for about four years. I got a job in New Mexico called Gatling Gun (1972). By now, I got a Mercedes. The good life had touched me. I called Lee. I said, “Lee, I’m working in New Mexico and I’m coming to see you when I finished.” We finished the picture. I didn’t let him know I was driving a Mercedes. Well baby, it took a couple of days for us get there. I parked out in front of the house, I think in Tucson. I honked the horn. He come out saying, “Who the hell is honking that horn?” He come outside and I said, “Hello, you son-of-a-bitch.” He said “Woody!” I said, “You see what I’m driving?”I got to the fucking money, in a foreign country.” …..So, we had our little weekend. […] When I got there, a writer from Australia was doing an article on Lee Marvin. He saw our relationship and said, “You guys are like brothers.” I been in Europe almost four years and he ain’t seen me in years. I’m in a Mercedes, got a little bank account. It made him feel good.”

As was said, they were like brothers.
If that’s not a worthy story for Martin Luther King’s birthday, I don’t know what is.
-Dwayne Epstein

 

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LIBERTY VALANCE PREMIERES APRIL 13, 1962

On this date in 1962, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance premiered and it’s production, reception and legacy is fully covered in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Readers will discover how the cast REALLY got along during the filming, what John Ford thought of his new but late-in-the-game stock company member, Lee Marvin, why Lee Marvin’s son considers it his favorite film, what he said when introduced to John Wayne and infinitely more! Most exclusive of all was an interview with the late, great Woody Strode and his personal take on what happened on set and why he loved Lee Marvin.
However, to honor the occasion, here a few strange tidbits from the past to pay tribute to the last great John Wayne/John Ford western that were not included in the book.

Pre-release movie magazine teaser ad for LIBERTY VALANCE.

This strange ad above is the kind of thing you just don’t see any more, and maybe that’s a good thing. What’s with the nursery rhyming scheme? Did the publicity dept, think anxious  film fans would put it to music and sing these little ditties to help promote word-of-mouth? Bizarre. Did these folks even seen the film? Andy Devine’s character of Sheriff Link Appleyard hardly lived to help ‘the ones in need.’ The one for Valance isn’t even accurate. He didn’t spread shame. He spread pain!
Then there’s this ‘Behnd-the-scenes’ article from the June, 1962 issue of Screen Stories.

Screen Stories 1962 article on the making of LIBERTY VALANCE.

You can already tell from the opening that a good portion of it was a result more of p.r. than it was actual onset reporting. That’s fine in the long run, I guess, but it also has some interesting trivia, such as the fact that the entire male cast were each 6-foot tall or taller!
Also has one of my favorite John Ford quotes: “We have a very fine cast of actors in this film, and John Wayne.”

Behind the scenes article, page 2.

And there’s this review, which explains why the movie took a while to get an audience. Not only does the reviewer spell Jimmy Stewart’s name wrong, he commits the ultimate sin of a reviewer by giving away the ending…and then rates the film a C-!

Movie rag…er…mag review of LIBERTY VALANCE.

Is it any wonder I dislike most critics? Ahh well. Never mind the critics. Just enjoy the great film for what it is: One of Lee Marvin’s best performances and a lasting testament to what John Ford contributed to the American Western: When the truth becomes the legend, print the legend.

Smack dab in the center is Lee Marvin in the March, 1962 issue of PARAMOUNT WORLD, promoting the release of Liberty Valance.

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IN HONOR OF VALENTINE’S DAY, LEE MARVIN STYLE

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I was rather stumped for a blog idea that would be appropriate for the occassion. At first, I though of simply uploading the image below. No, it’s not from the set of The Untouchables, although Lee did appear on it frequently enough. Actually, it’s a rare picture of Lee and first wife, Betty Marvin at a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party in the 50s courtesy of Betty Marvin

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine's Day Massacre Party.

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party.

herself.. Cool, huh?

Howevever, even better than the image is a completely different blog entry that was posted in Vanity Fair online shortly after Lee Marvin: Point Blank was released. Writer James Wolcott takes an interesting look at the subject that may seem far afield, but nails it nontheless. What do you think?

“FEBRUARY 14, 2013 3:15 PM

“Wash his face. He’s fine.”
BY JAMES WOLCOTT
It being Valentine’s Day, I can think of no more romantic way to waste the day (before I get to work) than by dipping in and out of a tender, caring, just-published biography of America’s former sweetheart, Lee Marvin. In Lee Marvin: Point Blank, written by Dwayne Epstein, the action star who terrorized the West with a bullwhip in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, taught a squad of murderers and borderline psychos how to love again in The Dirty Dozen, and let Angie Dickinson use him as a punching bag for her furious little fists in the movie that gives this bio its subtitle weaves through the pages like the big rangy scary cat he was.

I’d often wondered why Marvin and director Sam Peckinpah never worked together in movies. Such simiarities. Both tough ex-Marines, both heavy intakers of alcoholic content, both volatile, both white-haired with a silvery patina to their appearance. Maybe it was because their experience shooting a TV’s Route 66 killed off any chance of bromance:

…Frustrated with his career, at odds with director Sam Peckinpah, and hating the dreary Pittsburgh location, the actor drank too much during work hours and paid the price. “What I remember most was his eyes,” recalled co-star Bert Remsen [who would go on to become a member of Robert Altman’s rep company, appearing in California Split, Thieves Like Us, Nashville, et al]. “He’d come in from the night before with his eyes all red and that strange walk he had, and say with that voice, ‘Hiya baby! You going out drinking with me tonight?'” I’d say, ‘No way! I gotta work the next day.’ He could do it though. He’d come in all disheveled and go throw up in the corner. Sam would say, ‘Wash is face. He’s fine.’ He’d do the scene and never miss a line…”

It’s never good to work woozy, however, and during this episode there was a fight scene with Martin Milner where one of the actors zigged when he should have zagged and the result was a punch that split Marvin’s nose wide open, the resulting damage putting his career in jeopardy. He was fortunate, notes Epstein, that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was shot in black and white, masking the discoloration.

The pages devoted to Donovan’s Reef, the “rollicking comedy” (an extinct genre) that reunited Ford, the Duke, and Marvin, confirm the impression that I acquired at an early age that Donovan’s Reef is one of the booze-bathed movies of all time, a sot’s vision of tropical paradise. “For tax reasons [Ford] had to sell his beloved yacht, The Araner, so he decided to use it in the movie before selling it off, and figured he could have a good time drinking on board during the film.” This is the sort of consideration that seldom comes up in film-studies courses. As it turned out, Ford wasn’t allowed to drink for health reasons, so he “had to referee” while Wayne and Marvin went watery-eyed.

I once heard someone compare Donovan’s Reef to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but that person might have been drinking too.”

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