BURT LANCASTER: THE NIGHT WE MET

Burt Lancaster is one of three individuals I consider my all-time favorite movie actors, a holy trinity, if you will. The other two — James Cagney and Steve McQueen — I never had the good fortune to meet. However, one memorable night in the 1980s, I spent at least a half an hour talking with Lancaster one-on-one in the alcove of the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica. Seriously.

The facade of the Nuart Theater where I first me Burt Lancaster.

Long before I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was living a very strange existence. By day, I was a janitor at Kaiser Permanente in Downey, and by night, I went to movie premieres via the freelance writing I did for our local newspaper. My friends and I also haunted all the great revival theaters on the L.A. scene, depending on the scheduled programs. I distinctly remember reading the program of the Nuart one day while at work and seeing an upcoming screening for a Lancaster double feature of The Professionals & The Scalphunters, two of his best! In a small box at the bottom of the listing were the words: “Mr. Lancaster will appear between films, schedule permitting.” Since he had been in the news recently due to major bypass surgery, I thought the chance of his appearances were slim to none. Even so, I knew I’d regret not taking the chance if he did somehow show up since surgery aside, he rarely did such events even in good health. Besides, they’re great films to see on the big screen.
My best friend and his fiancee’ were students at CalArts so we arranged to meet that night at the theater along with some of his classmates. On the outside chance Lancaster showed up, I brought along my original poster to Birdman of Alcatraz for him to sign if he was willing. No pressure.
Well, my friends arrived, the movie started, and since I knew it inside and out, I went with my gut that if he showed up, it would be around this time. I ambled outside, and waited outside the lobby with its colorful sunburst mosaic along with a few other fans. In no time at all a sleek jet black Jaguar cut thru traffic, then pulled to the curb and out popped the man. Dressed in a black suit with a turtleneck and sporting a salt & pepper goatee, he whirled around with that Lancaster smile and asked, “How’s that for a New York driver?” Among the gathered, not a word was said as the movie geeks stared at the bona fide movie star in stony silence. I’m a movie fan but deny my geek-dom, as I had a pretty non-movie related social life.
So, I broke into applause and said “Very nice. Very nice indeed.” He smiled back at me, walked up, shook my hand and thus began our conversation as he signed my poster.

The poster I framed after Burt Lancaster signed it.

Check out the blurry image in the top right corner.

The interior of the Nuart is festooned with retro movie posters and a small couch in an alcove under a giant poster of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which is where our conversation continued. I’m embarrassed to admit that much of the memory of our talk has vanished into time, other than a few highlights, such as telling him about going to see him and Kirk Douglas in their play in San Francisco (that adventure can be read here).

Burt Lancaster as he looked around the time I met him.

I do remember that I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually talking to Burt Lancaster. In fact, at one point I said as much and he responded, “Listen son, we’re having a nice conversation. Don’t ruin it….” He then threw his head back and did that famous Lancaster laugh. I had to tell him, “You do you really good!” To which he knowingly stated, “Oh no. Frank Gorshin does me MUCH better!”
It wasn’t long before someone came over and told him it was time to speak. We said our goodbyes and I joined my friends inside. When my buddy asked where the hell I was, I told him, “I’ll tell you later.”
The house lights then went up and the man was introduced to thunderous applause. He spoke briefly and then took questions. What was extremely cool was that the audience consisted of true Lancaster fans. Someone asked about Nick Cravat and there was a smattering of applause. Lancaster smiled and asked the audience, “You know Nick?” Then the place went nuts. He laughed heartily and said, “Well, I’ll tell him you said hello!”
And so it went. A truly magically night of movie memories. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t do such things more often as he clearly enjoyed himself at the event. Years later, when I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I thought about that night many times, thinking how perfect it would have been had I asked about The Professionals and working on that particular classic. Such was not to be of course, but, I did talk to costars Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Lancaster’s career-long stunt double Tony Epper, producer Phil Parslow and more. Each went on the record with exclusive tales about Burt, Lee, director Richard Brooks and more, all of which can be found only in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank.

From the many photos in LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK that I was able to caption.

Until then, all the best, and if you ever get the chance to meet your idols, by all means do it. You won’t be disappointed. At least I wasn’t.
– Dwayne Epstein.

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NEVADA MAGAZINE ON “THE PROFESSIONALS”

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the coverage given to the 1966 classic action film, The Professionals, which was done with much research via the likes of Nevada Magazine, for instance. On newsstands in the fall of 1966 to coincide with the film’s November release, it’s a short piece but contains some beautiful photography of the Valley of Fire State Park location used in the film. In fact, the images belie the sweltering temperatures all the participants groused about on and off camera.
The article’s author, Don Payne, does a commendable job in summarizing the film as well as its production. Being a Nevadan, he make sure to include such colorfully named locales  used in the film as Deadman’s Canyon, Coyote Pass and of course, California’s own Death Valley. It’s a p.r. piece, to be sure but after reading it, one does certainly want to see the film the author is writing about.
It’s interesting on another level, as well. Payne mentions in passing an event during the film’s production. He refers to it as “An impromptu downtown archery exhibition staged by several cast members.” Rather tame description of the event. I was fortunate to interview several individuals closely involved to the film, such as Jack Palance and producer Phil Parslow. Best of all were lengthy interviews conducted with stuntman Tony Epper and costar Woody Stroe. They were the key participants in the “impromptu exhibition” and to hear them tell it, the event was anything but staged. In fact, it practically — and it truth, should have — landed the two of them and unwitting participant, Lee Marvin in jail. The shenanigans of The Rat Pack could not hold a candle to what Epper, Strode and Marvin perpetrated. Those unfamiliar with the wild and woolly tale must read the book, of course. For those who have read the book, read the article below with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
– Dwayne Epstein

Cover of Nevada Magazine, Fall 1966.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 1.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 2.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 3.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 4.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 5.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 6.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 7.

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THE PROFESSIONALS (1966): ONE OF LEE MARVIN’S BEST

TCM will be airing writer/director Richard Brooks’ The Professionals(1966) today at 8pm EST (5pm PST), one of Lee Marvin’s best and over time, least appreciated films. Within the genre of action films it is without question one of the best of its kind, with several Oscar nominations to its credit to prove it. The dialogue is smart and witty, the plot filled with unexpected twists, the performances are all top notch and the efforts behind the camera are equally impressive. From Conrad Hall’s eye-filling photography to Maurice Jarre’s rousing score, everything clicks.
Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know the depth, challenges and ultimate rewards that went into the film’s production. I was fortunate enough to interview co-stars Woody Strode, Jack Palance, stuntman Tony Epper and production manager Phil Parslow, who have all since passed on. They’re exclsuive tales of making the classic are eye-opening and gvie no small amount of credit to Marvin himself. Whether taking it upon himself to keep the film’s guns clean in the unpredictable desert conditions, or ensuring co-star Woody Strode recieved proper credit, Marvin’s contribution can not be overestimated. So, in honor of its hopeful rediscovery, check out some of the rare graphics below…

(L-R) Title cast members Woody Strode, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster watch unobtrusively as Jack Palance and his revolutioniaries attack a federal troop train.

(L-R) Title cast members Woody Strode, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster watch unobtrusively as Jack Palance and his revolutioniaries attack a federal troop train.

Sweating it out on the film's location in Nevada's Valley of Fire.

Sweating it out on the film’s location in Nevada’s Valley of Fire.

Lee Marvin's opening scene in which, according to producer, Phil Parslow, was the only time he filmed a scene drunk in the entire movie, despite many stories to the contrary.

Lee Marvin’s opening scene in which, according to producer, Phil Parslow, was the only time he filmed a scene drunk in the entire movie, despite many stories to the contrary.

Back when movie theaters offered souvenir programs for certain films, the page highlighting Marvin's background stated in typical ballyhoo fashion that he decided to become an actor while convalescing from his war wounds. LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK readers know better.

Back when movie theaters offered souvenir programs for certain films, the page highlighting Marvin’s background stated in typical ballyhoo fashion that he decided to become an actor while convalescing from his war wounds. LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK readers know better.

Original print ad from the film's pressbook highlighting the film's critical response.

Original print ad from the film’s pressbook highlighting the film’s critical response.

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