DIRT BIKE DEMON LEE MARVIN?

Imagine for a moment that you’re a tough, young teen in the early 60s, out on your dirt bike in the California desert, when who should come riding up but the likes of Steve McQueen, Keenan Wynn, Bud Ekins….and Lee Marvin!
Now imagine again that you are an fledgling biographer and then a trusted friend comes up and tells you he has somebody you should interview that can relate the events of the previous sentence. Put these two images together and you would have yours truly at the Lone Pine Film Festival in October, 1994, attempting to mine some golden nuggets of wisdom from Vito Franco, only to wind up with nothing but pyrite. I trusted this friend because the event had already yielded several other nuggets of true gold (John Mitchum, Charles Champlin, John Ericson, etc.), so why I should doubt his veracity?
My research for Lee Marvin Point Blank was in its earliest stages and the subject of Vito Franco was not someone I was fully aware of. Hence the problem. I learned quickly from this example to do my homework on impending interviews and it has since paid off. Read the entire interview below and you’ll see why it is not included in the text of my book. There are, however, nearly a hundred others that are included that thankfully, yielded much better results…

Dwayne:You used to ride bikes with Lee Marvin?
Vito: Yeah, out in Red Rock and Jawbone Canyon.
D: When was this, the 50s?
V: 60s. 60s & 50s. You’re dating me, man.
D: I gotta get it, for the record.
V: Yeah, right, right. Actually, I didn’t know him personally. We would just nod our heads when we were getting in the watering hole or something. That’s about it, just dirt bikes in the desert.
D: What kind of rider was he? Any good?

A mud splattered Lee in his motorcycle leathers smiles for wife Betty's camera. The helmet, a gift from Betty, had two connecting hearts on the front with their initials inside.

A mud splattered Lee in his motorcycle leathers smiles for wife Betty’s camera. The helmet, a gift from Betty, had two connecting hearts on the front with their initials inside.

V: Yeah, very good. He and Keenan Wynn and McQueen, they were all good. We all had dressed out bikes in those days.
D: Was there any rivalry between Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin in terms of what kind of bikers they were?
V: Yeah, yeah. I remember that there was. Quite a bit.
D: What was it that stood out?
V: Turn it off, for a minute [I turn off recorder, then] I can’t tell you that much. They were just in the same place at the same time I was. That’s all I know. We were just in the same place at the same time. But they were good riders who rode with all their heart. They had a lot of fun. I do remember the three of them, very much. One thing you should look into, though, I do a lot of scuba diving in Australia and one of Lee Marvin’s favorite places was a place called Lizard Island.
D: Lizard Island, right.
V: Off the coast.
D: I remember he used to like go marlin….
V: Black marlin fishing out there…
D: On the Great Barrier Reef…
V: Right. There’s a lot of people out there who could tell you some great stories.
D: Yeah, that’s a bit of trek, though, unfortunately.
V: I’ll be there in 2 months, so if you want me to, I’ll get as many stories as you want.
D: Would you really?
V: That’s what I do. I go there to film underwater. So, it wouldn’t hurt the marlins, I turn the cameras on them.
D: Did you ever go fishing with him?
V: No, never. I didn’t know him that well. I did see him out here in the desert, the California desert.
D: Do you remember when you first met him?
V: I would say ‘62, maybe ‘61. I’m trying to think.
D: Was there anything that that stood out in your mind when you first met him? Was there anything striking about him? Anything he might have said?
V: Well, other than he was Lee Marvin and I was quite impressed and I was riding with him. That’s about it.
D: What kind of bike did he ride, do your remember?
V: I think he had the same as us, but don’t quote me on that. We had Triumph motorcycles… It was the ultimate bike in that day for desert riding. Bud Ekins was the one that put them all together, for me and them too, if I’m not mistaken.

Lee shown taking a hill on his Triumph.

Lee shown taking a hill on his Triumph.

D: Very cool. Just real quick, you said you wanted to think about it, a little bit. The thing about a possible rivalry between the way they rode…
V: No, I really couldn’t tell you. You want to know the truth, I couldn’t tell you. The only one I could really say was McQueen, when we used to race. I remember him, he was a trouper. He was really good. He took racing with all his heart. Even when he changed his name so he could get in there so the studios wouldn’t get him in trouble.
D: Do you remember when Lee Marvin stooped riding?
V: I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t think you could even quote me on the date. I’d have to go back and try to figure that out. I think it was the early 60s. Yeah, because I was still in high school in the 50s so it would have to be the 60s.
D: How did you get hooked up with them?
V: With who?
D: Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Keenan Wynn and Bud Ekins and all of them.

Rare photo of Lee and good friend Keenan Wynn out dirtbiking for the day. They also rode their bikes in less competitive venues, such as the showroom of the Beverly Hills Mercedez-Benz dealership.

Rare photo of Lee and good friend Keenan Wynn out dirtbiking for the day. They also rode their bikes in less competitive venues, such as the showroom of the Beverly Hills Mercedez-Benz dealership.

V: Just through bikes.
D: You just happened to all come together?
V: Just through bikes. That was all it was, yeah. Steve McQueen with the Baja 1,000. He was always involved in that…that’s all.
D: Listen thanks for your time [END].

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WHAT HAPPENED TO DIRTY DOZEN’S SAMSON POSEY?

The Dirty Dozen is the movie that had made me a Lee Marvin fan a long time ago. In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was in the enviable position of speaking with cast members about the film’s production and there were certain issues with the film I always wanted to know about. Chief among them was whatever happened to Clint Walker’s character, Samson Posey, who never received a final scene as the other cast members did? In interviewing Clint Walker back in 1999, I got the lowdown from the source himself. Unfortunately, it did not make the cut for the book’s final draft for a myriad of reasons.
Walker proved to be a wonderful interview, enlightening me on the film’s production and offering a terrific anecdote on shooting his big confrontational scene with Marvin which is definitely in the book. Wished I could’ve included the story of what happened to Samson Posey, however, there is this blog which exists just for such a scenario. Enjoy!

Clint Walker (r) and Lee Marvin (center) talk on The Dirty Dozen with visitor, heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali.

Clint Walker (r) and Lee Marvin (center) talk on The Dirty Dozen location with visitor, heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali.

Dwayne: Was The Dirty Dozen the first time you met and worked with Lee Marvin?
Clint: Yes it was. It was the first time I worked with him. I used to ride dirt bikes and I met him and Steve McQueen and Keenan Wynn out on their bikes. That was out by the Tehachapees, in the days when we could ride out there.
D: What was he like in those days?
C: Oh gee, my feeling about Lee was he was a man’s man. He was a good bike rider and a good actor. I always enjoyed his work.
D: Was there any improvised dialog worked out, or was it scripted exactly as it was shot?
C: Well [laughs] very few scripts get done exactly as they’re written because the writer is not the character. But a lot of it was pretty much the same and I’ll tell you why. Before we ever shot anything, we went into one of the huge soundstages at Pinewood and they had a huge round table. It reminded me of the Knights of the Round Table.
D: I’ve seen a photo of that with Aldrich and the cast.

The only known photo of the entire cast of The Dirty Dozen at an initial script reading. Clockwise from the bottom left are Charles Bronson (Joseph Wladislaw), Richard Jaeckel (Sgt. Bowren), George Kennedy (Maj. Armbruster), Trini Lopez (Jimenez), Al Mancini (Bravos), Bob Phillips (Cpl. Morgan), Jim Brown (R.T. Jefferson), Donald Sutherland (Vernon Pinkley), John Cassavetes (Victor Franko), Ralph Meeker (Kinder), Robert Webber (Gen. Denton), director Robert Aldrich, Lee Marvin (Maj. Reisman), Ernest Borgnine (Gen. Worden), Telly Savalas (Archer Maggot), Robert Ryan (Col. Breed), Clint Walker (Posey), Colin Maitland (Sawyer), Ben Carruthers (Gilpin), Stuart Cooper (Lever), unidentified and Tom Busby (Vladek).

The only known photo of the entire cast of The Dirty Dozen at an initial script reading. Clockwise from the bottom left are Charles Bronson (Joseph Wladislaw), Richard Jaeckel (Sgt. Bowren), George Kennedy (Maj. Armbruster), Trini Lopez (Jimenez), Al Mancini (Bravos), Bob Phillips (Cpl. Morgan), Jim Brown (R.T. Jefferson), Donald Sutherland (Vernon Pinkley), John Cassavetes (Victor Franko), Ralph Meeker (Kinder), Robert Webber (Gen. Denton), director Robert Aldrich, Lee Marvin (Maj. Reisman), Ernest Borgnine (Gen. Worden), Telly Savalas (Archer Maggot), Robert Ryan (Col. Breed), Clint Walker (Posey), Colin Maitland (Sawyer), Ben Carruthers (Gilpin), Stuart Cooper (Lever), unidentified and Tom Busby (Vladek).

C: Right. At any rate, everything was rehearsed there. If anyone, if there was something they didn’t like, it was brought up then and worked on, which I thought was an excellent idea. Bob Aldrich was wise enough to know no writer can write all the dialog for an actor because he’s not the actor. A lot of times an actor simply will say the same thing but in different words. The most important thing is as long as the idea is passed on. Anyhow, I think all of that was taken care of at that time. Everybody was pretty comfortable. But you’ll always change things a little. A good director will listen and watch. As long as it comes out good and what needs to be said has been said, why he’ll print it.
D: That was one of the greatest casts of all time.
C: Yeah, we had a tremendous cast.
D: How did they all interact?
C: I certainly didn’t have any problems with anyone. I don’t think there was a problem in the world. I think everybody had a great deal of respect for Lee. Usually what he did or said, made sense. I can’t even remember any problems or friction or any real difference of opinion. I think one day the cast was discussing some subject and and there was some differences of opinion. But you know, they would do that at times. Beyond that, I think everybody got along quite well. I personally for awhile had the same dressing room with Ernie Borgnine and then later, I had the same dressing room with Charlie Bronson and I got along great with both of them.
D: Since your character was an Indian in the book was that something that was more so…
C: Yeah, Samson Posey was his name. I was supposed to do a rain dance and so on. I think Bob Aldrich was a football fan and I think I lost some of what I was suppose to do in order to give Jim Brown a bigger part.
D: You mean the big finale of Brown throwing the grenades?
C: Yeah, I think that was Bob’s idea. Of course, Jim was noted for his ability to run…. Well, I was disappointed because I practiced for the rain dance. I was looking forward to doing that.
D: Can you tell me about that?
C: It was just that simple. In the original script I was suppose to do a rain dance. Anyhow, it was cut out and that happens.
D: Were you ever approached to do any of the sequels?
C: I’m glad I wasn’t. I think the best thing you can do with classics is leave them alone. Unless you want to wait a number of years because while those guys are still alive…It’s like The Magnificent Seven. They tried to redo that and I think they fell on their face. They had a great cast and I don’t think they’ll ever get a cast like that together again.
D: Much like The Dirty Dozen.
C: Yeah, those kind of things, remakes, I just as soon stay away from. When you get a classic –unless 30 or 40 years have gone by — I say leave it alone.
D: Were you unsure at all about playing a character so different from what people know you as?
C: No, it didn’t bother me. I like the idea of having an opportunity to do something else other than what I had been doing. That’s how you prove you’re an actor.
D: How did you feel about the controversy about the film’s violence?
C: It didn’t bother me. If you’re going to storm a German castle full of Nazis and try to wipe it out [laughs]…look, war is violent, let’s face it. Hey, as far as it being violent, it could have been far worse. They do worse things today. I don’t think it was overdone at all.
D: That intense scene with Marvin, went as written where he flipped you and all?

Clint Walker's Posey lunges at Lee Marvin's Col. Reisman but he and the audience or in for a big surprise.

Clint Walker’s Posey lunges at Lee Marvin’s Col. Reisman but he and the audience or in for a big surprise.

C: We did it and that’s not the easiest thing to do, when you got to throw somebody over your shoulder and make it look good. The other person’s got to go over your shoulder and not get hurt. I’ve done a lot of action films and my experience there stood me in good stead, plus I was in good shape and that helps.

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ALEX BEN BLOCK & OTHERS ON LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

Alex Ben Block, Veteran correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter and author of the first — and in my opinon, still the best — biography on the legendary Bruce Lee, recently agreed to write a review on Amazon for my book, Lee Marvin Point Blank. For reasons neither one of us can understand, Amazon will not post the review. Being the good-hearted mensch that he is, when I asked him if he would allow me to post it on my blog, he fully agreed. What a guy, huh?

The cover of my own copy of Alex Ben Block's THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE, published a year after Lee's 1973 demise.

The cover of my own copy of Alex Ben Block’s THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE, published a year after Lee’s 1973 demise.

Anyway, what he wrote is below, and I’ve posted it not for ego-boosting purposes (although I will admit, it is quite a rocket launcher in that regard!) but to enforce the point of how incredibly fortunate I am to have someone of his stature take note of my work. Hopefully, maybe it’ll encourage others to read it…or better yet, rediscover Lee Marvin and his films!
And so, I give you, Mr. Block’s assement of my work. Enjoy…….
“This is the definitive book on Lee Marvin, who had one of the great screen careers in the era bridging the final days of the Golden Age of the studios and the modern age of blockbuster movies. Dwayne Epstein deserves praise for his in depth research, often insightful writing and for bringing back some wonderful memories for this Cat Ballou fan. I enjoyed reading it and came away with a greatly changed view of Marvin, and much more respect for his career, and the way he lived his life – exactly as he wanted no matter who liked it or how the world saw him. Marvin leaves a rich cinematic legacy, a lot of interesting TV work, an impressive military record, years of hard core alcoholism and the cloud of an absurd “palimony” suit, in a colorful and full life. This book delivers it all in detail, with context, rich characters and a feeling of truth – all done in a flowing and interesting narrative that kept me reading until the very end.”

A photo of Alex Ben Block (right) with iconic 70s actor and personal favorite, Elliot Gould, at a recent Hollywood function.

A photo of Alex Ben Block (right) with iconic 70s actor and personal favorite, Elliot Gould, at a recent Hollywood function.

 

I don’t mind saying, I have been extremely fortunate to have several notable individuals praise my work, among them NY Times Bestselling biographer Stefan Kanfer,  Screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook, author & TV writer Phoef Sutton, biopic writer Larry Karaszewski, and more!
They all boggle my mind in terms of their praise but several stick out for other reasons. One of the those notables is Tracy Keenan Wynn. Son of the legendary actor Keenan Wynn and grandson of comedian/actor Ed Wynn, Tracy and his brother Ned were forthcoming with me in interviews in which they spoke of their father’s friendship with Lee Marvin. Of course, there is no guarantee that after the book comes out either one of them will like the results.

Three generations of a show business dynasty: (L-R) A young Tracy Wynn with his father actor & Lee Marvin cohort, Keenan Wynn, and vaudeville legend, grandfather Ed Wynn.

Three generations of a show business dynasty: (L-R) A young Tracy Wynn with his father, actor & Lee Marvin cohort, Keenan Wynn, and his grandfather vaudeville legend, Ed Wynn.

Tracy is the highly noted screenwriter of everything from The Longest Yard (the original!) to The Autobiography of Mis Jane Pittman. When I asked if he’d be willing to write a review of my book, his response blew me away…

“Author Dwayne Epstein’s newest book, LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, is a detailed and accurate account of the good and not so good chapters of Lee Marvin’s personal and professional lives, off and on the screen. This is an in-depth study of one of Hollywood’s near mythical character actor/ leading man hybrid personas….the book is at once an in depth study and as well as a highly readable and entertaining overview of one of Hollywood’s most endearing and enduring action stars.”

Another wonderful surprise was from actor Ron Thompson. His performance(s) in Ralph Bakshi’s animated film American Pop remains one of my all-time favorites as he beleivable essayed the character of Tony and his illigetimate son, Pete. Because the film was rotoscoped, no one realized it was even him on screen!

A recent photo of good friend Ron Thompson (inset) and one of his two animated alter egos, Pete, from Ralph Bakshi's AMERICAN POP.

A recent photo of good friend Ron Thompson (inset) and one of his two animated alter egos, Pete, from Ralph Bakshi’s AMERICAN POP.

I made friends with Ron on Facebook a while ago and was extremely glad to see our correspondence blossom into friendship. Actually met him in-person once, too. When I asked if he’d write a blurb for my book, I had no idea he’d write what he did below. I’m telling you, folks, life is constantly full of happy surprises!

“As a young teen, I went to see Brando in The Wild One. I left talking about Lee Marvin.
I truly enjoyed Lee Marvin: Point Blank. It enlightened me on who the man was. Some of you may know I’m an actor. I could relate to a lot of the stories. Especially when he was a NY actor and ‘making the rounds’ and doing live TV. I was unaware that he had been a New York actor.
There are wonderful stories of his adventures in movie making. Dwayne Epstein paints a 3 dimensional picture of the man: A good, kind, thoughtful and extremely troubled man. I highly recommend Point Blank. Well done, Dwayne Epstein.”

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