‘FEUD’S ROBERT ALDRICH, JOAN CRAWFORD & LEE MARVIN

From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”

The original cast of “Feud” (L-R): Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and Robert Aldrich.

That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”

I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that portrays him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:

Director Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK! co-stars Lee Marvin and the ‘late’ William Smithers.

“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’

To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:

“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.

Newlyweds Betty and Lee Marvin around the time Lee was offered a ‘role’ opposite Betty’s former employer, Joan Crawford.

What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: LAWMEN OF THE WEST

My lengthy and ongoing research into Lee Marvin Point Blank yielded some unexpected benefits, for example authoring several Young Adult titles for Lucent Books, such as Lawmen of the West for their History Makers series.
How it came about, was more serendipity than Kismet. In need of a job after being laid-off from the small publishing company I worked for, the wife of one of the brothers in The Bastard Sons of Lee (BSOL) informed me of the writing she was doing for Lucent. She then put me in contact with an acquisition editor there and we discussed possible titles in their various series. Lo and behold, I discovered they had several young adult biographical series that needed authors so I jumped at the chance to do Lawmen of the West for their History Makers series.

The cover for my young adult multi-biography LAWMEN OF THE WEST, part of Lucent Books’ History Makers series, published in 2005.

It might seem an odd choice for this Brooklyn boy, I grant you, but I figured being a a movie fan might help me enjoy exploring the lives of some of the individuals often depicted on screen. What the series required seemed daunting at first but then again, what new project isn’t? The form of a multi-biographical series actually dates back to Plutarch in the 1st Century, who wrote volumes within the theme of comparing leading Romans to ancient Greeks. Not too daunting a challenge, right? Each chapter needed to have not only a worthy individual who’s life is briefly explored, but most importantly, a specific theme within that life that has to be emphasized throughout the span of that lifetime. Such a requriement not only gave me pause, it nearly had me giving up!

Copyright and Table of Contents for LAWMEN OF THE WEST.

Luckily, once I began exploring the possible inclusions, the theme actually seeped into the work itself. As noted in the table of contents seen above, the subtitles told the tale of the themes within. I chose the subjects, did the research, wrote ’em up and then created introduction(s) and bibliographies. The only one I had to drop (due to length), was Alan Pinkerton, the Scottish immigrant who helped create the Secret Service following Lincoln’s assassination and the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, the one with the big eye on their business cards.

The section on the last years of Wyatt Earp that is not nearly as talked about as the O.K. Corral.

There was some necessary obvious choices, such as the likes of Wyatt Earp, first and foremost. In researching his legacy I not only discovered how reluctantly he became a lawman (the perfect theme) but also how vindictiveness made him more like Michael Corleone than Matt Dillon. His later years were also just as intriguing but less written about, as well.
Along the way, I developed personal favorites. Topping the list for me was Bat Masterson.

The opening section on the chapter on Bat Masterson, who was a personal favorite of the author.

Not only a legendary lawman but a spinner tales in which he probably never did really kill anybody but created a reputation that entered a room long before he did. His final days as a NY sports writer was yet another fascinating twist. Bitter at the end of his life, the day he died he was found slumped over his typewriter with what could have been his epitaph freshly typed onto the page: “There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose the ginks who argue that way hold that, because the rich man gets icier the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”
The creation of these researched biographical sketches taught me much about what life writing is all about. The themes fleshed out and executed within, kept me in good stead in researching and writing about Lee Marvin and other figures since. It also proved that biographies had changed MUCH since I was a kid. For example……

A staple of young adult bios if they can be done is the dead body of an individual, always a crowd pleaser.

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5 WAYS TO CELEBRATE LEE MARVIN’S HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY

Sunday, February 19th, marks the 93rd birthday of Lee Marvin. Granted, it is what’s often described as a heavenly birthday as he passed in 1987. However, even though it’s only in spirit, there are some ways to pay tribute to his heavenly birthday. By the way, all photos shown herein is a just a small sample of the images in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

John Wayne: You shoot pretty good drunk.
Lee Marvin: Better drunk than sober.
-The Comancheros

 

 

  1. Get Drunk And Bring Out The Heavy Firearms: According to several sources, such as his first wife, Betty, as well as Keenan Wynn’s son, Ned, Lee did that on more than one occasion.The amazing thing is no one ever got hurt in the process. Sort of like the lines of dialogue between Marvin’s Tully Crowe and John Wayne’s Jake Cutter in The Comancheros. Matter of fact, if guns weren’t available, he’d resort to pantomime. Safer than heavy firepower but not nearly as much fun for him. Sure, the guns in the hands of a drunken ex-Marine might be scary but hey, would you expect anything less from Lee Marvin?

On the left, Marvin in costume as British Marine ‘Hallam’ in the Broadway production of Billy Budd. On the right, in Shakespearean garb while studying at the American Theater Wing.

2. Get Drunk & Wear Period Clothing: Marvin did it for pay in his sole Broadway appearance in Billy Budd. However, bet you didn’t know he was also well-versed in the Bard, did you? The training he received after the war at the American Theatre Wing included fencing, movement, and yes, Shakespeare, which he could quote verbatim. He did so even later in his career, impressing everyone during an improvised dramatic moment on location for The Big Red One. I don’t know if he was sober when the picture in Elizabethean togs was taken but he certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself. By the way, the story concerning his fencing class is a personal favorite.

Lee Marvin ‘s Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou included this hard-to-get famous sight gag,.

3. Get drunk & Go to Work: Marvin’s professionalism was as legendary as his drinking exploits. However, tales of his drinking on the job were mostly exaggerated. There were occasions when work and drink did converge (The Killers, Sgt. Ryker, The Professionals) as covered in the book. The specific scenes are covered in the book so you can see exactly where in the given performance it occurred. His Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou had one such instance, according to director Elliot Silverstein but the famous sight gag seen here was not one of them. Got to read the book to find out, which also details how they got the horse to  ‘inebriated,’ as well.

A Jeep full of drunk Marines just before shipping out overseas, with Lee top center.

4. Get Drunk & Re-enlist:
According to director, John Boorman, Lee had done exactly that on a at least one occasion while they were making Point Blank. It certainly wasn’t a new phenomena as he admitted to doing it even shortly after the war ended. Not something to be advised for everyone, as Lee was politely turned down each time due to his disability status. Doubtful other drunk ex-Marines may be as lucky.

Lee battles SEINFELD’S Uncle Leo in Shack Out on !01.

5. Get Drunk & Start a Fight: Lee Marvin’s barroom exploits became so famous they actually earned titles like “The Robin Hood Party,” 6-foot tall Black Helen, “The Vibrator Salute,” and “The Battered Banjo player Lawsuit.” Several of theses debauches were more  legend than fact in terms of Marvin’s involvement, such as my personal favorite: The English pub that had the bad luck of being Marvin’s choice of celebratory indulgence for his birthday while filming The Dirty Dozen. Why is it a favorite? As retold by Bob Phillips, if it wasn’d for the 6-foot barmaid dubbed “Black Helen,” it’s doubtful Marvin would have gotten out alive!

Maybe it’s best to just get sober, take the pledge and buy the hardcover of Lee Marvin Point Blank. It’s also available as a Kindle and paperback with extra material. Of course, if you prefer a paperback signed by the author directly to you, there’s always Ebay. It may not be as adventurous but it’s certainly a lot safer. Besides, you can do the other five vicariously through him when reading his exploits.

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