LEE MARVIN’S MOTHER, COURTENAY WASHINGTON DAVIDGE

Lee Marvin’s mother, Courtenay Washington Davidge, is clearly a worthy subject for this Mother’s Day blog entry. To say Lee Marvin didn’t like his mother is an oversimplification of a very complicated relationship. Family and friends related to me several examples of Lee’s attitude towards his mother, all of which went into the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Although he rebelled her emphasis to maintain social graces, it did leave an indelible mark on him throughout his life. When he was at his most boorish and outlandish, he instinctively knew when to pull back back his behavior by muttering, “Uh-oh. Courtenay wouldn’t like it.” Such was the effect she had on her sons, Lee and Robert.

(L-R) Unidentified neighbor holding Cynthia, Lee’s mother, Courtenay in glasses, son Christopher, Lee holding daughter, Claudia, wife Betty (barely visible) and daughter Courtenay.

Speaking of Robert Marvin, my ability to convince him to go on the record with me for the first time, resulted in some wonderful treasures unearthed from the Marvin family archives. Many of those images appeared exclusively in the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. However, this being Mother’s Day, here are other images documenting the life of Lee Marvin’s mother, the proud Virginian steel magnolia, Courtenay Davidge Washington Marvin. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all!
– Dwayne Epstein

A rare photo of a VERY young ad serious looking Courtenay during her school days in the early 20th century.

Portrait of Courtenay believed to be in her late teens or early twenties.

Dated December 21st, 1914, Courtenay tries several poses for what might have been p.r. images for her burgeoning writing career.

Courtenay and future husband Monte Marvin in the early days of their relationship  prior to their marriage in 1921 (left) and then a decade after they were married (right) in front of their apartment in Queens, New York.

On the roof of their NY apartment, Courtenay poses with baby Lee for Monte’s camera.

(L-R) Courtenay, Lee’s older brother, Robert, and Lee pose on the rocks one summer in Woodstock, New York.

Young Lee sits on his mother’s lap with brother Robert beside them.

Several images of of a blonde Courtenay with sons Robert and Lee as they enjoy the sun and surf.

Proud parents Courtenay and Monte visit Lee following his completion of basic USMC training.

Fashion conscious Courtenay was a working woman in the field of beauty journalism long before it became the norm. Robert told this writer he remembers many a sleepless night listening to her clacking away on her typewriter as she freelanced for PHOTOPLAY, SCREENLAND, VANITY FAIR and the cosmetic line of Helena Rubinstein, among many other assignments.

After the war, the Marvins settled in Woodstock. (L-R) Courtenay, Lee ‘s then girlfriend, Helen Wagner ,and Lee stand in front of his car. The crumpled rear fender and roof are recounted in a very funny story in the pages of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK.

Courtenay died suddenly March 23rd, 1963, of a massive stroke. Here she’s pictured towards the end of her life in the garden of Lee’s home in Santa Monica. Rest in Peace, Mrs. Marvin.

 

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LEE MARVIN’S SCHOOL DAZE AT THE MANUMIT SCHOOL

This being the traditional beginning of the school year, I thought it appropriate to touch on Lee Marvin’s rollercoaster education. He often boasted in interviews of being kicked out of dozens of both public and private schools in his formative years. However, the truth is that the number was a lot less than that. The schools he did attend for any length of time are all documented in detail for the first time in Lee Marvin: Point Blank, with one example being the experimental upstate New York School called Manumit. If he had his choice, however, Marvin would have preferred a different pursuit, one in which he occassionally skipped school to pursue….
FISHING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He would indulge his love of fishing and the outdoors in various degrees throughout his life. However, in his youth, come the autumn semester, boarding school called. His father Monte sought to enroll him at Manumit in Pawling, New York, based on discussions with its staff members and the brochure….
MANUMITCVR

 

The brochure boasted of its new way of doing things with free-minded students but also included this on the back cover….
MANUMITBCKCVR

 

And so in 1936, 13 year-old Lee Marvin was enrolled, and wore the required outfit of the school…..
MANUMITPIC

 

It was the school’s educational director, William Mann Fincke, who wrote the assement of Marvin’s stay at Manumit. A summary appears in the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank but here now, for the first time, is the full assesement.

MANUMIT1

 

MANUMIT2

 

MANUMIT3

Mr. Fincke’s attempt to end on an optimistic note ended with the above note. Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank know what happened not long after this report was written (pp. 22-24). The progressive school had never encountered the likes of Lee Marvin. The young hellion was indeed kicked out of school but not before he exposed their hypcorisy for what it was. The worst part for Marvin was having to face the wrath of his father, yet again. WHat lay ahead….well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book.

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MOMENTOUS MARVIN MEMENTO

What exactly is the momentous Marvin memento? Well, a little back story is required. When Lee Marvin came home after the war, he settled with his family in the upstate New York area of Woodstock. The closest friend he made those years after the war was David Ballantine. The two men shared many interests including fishing, hunting and gun collecting. Before Marvin knew what he was going to with his life, and even the years after he decided to become an actor, the entire Ballantine family had a great influence over his life. In fact, it was David’s father, E.J. “Teddy” Ballantine who opened Marvin’s eyes to a life as an actor. David’s brother, Ian, and sister-in-law, Betty, started the very succesful publishing company Ballantine Books. Betty was a trusted confidante to the former combat Marine, so much so that he was her insight that led me to discover Marvin’s PTSD which became a most important theme in Lee Marvin: Point Blank.
In the years following Marvin’s phenomonally successful acting career, his friends and family from Woodstock were never too far from his memory. He would visit whenever he could and when something reminded him of his friends back east, he was sure to let them know it. Case in point, this letter from 1969, written and mailed on Monte Walsh stationary….
ballantine envelope

The contents of the letter were 2-fold. First, a quickly typed letter to David in which Marvin recounts the following anecdote on the beach at Malibu….

Dear David,

You are going to think I’m full of shit but here it is. Yesterday I was walking down the beach amongst the driftwood and trash line and feeling a little possesive, my beach, when I spot this green Scotch bottle, a pint, and know the label used to read Ballantine’s. The cork is still in it and I think, the bastards, why don’t they leave the cork out and then it would eventually sink and not litter up ‘MY BEACH.’ Proceeding to do the same, I pick it up and lo….there is something in it. Ah Ha. Some children have secreted a secret map or call for help in it. Okay, I’ll play the game. I can not pull it out of the slim neck so I bring it back to the house and get a hammer and go out to the trashcan to break it. I DO NOT WANT BROKEN GLASS ON ‘MY BEACH.’ So doing, lo and behold. The rest is self-explanatory. I thought you might get a kick out of it, I did. Love to you all, & Pam,

Lee

ballantine letter

 

 

 

What was the 2nd part of the letter that Lee felt was self-explanatory and worthy of writing in the first place? It was of course, the following content of the bottle…..
ballantine content

 

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