MY 1998 INTERVIEW WITH THE LATE ROBERT VAUGHN

I don’t normally post a blog as frequently as this but the recent passing of Robert Vaughn compels me to do so. I interviewed Mr. Vaughn at the  Beverly Garland Hotel on January 18. 1998. I was well aware of his impressive career and would loved to have talk to him about it at length. However, my purpose for speaking with him had to remain at the forefront, which was his work with Lee Marvin. Since he had known Lee’s first wife, Betty, my mentioning of her gained me entry into a discussion with Vaughn. He was erudite, literate and most of all, a consummate pro. I was nervous but my fears were quickly allayed once we began. Would have loved to talk with him about his wonderful book about the blacklist, Only Victims, or his work on The Magnificent Seven or “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Bullitt, or countless other projects worthy of his talent. Sadly, I never got the chance.
However, here is the actual interview below, unedited and put to good use in fleshing out Lee Marvin Point Blank. Enjoy.

DWAYNE: You worked with Mr. Marvin in Delta Force, right?
ROBERT VAUGHN: Yeah, I worked with him in Delta Force. We shot that in Israel. I guess it was the 80s. He was not well at the time.
D: Yeah, that was his last film.

The late Robert Vaughn as General Woodbridge in 1986's DELTA FORCE.

The late Robert Vaughn as General Woodbridge in 1986’s DELTA FORCE.

R: Was that his last picture? [I nod]. He was very pleasant but he was fragile; getting up very slowly, getting down very slowly. He was not in good health. But I knew him from many, many years ago when he was married to his first wife and they lived out in the canyon area. I remember I was going with a girl named Joyce Gibbs who knew Betty and we used to go out there. Lee used to greet us with a Bloody Mary in his hand about 10:00 Sunday morning. So I knew him very many years, before he did “M Squad.”
D: Do you recall when you first met him?
R: I believe it was in the late 50s. When was “M Squad?”
D: That was in the late 50s.
R: Then it was around that time. I don’t think he had done it…I believe he was a member of that which I was a member of called the Stage Society. I don’t know whether he was a member but I know he was around there. It was a little theater group out on Melrose & Doheny. It was around 20 years in the late 50s and early 60s. It was founded by Gary Cooper and people like that.
D: I’m not familiar with this.
R: Well, Betty was obviously a member of the group but I think Lee was around the theater quite a bit. I don’t think he was actually a member of the group but that’s when I first met him.
D: Was there any shows that he did?
R: He didn’t do any plays there as far as I know.
D: I know he did some plays, like in La Jolla.
R: He didn’t do any there [stage group] while I was there. I know that for sure because I was very actively involved from around ‘52 to ‘56. Maybe that was the time I met Lee.
D: When you think of Lee Marvin, are there any specific incidents that that stick out in your mind as to the kind of man he was?
R: I just thought he was a classic case of movie star appeal. There was just nobody else like him. The X-factor, sex appeal, whatever you want to call it. Lee was Lee and he was just a tremendous force on the screen.
D: What was he like to work with in a scene as another actor?
R: I really didn’t work with him in Delta Force.
D: If I recall, the scenes you had with him in conversation…
R: I was in a room talking, he was on a monitor and I was on a monitor talking somewhere else. Although I saw him quite a bit while we were filming, I didn’t actually work with him in a scene.
D: It’s one of those cases of working with an actor but never actually working with him.
R: I did a movie called Black Moon Rising where I was the principle heavy and the lead was Tommy Lee Jones and we never met. We had a whole sequence at the end of the picture where I was chasing him around a garage in a car but we never actually personally met on film. So, movie magic works its ways.

Also from 1986, Robert Vaughn costarred with Tommy Lee Jones in BLACK MOON RISING but according to Vaughn, they never met!

Also from 1986, Robert Vaughn costarred with Tommy Lee Jones in BLACK MOON RISING but according to Vaughn, they never met!

D: Yes, it does. When you were working on Delta Force, how did he get along with the rest of the cast?
R: Very well. The fellow who directed it was also the producer, Menachem Golan. He was very kind to me. He gave me his chauffeured car and drove me through Jerusalem and various other sights in the Holy Land. He gave me his chauffeur and his car and it so happens his chauffeur was very knowledgeable, as most Israelis are, not only of the history of the state of Israel, but roots to the bible. So this guide took me all over Israel, which is impossible to do in a tizzy, but he was a wonderful tour guide.
D: That was a pretty eclectic cast, with people like Joey Bishop, Shelley Winters and…
R: Chuck Norris. I worked with him on his show a couple of years ago.
D: How did he play with the rest of this kind of cast?
R: As I say, I didn’t really work with any of these guys. Most of my scenes were shot in one room, as I recall. I was talking to somebody on a TV screen. I didn’t really work with any of these people. I just saw them around Israel.
D: Was Marvin drinking during the making of the film?
R: He may have been but not that I could see.
D: He did taper off a lot towards the end of his life.
R: As I say, he looked very, very frail. He was very gingerly getting in and out of chairs and so on. He was obviously very weak but he had a lot of energy and his spirits were good. He was very popular and very well-liked. We had a good time on the rare moments we had to talked together.
D: Do you recall any of the conversations?

A fragile looking Lee Marvin (left), according to costar Robert Vaughn, and toplined costar Chuck Norris in DELTA FORCE.

A fragile looking Lee Marvin (left), according to costar Robert Vaughn, pictured with costar Chuck Norris in DELTA FORCE.

R: I do not.
D: Do you recall when the last time you saw him was?
R: I think it was the last time because he died shortly after that.
D: Yeah, that was his last film. Well, thank you very much for your time, Mr. Vaughn.
R: It was my pleasure.

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TCM’S “SUMMER UNDER THE STARS” SUBJECT: ANGIE DICKINSON ON LEE MARVIN

Of all the actors Lee Marvin worked with, he worked with one woman more than any other: Angie Dickinson. They first worked together on the TV show “M Squad” and then in The Killers (1964), Point Blank (1967), Death Hunt (1981) and several Bob Hope comedy specials. Their mutual chemistry on screen was palpable but circumstances and timing on each of their projects kept them from doing anything about it offscreen. However, on more than one occassion, it came frustratingly close, as documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Dickinson was one of the few truly important subjects I sought to interview for my book but in spite of her many public appearances, she is an intensely private person. At one point, she and I had both been interviewed for the A & E Biography of Lee and it was then that she finally relented. The show’s producer offered some foreshadowing when I was told Angie really had not said much that the show found useable.
She finally agreed to sit down with me in her southern California home. Polite, courteous and wonderfully acommodating, she nonetheless proved understandably reticent when it came to opening up about her frequent costar. Amazingly, she came up with a great idea. She left the room briefly and returned with the poster from The Killers and said, “Maybe this will jog my memory.” It did the trick. Memories came flooding forth and the day flew by as she remembered all the anecdotes of Lee that eventually went in the book. Most of what she had to say about Lee and her observations and experiences were quite impressive. Some of the few comments that did not make it in the book, follows the pictures from their three films together:

The original ad for THE KILLERS.

The original ad for THE KILLERS.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

Their final film together, Angie Dickinson found Lee Marvin to be much more curmudgeinly during the making of DEATH HUNT.

In their final film together, Angie Dickinson found Lee Marvin to be much more curmudgeonly during the making of DEATH HUNT.

“Lee was the personification of a man.. Ohhh!….He was more than good. You wanted to be good with him. You wanted to be good for him. …Sometimes, as an actor, a certain thing is expected of you, period. But there’s another time, there’s just something more you want to be. He did have a sadness about him. Sad, sad, sad. When people are sad, you want to make them not sad. For me at least, it just made me want to be better. I never analyzed it beyond that. It was just a natural instinct. Of course, the professional side of you, you want to look good in the presence of greatness…. With all of his courage and toughness, he was so shy. That sounds like a dichotomy but it’s not. You can be firm in what you believe in and be shy in how you go about it. He was certainly basically a shy man. He was shy about himself and strong and tough about his principles and therefore his acting.”

 

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EMMY AWARDS, TV VIOLENCE & LEE MARVIN

The Emmy Awards last weekend got me to thinking about when Lee Marvin was active in television, and how much the medium had changed. As pointed out extensively in Lee Marvin Point Blank, during the time he was an active particpant in the burgeoning venue (via his many guest appearances and two TV shows), his dislike of television became fairly well known. The rushed schedule, kowtowing to sponsors and their products and the below-average content were all things he railed against on a regular basis. Marvin’s passing in 1987 meant he missed out on the digital age explosion of cable, the internet, video-on-demand and a host of other innovations he probably would have found reason to shake his fist at, as well.
It was not as if all that he had involved himself in through television was of inferior quality, so as to make his commentary sound like sour grapes. Quite the contrary. Marvin himself was Emmy-nominated in the early 60s for his searing performance in People Need People, playing an emotionally scarred Marine invovled in group therapy.
Marvin’s dislike of the medium also had another component. He loathed phoniness, especially when it came to violence on TV. During his short stint as host of the syndicated show Lawbreakers — a sort of precursor to Cops — Marvin agreed to allow the show’s publicist, Peter Levinson, to ghost write an article in his name that has been making the rounds of the internet, lately. Levinson retired in the 90s to focus on writing bestselling biographies on the likes of Nelson Riddle, Fred Astaire and Harry James. Sadly, he passed away in 2003 but since he also did P.R. for some of Marvin’s films — most notably The Big Red One — I was fortunate enough to interview Levinson in 1996 in his office. His insight  into Marvin was spot on and the story behind the article is below…..

Dwayne: You knew Lee Marvin because you worked as a publicist on The Big Red One.. Peter: Yeah, but I met him before. I  first met him… what we’re talking about was done in ‘62. There’s a story..in fact, I know where it is. It’s in the other room. It’s a piece I did for TV-Radio Mirror which was the big TV fan magazine at the time. The leading one. It was called: “There Isn’t Enough Real Violence On Television.” Meaning, “I know what violence is about and it’s not portrayed correctly.” When I first met him… I don’t know what we went out to Burbank for but he was doing something that had snow or something and it was a famous story. It was a thing he did for television and he was showing us how fake it was but how effective it was for the camera. [The show was The American in which Marvin played Iwo Jima hero and Pima Indian Ira Hayes]. As I recall, he never remembered my name but he remembered my face. Then, I would see him around over the years. Walk over and say hello…
I was a freelance writer [then]. Paul Wasserman handled his publicity forJim Mahoney’s P.R. firm for probably ten years or so. Paul made him into something important. He did a very, very outstanding job. He had come to work with him and you know. He graduated from being a character actor. Then the next time I saw him of course was not until..I mean I’d see him around a lot. I lived out here and then I went back to New York. Paul would be with him in New York and I’d see him once in awhile.
D: So, you met him when hew as doing the TV series “Lawbreakers”?
P: No, “M-Squad.”
D: The article here was from “Lawbreakers.”
P: What happened was, at that time, you see I don’t know how it happened. Lee had been around a few years. After all, Lee had been in this town since the early fifties. Ten years later, it usually..When a guy’s been around this town ten years, he got a lot of work and it took him a long time to get started. A lot of work but he never went anywhere. Then, come the sixties, he got into TV, “M-Squad” and so forth. It’s very rare that it takes a guy that long and the guy makes it. If they don’t make it in the first three, four, five, six years, it rarely happens. It took him seven or eight years before he really got going. Then, for him to get a publicist was probably against his nature. I would think becuase he didn’t….he was a very moral person. Publicity would be somehow construed with subterfuge or something like that. That’s the feeling I got. So, for him to get Jim Mahoney, who was a very important firm at that time, that was really something.

And the article in question that has been posted a lot recently? The full content, with the great title as overseen (but NOT written) by Lee Marvin can be see below, courtesy of the late Peter Levinson…..

Part 1 of Peter Levinson's ghosted TV violence article for Lee Marvin.

Part 1 of Peter Levinson’s ghosted TV violence article for Lee Marvin.

 

Tv Violence, Part II

Tv Violence, Part II

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