ROBERT MITCHUM & LEE MARVIN: IN HONOR OF MITCHUM’S BIRTHDAY

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….

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

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

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 Hills. The most idealistic of the students, Robert Mitchum’s Lucas Marsh, is clealry disgusted by Marvin’s philosophy.

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

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….

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.

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  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.”

John Mitchum, brother of Robert, as he appeared in Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin.

John Mitchum, brother of Robert, as he appeared in Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin.

D: [laughs} That sounds like Lee Marvin.
D: 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, definitely.
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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HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRODUCER/DIRECTOR STANLEY KRAMER

September 29, 1913, marks the birthday of the prolific producer/director Stanely Kramer, who blazed new ground in dealing with the human condition’s most pressing issues. He also helped bring to the screen some of the postwar era’s greatest actors, such as Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas and Sidney Poitier. Less remembered is the fact that he also played a highly siginificant role in the career of Lee Marvin. Early on, Kramer proved to be the one major Hollywood figure to recognize Marvin’s talent and utlized that talent to great effect for more than a decade. One of the first and most important roles in the actor’s career was an appearance on Jack Webb’s TV series, Dragnet. It was one of Marvin’s first lead roles, playing a homicidal natural foods fanatic (!) who gives Joe Friday and his partner a run for their money…..

Lee Marvin's appearance in this Dragnet episode caught the attention of producer/director Stanley Kramer.

Lee Marvin’s appearance in this Dragnet episode caught the attention of producer/director Stanley Kramer.

The actor was excellent in the role and impressed producer Webb with a hilarious anecdote recounted in Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Marvin’s agent, Meyer Mishkin, made sure to get a copy of the episode to show to all the major players in Hollywood at the time and the first to take notice was Kramer. He cast him in his first lead role as Sgt. Joe Mooney in the film Eight Iron Men based on the Broadway play A Sound Of Hunting, which had earned a film contract for Burt Lancaster in the same part. Marvin again proved to be perfect in the role, as seen below….

Left to right: Richard Kiley, Marvin and Arthur Franz. Franz had convinced to marry his first wife, Betty.

Left to right: Richard Kiley, Marvin and Arthur Franz in Eight Iron Men. Franz had convinced Marvin to marry his first wife, Betty.

Over the next several years, as Kramer continued to produce such films as The Wild One and The Caine Mutiny, he sought out Marvin to etch impressive characeterizations in roles both large and small. When Kramer decided to make his directing debut in the medical drama Not As A Stranger, as a good luck charm he cast Marvin in the small but interesting role of Brundage, a braggard med student who knew all the angles.

Over the years, Kramer took chances producing or directing such groundbreaking social issue films as Inherit the Wind (Evolution vs. Creationism), On The Beach (nuclear war), A Child is Waiting (mental retardation), and more. The two issues that he dealt with the most were the two that he believed to be at the heart of the nation’s greatest discord: racism (The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, etc.) and anti-semitism (The Juggler, Judgement at Nuremburg, etc). Producer Kramer even managed to combine both in one underrated project involving a black psychiatrist (Poitier) treating an American Nazi (Bobby Darin)!
The culmination of his belief in dealing with anti-semitism came with Ship of Fools, an epic project of pre-war Europe’s underestimation of Adolph Hitler. The film recieved mixed reviews over all, but when it came to Lee Marvin’s performance of Bil Tenney, a bigoted, misogynistic, burned out ex-ball player, the reviews were uniformly excellent in their praise….

In producer/director Stanley Kramer's Ship of Fools, Marvin managed to miraculously make his character sympathetic.

In producer/director Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools, Marvin managed to miraculously make his character sympathetic.

 

Towards the end of the film, Marvin has an amazing confrontation with screen legend Vivien Leigh which very few actors would be willing to undergo. When his character mistakes her for a prostitute he had planned a liasion with, Leigh proceeds to beat him mercilessly with the business endl of her high-heel shoe. Marvin took the beating like a pro and kept the shoe as a treasured memento!

A staged still from the climatic scene in Kramer's Ship of Fools in which Marvin takes a vicious beating from Vivien Leigh's high heel shoe.

A staged still from the climatic scene in Kramer’s Ship of Fools in which Marvin takes a vicious beating from Vivien Leigh’s high heel shoe.

I was extremely fortunate to interview the great Kramer toward the end of his life and his insight into Marvin’s persona was most impressive. He understood and knew the actor as well or maybe better than just about anybody Marvin ever worked with. All of his thoughts & opinions made it into the text of my bio and proved to be the highlight of my research. I have always been a fan of Kramer’s and his passing ( on Lee’s birthday!) is a constant reminder in today’s day and age of fluff film making that we sure could use him now….more than ever!

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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…..

stranger2

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….

wmitchum

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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