I’ve always been amazed by some of the people willing to talk to me about their experiences when I was researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, and one of the best was Ralph O’Hara. To this day I don’t remember how I was able to get in contact with him but once I did and we met in that park in Malibu near the Sand Castle, he proved to be one of the best sources of information imaginable. He was not well-known but his knowledge of, insight to and experience with Lee Marvin was incalcuable. Readers will attest to his poignant retelling of Marvin’s last days, the actor’s humorous flirtations with Angie Dickinson and his brilliant insignt into Marvin’s undiagnosed PTSD.
Well, through this blog a kind neighbor of his in Florida informed me that Ralph passed away on March 11th of this year. A few weeks before I had recieved a letter from Ralph in which he joked a bit but also told me his was in failing health but still punching. I’m so, so glad I was able to reconnect with him all these years later before it was too late. He was a rascal, to be sure, but the best of them usually are. So, here’s to you, Ralph, Bartender extraordinaire and storyteller Supreme. We shall not see your kind pass this way any again any time soon.
In tribute to his memory, allow me to share this excerpt of my orginal interview with him (from Dec, ’95) that didn’t go in the book but explains how he first met Lee Marvin. It’s classic O’Hara…..
Dwayne Epstein: Do you recall when you first met Lee Marvin?
Ralph Epstein: I met Lee in the fifties. I met him in the bars. I don’t remember the name of it. Anyway, how I met him was he was getting up to leave as I came in to sit down. When he stood up, he and I were almost the same size at that time. He looked me straight up and down like this.. Then he looked at the bartender and said, “You better pick up your two dollars. This guy’s getting ready to sit down.” (I laugh) I said, “Fuck you, too.” You know? What is this, gonna steal two dollars? So, he walked by me. I went and sat down. Then the bartender, there was two dollars and ten cents there. So he picked up the two dollars and stuck it in his pocket. He picked up the dime and threw it over his shoulder. he said, “What do you want?” I said, “Give me an Old Fitz and water, tall.” I drank hard bourbon in those days. Old Fitzgerald is a sour mash bourbon. What I was doing, I would order a shot of bourbon, shot of Old Fitz on the side, I’d wash it down with a bourbon and water. then they quit making Old Fitz. That disturbed me…Okay the bartender flipped the dime over his shoulder, yeah, and Lee walked out the door. He left. That was the first time I ever met him.
Dwayne: Incredible memory if you could remeber a passing moment like that.
Ralph: The reason I remembered is because of what he said to me. He just stood there and looked me up and down like this. By his judgment, I was going to sit down and steal the two dollars he left as a tip.
Dwayne: Yeah he loved to do that, shock people.
Ralph: I was a little strange myself. In those days..I’ll tell you a little story about place called the Marquee up on Sunset. The Garden of Allah and all those toilets were up there. Ciro’s, the Interlude, all them places. I used to go in there and sit down with John Coltrane, Miles Davis and all these people. A freind of mine was their dope connection and sold them bennies. They would take turns doing solos and get off the stage. They’d come and sit down with us and drop a few bennies. We had the bennies, 50,000 that my friend would buy at once. Anyway, I got off of a bar stool to let a woman sit down. She was gorgeous….
Dwayne: Okay, you told me your first run-in with Lee Marvin. When did you start seeing him on a regular basis?
Ralph: I would start seeing him once I started tending bar. I worked at a place right across the street from Universal Studios. They used to come when they were shooting. This is how I started to make more and more contact. He treated me different. He talked to me different. …….
If blog readers enjoyed this little excerpt, let me know and I’ll include some more. In the meantime, God’s Speed Ralph and lots of rest. You’ve earned it.