Roger Fristoe, insightful freelancer for Turner Classic Movies (TCM) contacted me a while back when I had blogged about Raintree County. At the time I hadn’t known Roger very well but have since gotten to him better via Facebook. He had good things to say about Lee Marvin Point Blankso naturally, I had to get to know him better. Well, since this week is the anniversary of the opening of Raintree County, I asked him if he’d let me run the interview he did with Marvin back in 1986 for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY, and he agreed. The opening before the piece is the e-mail response I’ve included here to give a little more interesting background to Marvin’s performance. Here then, in all its glory, is the interview with Lee Marvin conducted by Roger Fristoe on the making of Raintree County…
Sunday magazine cover for Roger Fristoe’s piece on RAINTREE COUNTY for the Lexington Courier that included the sidebar interview with Lee Marvin.
“Hi Dwayne, The Marvin piece was a sidebar to the main story and ran with it. I thought that gave it more prominence. Something that didn’t get into the piece…I told him that I loved his reading of his final line, “I’m from Raintree County!” He said it was an inspiration of the moment as they were shooting the scene that he added that element of surprise: how could this son of Raintree County come to this end??? ….. ” I may have told you that I wrote to all the surviving stars at the time of the story requesting phone interviews, and he was the only one who called. I was quite startled at work that day to pick up the phone and hear that booming voice: “Hey Roger, it’s Lee Marvin, what can I do for you?”
Hope you enjoy — all the best, Roger Fristoe”
Lee Marvin Remembers
“Raintree County” – and Kentucky
“‘Raintree County was the last big film of its kind from MGM and, along with “Paint Your Wagon, my only exposure to that kind of spectacular production you associate with the old days. I thought it was a great book and a great film. But Civil War stories haven’t done well in years, except for those two ‘North and South series on TV. [According to Lee Marvin:}
“Everybody was in love with Elizabeth Taylor. Even today, when you see her, she just makes you want to smile all over. But she and Monty Clift were locked into a kind of privacy that I didn’t really share. I wasn’t really a noted actor at that time and have never been a leading man in the sense of people climbing all over you and tearing your clothes off. In Danville, I immediately mixed in with the locals with no problem.
“My memory now is not so much the film as those people who were so generous and so conducive to making us feel at home there in Kentucky. And, for God’s sake, this was a Yankee story! Now, Kentucky may have been a border state during the Civil War, but it leaned toward the South, right? I got a great kick out of the whole business of all those Rebs cast as extras and dressed in the blue uniforms of the Yankee army. I told ’em, “Look at it this way: this time you’re gonna win!”
(L-R) Lee Marvin and Montgomert Clift as ‘Bummers’ during the Civil War scene in RAINTREE COUNTY.
“You have an awful lot of time to kill between setups, and you’ve got to keep the juices flowing, so I spent a lot of time talking to the extras and helping them get into the spirit of the thing. When they marched by with a flag, I’d yell, “Don’t just wave it. Snap that flag! I’d get ’em going. And they were marvelous about it.
“My memories of the whole project are absolutely stunning. I kept my nose pretty clean, and the local people accepted me very well. They showed me great courtesy and made the location one of the most pleasant I’d ever worked on. It was amazing the things they did for us, the way they opened up their homes to us, the care they took of us. Everyone there was easygoing and accepting as long as you were genteel yourself.
“My mother is from Virginia, and she had brought me up to practice a certain kind of manners. When you do things in a cordial and acceptable manner, people respond in kind.”
(L-R) Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, director Edward Dmytryk (standing), Elizabeth Taylor, Montgmery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Agnes Moorhead and Walter Abel.
Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey’s legendary rocker, recently celebrated his 71st birthday –Sept. 23rd, to be exact — and as such, I thought it a good time to explore the possible connection between the man’s music (one song in particular), and a possible Lee Marvin connection.
Terrific cover art for the VHS release of POINT BLANK.
Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know why I titled the book what I did as it’s explained in the introduction. Yes, it’s partly due to the title of one of his signature films, but there’s actually more to it than that.
What does any of this have to do with Bruce Springsteen, you may ask? Well, to start with, Springsteen has often utilized imagery from films in his work, which is why I thought there may indeed be a Lee Marvin connection. For example, having been a long time fan, I was amazed the way in which he opened the first concert I ever saw. The arena went dark and over the sound system came the following dialog: “Me and the boys got us some work to do. Wanna come along? Won’t be like the old days….but it’ll do.” That end dialog from The Wild Bunch (a film Lee Marvin almost made, by the way), lead to the stage lights coming up and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band launching into Buddy Holly’s rocking “Oh Boy!” For the next four hours, I was enthralled and then exhausted by evening’s end. “The Boss’ put on one hell of a show!
Article in the L.A. newspaper for the first Springsteen show I saw back in 1980
That aside, Springsteen’s film references include everything from titling one of his signature songs “Thunder Road,” after the 1958 cult Robert Mitchum film, to to the title of his album The Ghost of Tom Joad, as in the character Henry Fonda played in the John Steinbeck adapted film, The Grapes of Wrath. Even more pervasive are the lyrics chosen for some of his songs. Take for example, “Cadillac Ranch” in which he borrows imagery from the likes Rebel Without a Cause, The Last American Hero and Smokey & The Bandit: “James Dean in that Mercury ’49 Junior Johnson runnin’ thru the woods of Caroline Even Burt Reynolds in that black Trans Am all gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch.”
1980 line-up of the E Street Band :(L-R) Bassist Gary Tallent,guitarist Steve Van Zandt, organist Danny Federici, Springsteen, drummer Max Weinberg, pianist Roy Bittan, and saxophonist Clarence Clemmons.
Which brings us to the haunting lyrics of “Point Blank” from his 1980 double album, “The River.” The song concerns the end of a romance in which the narrator describes how his ex-lover has been destroyed by her experiences. At one point in the song, he dreams they are dancing together again, only to wake up and discover she’s standing in the doorway trying to stay out of the rain “looking like just another stranger waitin’ to get blown away.” Hence the title and chorus, “Point Blank”.
Libretto from THE RIVER for “Point Blank.”
Granted, it’s hardly the same premise or theme as the Marvin film. However, creative entities, such as Springsteen can be motivated in the most interesting of ways. Since he clearly is quite literate when it comes to film iconography, one can easily picture him watching the film one night and grabbing a pad and pencil with an idea once the premise of the film is established. Is Walker alive or dead? As Walker himself asks, what is all a dream that he was double-crossed by his wife and best friend then left for dead? It certainly is not a new premise for a writer to create a theme of blurred lines between life and death, or dreams and reality. I believe Ambrose Bierce’s classic 1890 short story “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” set the standard for such a theme. A personal favorite is Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” which realistically established a character grappling with the ability to know whether he is asleep or awake. In other words, Walker of Point Blank may have very well inspired Springsteen to use the premise as a springboard for what he would utilize as a dark concept of a tortured romance. Pure supposition, for sure, but certainly not unlikely. Judge for yourself in the video below and in closing, happy birthday, Bruce Springsteen! – Dwayne Epstein
KCAL9 in the Los Angeles metro area does an afternoon news show and a few years back I was interviewed on it by Sandra Mitchell. Recently, I came across the video of it that was posted on YouTube by a friend from high school, John Escobar. It aired back in 2014 not long after my book, Lee Marvin Point Blank came out.
Opening image from my local news interview.
It seems so strange viewing it all these years later as I weighed so MUCH more then. Sitting it front of a computer screen will do that to you, I guess. Luckily, that is no longer the case, not as much anyway. More to the point I am more physically active and have shed ALL that extra bulk.
Anyway, it was one of the first on-air interviews I did to promote the book and I was surprised to see how little stuttered considering how nervous I was. Sandra Mitchell was a sweetheart and very easy to talk to so that may have had a lot to do with it.
I do remember what a weird experience it was in how it was done. I expected to see a full crew in the studio for the live shot. However, what I encountered when I got to the KCAL9 studio was simply Sandra and several robotic camera cranes. No crew at all to speak of which gave the whole experience a sort of Isaac Asimov effect.
Screen grab of myself and Sandra Mitchell.
It was setup by the p.r. firm my publisher contracted so I was accompanied by the publicist’s partner, Laurel Lambert, and my girlfriend Barbara. Good thing, too, as I had no idea what to expect. So without further ado, from December 24th, 2014, I give you me and Sandra. Thanks again, John!