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?
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.
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.
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].