WAGON TRAIN: THE CHRISTOPHER HALE STORY

Wagon Train, the long-running western series (1957-1965) had many a famous guest star during its run and that includes Lee Marvin who appeared in two episodes: “The Jose Morales Story,” as a Mexican bandito (!) and “The Christopher Hale Story,” the subject of this blog entry. A regular reader of this blog recently informed me that that retro cable network, ME-TV, will be airing that 1961 episode on Monday, November 30th at 4pm Pacific Standard Time. If you’re lucky enough to get that network and have the time to do so, by all means watch or DVR it, as it’s one of Lee’s best efforts, especially the ending! 

Lee Marvin as sadistic wagon master, Jud Benedict.

Fans of the show know that this particular episode is also a pivotal one for another reason. The show’s original wagon-masters were Robert Horton and Ward Bond so when Bond died suddenly, a replacement was immediately needed. Hence this Wagon Train episode guest starring Lee Marvin and Bond replacement, John McIntire, but he has to get thru a conflict with Lee Marvin first.
 There are several interesting aspects to this Wagon Train episode for Lee Marvin fans. Marvin replaced Bond when he died before production on Liberty Valance began and here…well, you’ll see for yourself. Also, Marvin was good friends with the show’s other main cast member, Robert Horton, who enjoyed having Marvin on the show, as he told this author a while back. 

Jud Benedict (Lee Marvin) & John McIntire (Christopher Hale) confront each other on WAGON TRAIN.


 There’s yet one more reason the episode is a worthy watch and I’ve long been wanting to mention it. I interviewed veteran actor L.Q. Jones back in 1995 and it remains one of my favorites. He spoke quite colorfully of the times in which TV westerns were in their heyday, and the likes of himself, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens and others worked constantly on the likes of Gunsmoke, The Virginian and yes, Wagon Train. Also according to Jones, their card-playing skills between scenes often earned them more money than their acting skills. Ahh, gone are the days. So, with that in mind, here’s a little anecdote about that particular episode of Wagon Train that I was not able to work into Lee Marvin Point Blank (but many other great ones did!), as told but the great L.Q. Jones….

L.Q. Jones: Did you ever play Pitch?
Dwayne: No I haven’t.
L: Pitch is cowboy bridge. It’s a brutal game. It seems so simple as to be ridiculous yet, it’ll tear you a new hole if you don’t know what your doing. You can play a hand in Pitch and maybe, you can deal it, play it in a minute, minute-and-a-half if your playing with people who understand the game of Pitch. If your playing..I’ve seen one guy leave as they throw their cards, “Aw shit!” That’s the end of that. You know what the outcome is going to be. You can’t screw it up. So we played Pitch a lot. … We’d play a lot of Hearts. You know what Hearts is?
D: My father used to play Hearts. That and Pinochle.
L: It’s great. I never good warm to Pinochle but Hearts is great fun because you play the people. God, we were playing and we had Lee and..do you know who Red Morgan is?
D: The name is familiar.
L: One of the most beautiful stuntmen of all time. He’s just one of the world’s great people. Loved to play Hearts. So he, Red, Lee, I’m not sure who the other one was..
D: Was it another stuntman?
L: Wait a minute! It probably was Frankie McGrath who was the other player and myself.
D: Frankie?
L: He was the cook on Wagon Train
D: I couldn’t tell you. “Wagon Train” was a little before my time.
L: I’ve really forgotten. He was a great stuntman and that’s the thing he ended up doing. He was playing. He was also one of John Ford’s favorites. You never saw a picture that Ford directed that Frankie wasn’t in, as a stuntman. Totally crazy but that’s why the old man loved him. ….Anyway, we had Lee Marvin, Red, Frankie and myself. Brutal Hearts players. Of course the thing in Hearts is to either make all of them, or none of them. All the hearts plus the Queen of Spades. It’s an unwritten rule that if I stop someone from getting all of them, you give me a heart but you don’t give me the Queen of Spades. Because the Queen of Spades is thirteen, where a heart is just one. It would cost you let’s say $65 if you’ve got the black queen. The Queen of Hearts, it would cost you five dollars if you got a heart. So you just, you don’t reward a guy for saving your fanny by giving him the queen. So, we’re playing along and it’s all quiet, really no noise. Lee stopped somebody, I figure probably Frankie, from going for it. I watched Red and Red’s eyes, you could just see the sparkle. He dropped the queen on Lee. Lee went off like a cheap skyrocket. (Mimes Marvin) “You son-of-a-bitch! I’ll kill you, goddamit!” Now he’s getting so…the company’s trying to shoot..

Veteran actor L.Q. Jones as he appeared as Lee Marvin’s henchman on WAGON TRAIN.


D: Oh geez, so he screwed up the shot? 
L: Right, and the A.D. screaming, “Shut up!” (mimes Marvin again) “That cocksucker gave me..” It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes and Red is rolling, we’re playing on the ground, rolling on the fucking ground. We’re trying to keep control because Lee is so mad.
Oh he was really ticked and rightly so. Finally, the director came over and said, “Lee, you’re gonna have to just shut up! We gotta get this shot and your killing us.” (mimes Marvin again) “Goddamit!” I finally said, “Okay Lee, let’s go down and get a cup of coffee.” Anything to shut him up. He mumbled and..he tried to get Red which is the wrong thing because Red is one of smoothest working. He’s probably dead by now. He was smoothest Heart players that ever existed. Then it hatched a feud that I don’t think Lee ever won out on.
D: But he kept trying, by god.
L: Oh yes. He never..I’m sure he asked for Red on a lot of his shows so he could play him, again (I laugh),

Share Button

DICK CAVETT & LEE MARVIN, 1970

Dick Cavett, not quite the ‘King of Late Night’ that Johnny Carson was, actually gave Carson a run for his money for a while there in the talk show wars of the 60s and 70s. A former writer for Carson, his style was a little more urbane and his guests slightly more intellectual than Carson’s usual array of Carl Sagan and Charo or Merv Griffin’s infamous ‘theme shows’. Cavett sometimes had headline making events on his show, such as the fued that happened live on the air between Norman Mailer and Gore VIdal, or the time Yippie co-founder Jerry Rubin punched redneck Governor, Lester Maddox.

Screen grab of Lee Marvin’s appearance on the old Dick Cavett show, circa 1970.

Personally, I liked the show best when Dick Cavett went one-on-one with such guests as Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn or Marlon Brando for the entire episode. Recently, I discovered a YouTube video of Cavett doing just that with Lee Marvin, although it was only a segment and not the full episode. That aside, it’s a wonderful time capsule capturing Marvin had the height of his cinematic popularity. He comes off contemplative, naturally humorous and in appearance, every inch a charismatic movie star. Cavett actually seems a little nervous talking with Marvin but then again, that’s not surprising based on how imposing Marvin looks next to him.
In watching the clip, it’s a little startling to see how much Marvin smoked at the time. That and his drinking would of course wreak havoc in a fairly short time, as shown in another interview with co-star Charles Bronson.
Oh, one more thing. Watch the short clip to the end when Marvin surprises his host and audience with his amazing candor concerning his war wound. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank were able to read some of the letters he spoke of concerning his mother’s reaction to his getting wounded.
All that said, here now is a wonderful blast from the past. I give you Lee Marvin, circa 1970…

Share Button

NOVEMBER ON TCM

November on TCM is upon us and as usual, they’re showing a few Lee Marvin gems. Maybe not as much as some months but there is always something worth watching in which he appears or has a connection to a given film. Regular readers here (if there are any!) know that my intention of this blog is to of course t encourage folks to read and discover my book Lee Marvin Point Blank. So coupled with that is to equally encourage folks to discover his films. With that in mind, I’ll be starting off each month with notification of his films or films he was connect with here on this site. First up, November on TCM. All times are PST:

I Died a Thousand Times airs Monday, November, 2, 10:30pm:

Ad art for I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES featuring a cowering Lee Marvin.


Since Shelley Winters is November’s “Star of the Month” on TCM, they’ll be showing her costarring with Jack Palance in this lush looking remake of High Sierra (194?). The original helped make Humphrey Bogart a breakout star and I guess Palance was hoping for the same. He did a few more sympathetic leads in the 1950s (The Big Knife, Attack!), but then quickly returned to villainous costarring status. A rare exception was his poignant turn as Lee Marvin’s buddy in Monte Walsh (1970) but Marvin had the lead that time. So, check out their earlier teaming in which Marvin plays second banana to Palance as his tough acting yet ultimately cowering henchman. More factoids about it were plumbed here.

Point Blank airs Saturday, November, 7, at 1:30pm.

The better ad art for POINT BLANK’s video release as opposed to the film’s original poster.


 






Considered the first “arthouse action film,” this stylized John Boorman thriller was largely ignored when first released but has since become a recognized classic of the genre, and with good reason. One of Lee Marvin’s first major starring vehicles is clearly also one of his best. It’s also the reason why I used it as my book’s subtitle as I explain in the introduction. If you haven’t seen the film, or even if you have, check it out again and be reminded of Lee Marvin’s gritty brilliance. Read more about it here.

The Dirty Dozen airs Wednesday, November, 11, at 11 am. 

Composite of scenes from the TCM perennial, THE DIRY DOZEN.

If Ted Turner and the good folks at TCM have a perennial favorite other than Gone With the Wind (1939), it must be The Dirty Dozen. It’s airing again as part of the Veteran’s Day line-up of classic war films and the testosterone driven classic still holds up no matter how many times you see it. The all-star male cast is one of the best ever and director Robert Aldrich gets them all to deliver the goods. No wonder TCM programmers like it so much. How much? Check this out

Honorable mentions:
Ride the High Country (1962) Sam Peckinpah’s best film besides The Wild Bunch (1969) airs November 6 and as a friend, drinking buddy and rival of Lee Marvin, it’s a definite must-see. 
Others worth viewing that Marvin doesn’t appear in this month but bears import in the man’s life and work are: the original High Sierra (11/4 & 11/29), The Hurt Locker (11/10) The Snows of Kilimanjaro (11/12), Brother Orchid (11/14), and Kiss Me, Deadly (11/21). Read Lee Marvin: Point Blank to find out their importance. Check local listing for airtime.
So there you have it! November on TCM for Lee Marvin fans. More to come next month and until then, stay safe!

– Dwayne Epstein

Share Button