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.
Tv Violence, Part II