Since Monday, January 15th marks the 88th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recount Lee Marvin’s contribution to civil rights during the 1960s. Granted, it is indeed an extremely minor contribution compared to Dr. King and other civil rights leaders but in his own way, Lee indeed contributed.
One would think, based on his upbringing, that Marvin would hardly be in favor of civil rights and equality for all races, particularly African-Americans. His mother Courtenay Marvin was an old-world southern Virginian and all that would entail. However, his father Monte Marvin had been in command of a black calvary unit during WWI and had a much more liberal view of African-Americans. Then again, according to Lee’s brother, Robert, both parents hit the roof when Robert briefly dated a young black woman.  And yet again, both boys were cared for by a black maid named Erlene whom they adored. Growing up on the eastern seaboard also meant encounters with various races throughout their formative years, resulting in a rather different view of black people than the one held by their parents.
All that said, Lee Marvin was still very much a product of his time and not above using racially-charged language. However, if one believes that actions speak louder than words, even in those less enlightened times of the early 1960s, Marvin’s more liberal attitude was very much in evidence. Case in point: his lifelong friendship with black actor, Woody Strode. They met during the making of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and remained tight for the rest of their lives.

Although they had no scenes together, Woody Strode (left) and Lee Marvin are pictured at a cast ‘tea party’ during John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

I was extremely fortunate to get what I believe to be the last interview with Strode. His love of Lee Marvin (as well as John Ford) knew no bounds. Their hilarious initial meeting on the set of the film is well-documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Strode, by the way, was not as happy working on the film with Hollywood icon John Wayne. Consequently, he did enjoy watching Ford tease both James Stewart  and Wayne unmercifully for the sake of the performances he wanted from them. Like Ford, Marvin also teased the two conservative Republicans, particularly, Stewart. Reportedly, he needled Stewart by telling him that when the black man rises up, Stewart had better be rightfully frightened in his sleep. He may of course simply had been in character as Liberty Valance but such comments rankled Stewart and tickled both Strode and Ford.

Woody Strode (center) clearly enjoys seeing John Wayne (right) dumbfounded by Jimmy Stewart’s belt in the mouth in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Several years after Liberty Valance, Marvin and Strode appeared on screen again, this time in Richard Brooks’ underrated western adventure, The Professionals.

Lee Marvin discusses a scene with Burt Lancaster, writer/director Richard Brooks and Woody Strode on the Set of The Professionals.

It remains one of Marvin’s best films and should be required viewing by any fan. According to Woody Strode, it was Lee Marvin who managed to get Strode earlier screen time in the film. Again, all is explained in Lee Marvin Point Blank and is not said to deter from Burt Lancaster in any way. The man was only human and had his own foibles and insecurities as anybody else does. In fact, Strode explained to me why he only appeared in the outfit he wore in his opening scene, only in that opening scene. Want details? Gotta read the book.

Woody Strode as he appeared in the opening title sequence of The Professionals.

This may all sound far afield from the original intent of this blog entry but it actually does serve to make the point concerning Martin Luther King Day. King fought and died for civil rights as we all know and Marvin may not have done nearly as much but he did his part, getting his good friend unheard of billing in a period western. More to the point, as King famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  According to Woody Strode, Lee Marvin upheld that creed and became one of the few white friends Strode had in Hollywood. One of the last times Strode saw Lee Marvin was after his success in Europe’s popular ‘Spaghetti Westerns.” As he tells it:

I hadn’t seen Lee for about four years. I got a job in New Mexico called Gatling Gun (1972). By now, I got a Mercedes. The good life had touched me. I called Lee. I said, “Lee, I’m working in New Mexico and I’m coming to see you when I finished.” We finished the picture. I didn’t let him know I was driving a Mercedes. Well baby, it took a couple of days for us get there. I parked out in front of the house, I think in Tucson. I honked the horn. He come out saying, “Who the hell is honking that horn?” He come outside and I said, “Hello, you son-of-a-bitch.” He said “Woody!” I said, “You see what I’m driving?”I got to the fucking money, in a foreign country.” …..So, we had our little weekend. […] When I got there, a writer from Australia was doing an article on Lee Marvin. He saw our relationship and said, “You guys are like brothers.” I been in Europe almost four years and he ain’t seen me in years. I’m in a Mercedes, got a little bank account. It made him feel good.”

As was said, they were like brothers.
If that’s not a worthy story for Martin Luther King’s birthday, I don’t know what is.
-Dwayne Epstein




Veterans Day is yet another time to honor the memory of Lee Marvin, and the honor is provided courtesy of Leatherneck Magazine. I was quite surprised to find out how long the magazine has actually been in existence. This month marks Leatherneck Magazine’s 100th anniversary. Not surprising since November 10th marks the 242nd anniversary of the Marine Corp itself, so there’s some symmetry there.
Equally surprising is the the date in which Veteran’s Day is observed. November 11th was chosen due to the Armistice being signed on that date in WWI, which by the way, it remains Armistice Day in other countries for that reason. Oh, and in case you ever wondered why such organizations as the American Legion sell paper red poppies to raise money, there’s an interesting reason for that, as well. Red poppies were seen blooming on the hills of the Western Front amid the carnage following the armistice of WWI. For some reason I take comfort in that symbolism of life among the dead, instead of selling toy guns or something.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Lee Marvin was interviewed by Leatherneck Magazine about a year before his death making it one of the last ones he ever gave to a periodical. I cam across it during my early research for Lee Marvin Point Blank and found it both insightful and humorous. Unfortunately, upon further research, I discovered some of the facts to be incorrect (Monte Marvin came out of WWII with a Sergeant’s rank, not a captain), making it hard to use anything in it other than Lee Marvin’s quotes. In the long run, that worked out best as it helped me decide to write the chapter on Lee’s time in the USMC strictly in his own words from letters he wrote home during the war. It became one of my favorite exclusives to the book, if you haven’t read it.
So, without further adieu, I give you Lee Marvin speaking freely to Leatherneck. Enjoy and have a good Veteran’s Day!
– Dwayne Epstein

Page 1 of Leatherneck Magazine’s July 1986 interview with Lee Marvin.

Page 2 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 3 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 4 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 5 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 6 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.




Some of the many comments I’ve receive from folks who have read Lee Marvin Point Blank concerns his drinking. There are some who understandably enjoyed his more humorous exploits during those less informed and politically incorrect times. Others have said it changed their opinion of the actor and not for the better. For myself, in doing the research for the book, so many of those stories not only took a much darker tone, I also discovered how distasteful dealing with these incidents had become. After a while, it became downright morbid and forced me to make a conscious decision about it. Instead of constantly ticking off such events in the man’s life, I chose to only include particular stories or events that shed some light on the man’s character. In doing so, I think the result was more enlightening, but of course, there were still some readers who felt shorted, or worse, still thought I over-emphasized the problem simply by the inclusion. Just goes to show, you can’t please everybody.
With that in mind, I found a few images from my research of Lee imbibing that did not make the book but is  included here…or what’s a blogosphere for?

A 15-year-old Lee Marvin (far left) and friends at New York's 1939 World's Fair.

A 15-year-old Lee Marvin (far left) and friends at New York’s 1939 World’s Fair.

The first photo, which to my knowledge has not been previously published, shows a barely in his teens Lee Marvin with some friends enjoying beer and cigarettes at the NY World’s Fair. Since the fair ran from April of 1939 to October 1940, one can only assume Marvin & company went during the summer when school was out. Of course, with Marvin’s academic history, drinking beer and smoking would be a minor consideration for him if he had already ditched class for the day.

Some time in the late 50s, Lee Marvin holds court behind his home bar while wife Betty holds her gaze on her husband's intake.

Some time in the late 50s in their Uplifters Ranch home, Lee Marvin holds court behind his bar while wife Betty (far right) holds her gaze on her husband’s intake.

When Lee and Betty Marvin married and eventually bought a house for their growing family, it was in an area of Santa Monica known as “The Uplifter’s Ranch,” whose history was as colorful as its name. Established in 1913 by several wealthy (and well known) gentlemen, according to Betty Marvin: “The old Uplifters Ranch, it was in the early days, remember the producer Sam Briskin? That era. He had our house. It was a men’s club, a private club for people in the business. They were log cabins and before Will Rogers had polo fields, there were pole fields down below. The men would all go there without their wives and they would play polo and they would drink and play bridge and go crazy. It was a wild club. They had a big pool and stuff. Anyway, Sam Briskin’s wife, and the women found a way to get in. They put up curtains and such…When I found this house it was a mess. Berle, her name was, Johnny Weismuller’s wife, they had all those boys and the place was filthy, chewing gum on the walls. But the bones of the house was great. The architecture was wonderful. When we went there, there was still potholes in the road. It was a private road even though out of spite one of the last widows gave the property to the city so it became a city park. Nobody knew it because there was only one entrance and exit. It was a city park but we still the owned the road in front and half the road in back. No one used it except the kids of the neighborhood and the bus stopped across the street to the little old schoolhouse down the hill….An acre of land with these big old oak trees and avocado trees. It was wonderful. It was so right for us…” And so, The Uplifters Ranch. Not that he needed one but the history proved a perfect place for Lee to imbibe, under his wife’s watchful eye.

Late 1960s: Lee (seated), his father Monte (center) and brother Robert (right) settle an argument in Marvin Woodstock home.

Late 1960s: Lee (seated), his father Monte (center) and brother Robert (right) settle an argument in Marvin Woodstock home.

A little later in life, Lee visited his family in Woodstock for the holidays and is pictured with his brother and father in the 1960s (judging by the actor’s hair), as they peruse an atlas to settle a disagreement. Also, you don’t often see Lee Marvin wearing reading glasses. So, why is this picture included? If you examine the photo a little closer, you might notice the glass on the edge of the end table. It is doubtful the clear liquid is water, probably closer to gin or vodka. It certainly would be the case, if only having to deal with the pajamas that inebriated Robert is wearing.