Robert D. Marvin, Lee Marvin’s older brother, would have been 94-years-old on July 18th. In honor of his birthday, I’ve chosen to post some exclusive unpublished comments and photos from our time together working on Lee Marvin Point Blank. No lengthy or laudatory intro. Just the late, great Robert D. Marvin at his uncensored best. Enjoy!
(L-R) Teenage Lee, mother Courtenay and brother Robert, on the beach in Florida, photographed by father Monte in the 1930s.
Dwayne: Has anybody ever interviewed you in the past about your brother?
Robert: Yes, but nothing came of it.
D: Then this is actually the first time you’ve publicly spoken about him?
R: Besides which, around here [Woodstock] some people know I’m his brother, some don’t. Nobody seems to give a damn, anyhow. It doesn’t make much smoke. What are you going to do with it? I became a school teacher. When I was, my brother was fairly popular, and all the kids would ask me about The Dirty Dozen, and so forth. Once in a while I’d give them a little baloney (laughs).
D: Where did you teach?
R: I was in the south Bronx, mostly in “Fort Apache.” It was bad, but it’s a part of this world, this country, that’s getting more and more publicity all the time. Most of my students were more or less normal.
D: Were they grade school?
R: Tough Age… Well it is but I taught art, so…I didn’t have a tight curriculum, know what I’m saying? So they didn’t have to pass regents and all that sort. So if they didn’t do very well I could give them 65 or something, and let them slide.
D: I read somewhere that towards the end of his life your brother had done some oil painting as well.
R: I never…I went out to see him, let’s see, he wrote a will in ’85….by the way, give him a good mark. He left me a small pension, He says in his will for my education and improvement only. (I laugh). …It means I have something to keep me secure.
(L-R) A bearded Robert and smiling Joan welcome visiting brother Lee to the Woodstock home.
Robert (right) returns the favor by visiting his brother Lee (left) in Tucson, as seen here on the tennis court.
He wrote what they called a testamentary trust. I don’t get the principal, but I get the interest. Yes, so that was a break.
D: Yeah, that was nice. What was your general overall opinion of him?
R: I kind of wonder about him (laughs).
D: In what sense?
R: On the other hand, he could handle himself. There’s a lot of things…because there’s a long period of absence you know, you lose track of where the main line is somehow. But if there was a fight I would try to defend him (laughs).
D: Okay so you were an art teacher. Had you pursued being and artist on your own?
R: I work on some pictures, but I’ll tell you, most of them are pretty trashy. One thing I do, sometimes I do some research. I was down in Brooklyn taking photos of the Williamsburg Bridge. That’s some view there. I included it in some paintings. One of these days, I’ve been goofing off something awful. So, I peck away at it.
(L-R) Monte Marvin, his new bride Ruth Marvin, pictured with newlyweds Robert & Joan Marvin.
D: What did your parents think of you becoming an artist or art teacher? R: Well, I wanted to be an artist. I figured the second best thing was being and art teacher.
D: You like putting yourself down. You say “it wasn’t that hard work”…”I gave kids an easy grade”. I don’t agree with that, by the way. I think it’s harder to teach art than it is anything else…
R: On the other hand, your big out is that it’s a minor subject. It doesn’t…You might give them and average now and then but you certainly can’t hold them back on it.
D: You were teaching art to kids who don’t necessarily care about art.
A very rare photo capturing Robert teaching his art class in “The Fort Apache” district of the Bronx.
R: I’ll tell you what I did. The best system usually is like you see it on TV. The guy says “All right ladies and gentleman. We have a canvas and we’re going to paint a pond and a woodland. We’ll start by making a line.” Ain’t that right? Ain’t that how they teach you? The same way in the school. It works to perfection. “You put a dot here, dot there, now take a ruler and draw..” The same way. It’s like a recipe. You ask them to do something creative and go “Yech”. Unless it’s love and peace. That sign the girls will make forever. You can imagine, living in some of these neighborhoods love and peace was a very important ideal.
Although he preferred locomotives& bridges as his subject, above is Robert’s own charcoal portrait of himself. The book he’s holding cleverly reads, “A Portrait of Robert D Marvin By Himself.”
D: Did you have any run-ins? You were in “Fort Apache.”
R: It varies from school to school. Some schools are very tightly run. Others are loose. I prefer an in-between myself because…
D: You didn’t stay in the same school?
R: I stayed at one school about ten years.
D: Which school was that?
R: That’s right near the police station, right around the corner about two blocks. I got to tell you, this is cute. I said, “All right!” You know how they are, this was in seventh grade. “I’m going to take the children and introduce them to the police force so we can improve the community relationship”. These bunch of kids are all nice kids. Well, not all of them. Pain in the ass, some of them, but there are a lot of nice ones, too.” Fort Apache” looks like a battleship. A great big concrete thing and they had a desk that was chin high. Most of them are kind of informal. You can sit right down and have a nice…
D: The sergeant’s desk, yeah.
R: Right. So I looked around and I could see everything had wrapping paper all over the walls. I said, “What’s that for?” He said, “Well we had a lot of photographs. We don’t want to embarrass any of the children.” I laughed. That was pretty considerate. So I sit down. There was a lieutenant, a sergeant, and two other men sitting at the desk. I says, “Excuse me sergeant. Would you mind telling me how many arrests you made so far this year?” Now remember this is September. He says, “Well now, let me see.” You know how they fuck around with it. He says, “We have done over 6,060 arrests. For every arrest we make there’s at least 10 reported crimes.” This is in one precinct! Think about that. [and this was] like 1970.
Robert Marvin’s final resting place near his parents’ grave in The Artist’s Colony Cemetary in Woodstock, New York.