PRE-STARDOM: LEE MARVIN & THE LADIES

Unlike other male film stars, Lee Marvin didn’t have many romantic entanglements in his films, as readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank are fully aware. When he became a leading star that changed only very slightly but it was even more true in his pre-stardom days.
Oh, he interacted with the opposite sex on screen but certainly not in the manner that normally befitted a future superstar. Take for example 1953’s The Big Heat, in which he played henchman, Vince Stone. His girlfriend, Debbie, was played by Gloria Grahame and anyone who has seen the film knows how their relationship winds up.

A self-satisfied Debbie (Gloria Grahame) hands the phone over to an impatient Vince Stone (Marvin) knowing it’s his boss after she just chided Stone for jumping whenever the big boss calls, in Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT.

Of course Marvin’s chivalry towards the opposite sex is on display earlier in the film in how he treats Carolyn Jones and the way he offers her a cigarette. Talk about foreshadowing!

Then there’s the way Marvin’s aptly named Slob interacts with Terry Moore in the bizarre 1955 cult classic, Shack Out on 101. From the pre-credit prologue until the film’s finale,

Terry Moore as Cotty tries to deal with the advances of Slob in SHACK OUT ON 101.

Marvin and Moore’s way of dealing with each other is one of the highlights of the film. Terry Moore detailed the way in which Marvin threatened her on camera when I interviewed her for Lee Marvin Point Blank and she was delighted with the results. Less delighted was Donna Reed about her equally terrifying scene with Lee Marvin in Hangman’s Knot (1952). Her reaction delighted Marvin but certainly not her.
It seems the only time Marvin was allowed to be halfway human towards women was on television, in which his versatility was put to better than use than on film….

A tender moment with Patricia Donahue in The Last Reunion episode of the NBC anthology series, GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE.

As Lt. Frank Ballinger, Marvin has a uncharacteristically tender moment on his show M SQUAD.

Television notwithstanding, once viewers were able to attach a name to the familiar face, Lee Marvin was back in movie theaters enacting some typical love scenes…

As hired killer Charlie Strom, Lee Marvin gently persuades blind receptionist Virginia Christine  to divulge some vital infomation in Don Siegel’s THE KILLERS.

Vivien Leigh drives home her point to Lee Marvin in their heated debate concerning women’s shoe styles in Stanley Kramer’s SHIP OF FOOLS.

On the brink of major stardom in the early 1960s, Lee Marvin’s roles in such films as The Killers and Ship of Fools had him treating the opposite sex very much in keeping as he had throughout his pre-stardom years of the 1950s. By the end of the 1960s, however, he was an undeniable superstar, in the clinches with the likes of Jane Fonda, Jeanne Moreau and the ever present Angie Dickinson. How did he deal with these ladies on camera as well as off? The subject of the next blog entry….and a good portion of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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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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