DIRT BIKE DEMON LEE MARVIN?

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?

A mud splattered Lee in his motorcycle leathers smiles for wife Betty's camera. The helmet, a gift from Betty, had two connecting hearts on the front with their initials inside.

A mud splattered Lee in his motorcycle leathers smiles for wife Betty’s camera. The helmet, a gift from Betty, had two connecting hearts on the front with their initials inside.

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.

Lee shown taking a hill on his Triumph.

Lee shown taking a hill on his Triumph.

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.

Rare photo of Lee and good friend Keenan Wynn out dirtbiking for the day. They also rode their bikes in less competitive venues, such as the showroom of the Beverly Hills Mercedez-Benz dealership.

Rare photo of Lee and good friend Keenan Wynn out dirtbiking for the day. They also rode their bikes in less competitive venues, such as the showroom of the Beverly Hills Mercedez-Benz dealership.

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].

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ROBERT MITCHUM & LEE MARVIN

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Lee Marvin (left), Frank Sinatra (center) and Robert Mitchum (right) as med students in Stanley Kramer’s Not as a Stranger.

Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin. Both names conjur countless images of never-to-be-forgotten films enacted by two men who although similiar, were far from identical. Each had their own persona, that sadly, other than a few brief scenes in Stanley Kramer’s Not As A Stranger (1955), never crossed paths on the silver screen. Along with Frank Sinatra, the 3 iconic actors played med students in producer Kramer’s directorial debut as seen right….

 

 

Marvin’s one big scene in the film comes when the med students (all men, by the way) gather before class to discuss their future fortunes. Marvin, as Brundage, informs one and all that it’s not what you practice but where, as in Beverly Hill. The most idealistic of the students, Robert Mitchum’s Lucas Marsh, is clealry disgusted by Marvin’s philosophy…..

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Lee Marvin (far left) sets his fellow students straight, including Sinatra (center) future director Jerry Paris (next to Marvin) and a disgusted Robert Mitchum

Through the years, the two men would meet socially on occasion but were never close. More is the pity as they actually had much in common. Both men had a superficial veneer of indifference that shielded some deep-seeded emotional scars. For Marvin it was the war-induced PTSD, while Mitchum’s childhood abandonment, wanderlust and incarceration was rarely spoken of with any depth. When they did meet socially, as in the candid photo below with French director Roger Vadim, they kept the conversation light….

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Mitchum (left) and Marvin (right) smoke and talk in this candid photo, with French director Roger Vadim (center) clearly distracted by possibly wife Jane Fonda .or another starlet in the proximity

I would have liked to have interviewed Mitchum for my book Lee Marvin: Point Blank, but sadly, never got the chance. I did however, speak with his character actor brother, John, in 1994 at the Lone Pine Film Festival the unused portion of which can be read below. He had co-starred with Marvin in Paint Your Wagon and as a famed storyteller, he had a fascinating take on working with Marvin and his older brother’s thoughts on men of their generation…..

D: If I could, Mr. Mitchum, just talk to me about Lee Marvin.
J: Well, you want the truth, don’t you?
D: Absolutely.
J: You can edit it any way you want. Well, the first two weeks on Paint Your Wagon, Lee had been drinking a great deal. I don’t think he needed an excuse… Now, as you remember, I played the Mormon with two wives. I had this big black outfit. They flew me in a helicopter on the day before I was to shoot so they could try my outfit on. So, here I got this big outfit on and Lee came over and he grabbed me by the collar, drinking, mind you. He said [slurred] “Well, Mitchum, tonight when we wrap, why don’t you wear this outfit down in Baker so they’ll know you’re an actor?” Then I found out why he was so incensed because I had done nothing to merit that. He had a babysitter named Boyd Cabeen, who’s gone now, too. They hire babysitters to work with the star, so if the star get in a fight in a bar, the babysitter walks in and stops it. He says, “If you want action, try me on for size.” So, Boyd was talking to Lee and said, “Why don’t you quit drinking, Lee? You can’t handle it. You don’t know your rear end from the Grand Canyon after you’ve had two beers. I used to babysit Mitchum at Metro and he would be drinking until six in the morning, be on the set at seven, never drop a line. But you can’t….” But the name Mitchum, “Ah Ha!” That was stewing in his mind. So, when I came up there — of course, I’m the closest target — Bob wasn’t anywhere around. Lee did apolgize a couple of days later after he saw the rushes. His apology was very left-handed. They showed the rushes of my coming in on the jackass with two women, the first scene at the trading post, there. He stood up and looked at the whole cast and crew and said, “Finally, we got an actor up here who’s got balls.”
D: [laughs} That sounds like Lee Marvin.
J: That’s a Lee Marvin compliment.
J: But Lee was a very complex man. He was in the Marine Corp during the war. By the way, I saw him up on Paint Your Wagon do a karate kick straight up in the air. If he wanted to kick your chin off, he could have done it in a second. He was that agile. During the war, he made a number of invasions. He was a very, very tought man. With all that movie star stuff, he was very tough.
D: Was there any rivalry betweent him and your brother, at all?
J: No.
D: They were often up for the same parts.
J: No, I don’t think there was any rivalry. As far as my brother is concerned, he didn’t understand that, at all. He did a picture with Bruce Dern, That Championship Season. I said, “Bob, what was it like working with Bruce?” His answer was clarifying. He said, “He [Dern] still doesn’t know that acting is not a competitive business.”
D: Bruce Dern obviously thinks it is.
J: Oh yes. “You have to compete with so and so..” Now, how can you do that? You can do that by upstaging and picking your nose at the wrong time.
D: And in the long run, you’re going to suffer for it.
J: That’s right.
D: Did your brother know Lee Marvin, well?
J: He knew him, but he didn’t know him closely.
D: They were also offered the same roles on occassion, like Patton. Was there any animosity between them?
J: No, no such thing. No way, with either of them. They’re too manly. They’re men. They’re not little boys. Both of them were extraordinary men, as far as I’m concerned.
D: Oh, defintiely.
J: Extraordinary. See, I worked on “M Squad” with Lee. I did it years ago.
D: Any stories about that?
J: Only that he was a marvelous man to work with. There was no heroics. No, ‘I’m the star.’ None of that.
D: Just a professional.
J: Total professional. Total. Which to me, is the most beautiful way to work. People just do their jobs, shut up and go home. None of this posing around. Neither one, Bob or Lee, would do that, whatsoever.

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