WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND…LEE MARVIN?

William Shakespeare is not usually a name associated with the likes of Lee Marvin. More is the pity as the actor had several brushes with the bard as recounted in my book Lee Marvin Point Blank. First, as a fledgling postwar acting student at the American Theater Wing (ATW), in which several hilarious anecdotes are retold by David Ballantine, a friend from Lee Marvin’s Woodstock days.

Lee Marvin (far right) cavorts  with fellow students during his American Theater Wing days in costumes from a play by William Shakespeare.


Later, on the set of The Big Red One, in which costar Kelly Ward recounted an amazing incident at sunset in an ancient Israeli ampitheater. 
Apparently, my research struck a chord with one who would definitely know more about the subject of William Shakespeare’s work than I ever would. Through the wonders of the digital age, noted actor/writer/historian David Weston sought me out to contact recently and wrote me the following:
“I was an actor for more than 50 years and I agree with all you say about Marvin’s talent and magnetism. He would have been game-changing in several Shakespearean roles..” 
 I was humbled by his words once I found out more about him via the internet. Not only does he know his stuff, he’s married to actress Dora Reisser, who knew Marvin well, ever since her costarring role as Telly Savalas’s victim in The Dirty Dozen. When I asked David if I could use his comments concerning William Shakespeare and Marvin on my blog, he sent me the following mini-essay. To call it a wonderful surprise, is an understatement. Here now is David Weston making the point better than I ever could. Enjoy….
– Dwayne Epstein

(L-R) Dora Reisser and David Weston.

Lee Marvin as a Shakespearean Actor

Shakespeare’s plays are full of violence and comedy, two things Lee Marvin revelled in. Titus Andronicus, probably the Bard’s first play, contains mutilation, rape, ripped out tongues and cannibalism. As far as I know Lee Marvin never appeared in a Shakespeare play, although he told my wife, Dora Reisser, that when he was filming The Klansman with Richard Burton, he would make up mock Shakespearean speeches and ask the inebriated Welshman to guess which plays they had come from. I will give some examples of roles in which Marvin could have excelled at various stages in his life. It could have happened. Richard Burton, like Marvin, no the weak spinner of fanciful tales, once told me that Marlon Brando had wanted to join him for a season at the Old Vic, only to be rejected by the board.

As a young actor Lee Marvin was never a Romeo, but he would have been a superb Mercutio [Romeo’s best friend], revelling in the bawdy comedy.  His catlike movement would have been ideal for the sword fights and tragi-comic death.

Richard Burton was a pretty good Petruchio [in The Taming of The Shrew], but can you imagine Lee’s drunken antics or his savage treatment of Kate – Gloria Graham’s coffee springs to mind.

Likewise he was born to play Bottom [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. Kevin Kline attempted it recently but he would not have touched Lee’s befuddled wonder at acquiring ass’s ears and the love of the Fairy Queen.

His lighting quick humour and savagery would have made him a terrifying yet hilarious Richard III. Kevin Spacey was a pussy cat in comparison.

Sean Connery was the best Hotspur I’ve seen [Henry IV, Part I], but Lee would have run him close.

Shakespeare could have written the part of Pistol, the bawdy braggart, with Lee in mind, but in the same plays in his more mature years he would have been one of the great Falstaffs. I can close my eyes and see him in the tavern scenes, bragging, wenching, hilarious – yet over brimming with pathos, glimpses of which we saw in Cat Ballou.

Marlon Brando was a superb Marc Antony [in Julius Caesar), in what I consider to be the second best Shakespeare film ever made after Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, but Lee Marvin would have been better.

So many actors can play King Lear in their old age – it is in fact one of Shakespeare’s easiest leading roles – but Lee’s fury would have been terrifying and his grief over Cordelia’s death heart-breaking. As a young actor he would have revelled in the sadism of the Duke of Cornwall in the terrible scene when he takes out Gloucester’s eyes.

Last of all Iago [in Othello]. Again the humorous villainy and savagery – Liberty Valence in tights.

There is something for him in every play. It is our loss he was never asked.
– David Weston

Covering McKellen by David Weston.

Covering Shakespeare by David Weston

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BOBBY DARIN: PRAISING HIS UNSUNG ACTING TALENTS, PT. 2

Bobby Darin: A singer’s singer without a doubt but his film career is often neglected for praise. In Part 2 of my 2003 Filmfax article I attempted to recitfy the situation. Being a fan since childhood, it was a fun subject for me to write about.
So much so, that shortly after the article came out, I lucked into free passes to a sneak peek of Kevin Spacey’s biopic, Beyond the Sea, in which Spacey was in attendance for a brief Q&A. Also in attendance was Bobby Darin’s manager, Steve Blauner (John Goodman in the film). I approached Blauner and personally thanked him for Bobby Darin’s career. He gave me a stern look and said, “I’m not responsible for Boby Darin’s career. Bobby Darin’s talent was.”
When it came time for the Q&A, Spacey was friendly and affable to all in attendance. He regaled the audience with how came to love Bobby Darin longer after he had passed on via his aunt’s record collection. I spoke with him briefly and told him I became a fan in a similar vein, ever since my childhood friend Ty Elliott and I raided his mother’s record collection and discovered Darin’s music in the very early 70s. I mentioned that Darin was still very much alive at the time and his variety show was a wonderful venue for his talent. Being the actor that he is, Spacey looked at me in mock anger and said, “You son-of-a-bitch!” The audience roared and I joined them. I had no problem being the brunt of his joke for the sake of Bobby Darin!
Speaking of which, below is Part 2 of my article but Lee Marvin fans fear not. More material supplementing Lee Marvin: Point Blank will return shortly. Thank you for your indulgence thus far. Enjoy!

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BOBBY DARIN: PRAISING HIS UNSUNG ACTING TALENTS, PT.1

Bobby Darin! Two of my favorite words in pop culture. Seriously. Been a fan of his for so long, he was actually still alive when I was buying his records. Regular readers of this blog will know that even though I write mostly on Lee Marvin, based on my book Lee Marvin: Point Blank, every now and then I take a side track.  Often based on my previous writings or personal favorites, this is one of those times.
How did I get lucky enough to write about a long-forgotten favorite? Well, I had been freelancing for Filmfax Magazine for some time and figured it to be the perfect vehicle for my appreciation of all things Darin. At the time, Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin movie was about to come out (more on that next time!) so I thought I’d strike when the iron was hot. But what new angle could I take on writing about Bobby D. that hadn’t been done a zillion times before? It dawned on me that since not as much attention had been paid to his acting career, I’d try that approach. The conversation with the editor — who by the way rarely allowed articles written on spec — went something like this:
Me: I’d like to pitch to you the possibilty of doing an article on Bobby Darin’s acting career.
Editor: Hmm, sounds good. Yeah, go ahead and do it.
Me: Y’know, with the popularity of all things ‘Rat Pack’ and what have you, Bobby Darin is a perfect subject for re-evaluation in a retro pop culture magazine like Filmfax.
Editor: I said go ahead and do it.
Me: I don’t think anybody’s dealt with his underrated acting career, before….
Editor: You can certainly keep talking if you like, but you got the gig. Of course, it’s taking time away from your writing of it…..
And so, without further ado, from 2005, Part 1 of my 2-part article on the acting career of Bobby Darin as it first appeared in Filmfax Magazine: The Magazine of Unusual Film, Television, & Retro Pop Culture. Enjoy.

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