LEE MARVIN’S MOTHER, COURTENAY WASHINGTON DAVIDGE

Lee Marvin’s mother, Courtenay Washington Davidge, is clearly a worthy subject for this Mother’s Day blog entry. To say Lee Marvin didn’t like his mother is an oversimplification of a very complicated relationship. Family and friends related to me several examples of Lee’s attitude towards his mother, all of which went into the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Although he rebelled her emphasis to maintain social graces, it did leave an indelible mark on him throughout his life. When he was at his most boorish and outlandish, he instinctively knew when to pull back back his behavior by muttering, “Uh-oh. Courtenay wouldn’t like it.” Such was the effect she had on her sons, Lee and Robert.

(L-R) Unidentified neighbor holding Cynthia, Lee’s mother, Courtenay in glasses, son Christopher, Lee holding daughter, Claudia, wife Betty (barely visible) and daughter Courtenay.

Speaking of Robert Marvin, my ability to convince him to go on the record with me for the first time, resulted in some wonderful treasures unearthed from the Marvin family archives. Many of those images appeared exclusively in the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. However, this being Mother’s Day, here are other images documenting the life of Lee Marvin’s mother, the proud Virginian steel magnolia, Courtenay Davidge Washington Marvin. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all!
– Dwayne Epstein

A rare photo of a VERY young ad serious looking Courtenay during her school days in the early 20th century.

Portrait of Courtenay believed to be in her late teens or early twenties.

Dated December 21st, 1914, Courtenay tries several poses for what might have been p.r. images for her burgeoning writing career.

Courtenay and future husband Monte Marvin in the early days of their relationship  prior to their marriage in 1921 (left) and then a decade after they were married (right) in front of their apartment in Queens, New York.

On the roof of their NY apartment, Courtenay poses with baby Lee for Monte’s camera.

(L-R) Courtenay, Lee’s older brother, Robert, and Lee pose on the rocks one summer in Woodstock, New York.

Young Lee sits on his mother’s lap with brother Robert beside them.

Several images of of a blonde Courtenay with sons Robert and Lee as they enjoy the sun and surf.

Proud parents Courtenay and Monte visit Lee following his completion of basic USMC training.

Fashion conscious Courtenay was a working woman in the field of beauty journalism long before it became the norm. Robert told this writer he remembers many a sleepless night listening to her clacking away on her typewriter as she freelanced for PHOTOPLAY, SCREENLAND, VANITY FAIR and the cosmetic line of Helena Rubinstein, among many other assignments.

After the war, the Marvins settled in Woodstock. (L-R) Courtenay, Lee ‘s then girlfriend, Helen Wagner ,and Lee stand in front of his car. The crumpled rear fender and roof are recounted in a very funny story in the pages of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK.

Courtenay died suddenly March 23rd, 1963, of a massive stroke. Here she’s pictured towards the end of her life in the garden of Lee’s home in Santa Monica. Rest in Peace, Mrs. Marvin.

 

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ARMISTICE DAY, VETERANS DAY & THE MARVINS

Armistice Day began Nov. 11th, 1918 when WWI officially suspended combat on the 11th day of the 11th month on the 11th hour. In time, the name of Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, honoring all those who served in the military on Nov. 12th.
For the Marvin family, there was not a single military conflict in which the family ranks were not involved and seriously depleted, going all the back to the American Revolution. As Lee Marvin liked to say, “It’s my country. We fought for it, we Marvins.” However, since Armistice Day, began with the end of WWI, the involvement began a little closer in Lee’s lineage, which meant his father, Lamont Waltham “Monte” Marvin.

Monte Marvin in his WWI uniform.

Monte was a 1st, Lt. during the war and in charge of a unit in the 302nd Engineers stationed in France. He later served in WWII as a battalion Sgt, again in France, having resigned his commission. As he wryly told a reporter years later, “I was too young for the first war and to old for the second, so I ended up in both.”

An older Monter Marvin in uniform during WWII.

The Marvin men all served in WWII, with Lee’s brother Robert serving in the ground crew of the Army Air Corp. and Lee seeing the most combat as a Marine in the USMC’s island hopping campaign in the Pacific.
All told, the Marvins did their part to earn respect and recognition for their duty in the service. This being Veterans’ Day — and a very special one, as it’s the 100th anniversary of the Armistice signing of WWI — take a moment some time today and remember those who served. Their contribution deserves our thanks.
How to show that remembrance? One way is to read Lee Marvin Point Blank and discover in the actor’s own words via never-before-seen letters exactly what he experienced firsthand and how he really felt about the war at the time he went through it. You won’t be disappointed. Happy Veterans Day.
-Dwayne Epstein

Monte Marvin (left) and son Lee photographed for LIFE Magazine in the 1960s.

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ON THE RECENT PASSING OF PAM MARVIN

No sooner had I learned of the passing Lee Marvin’s first wife, Betty, did I discover the passing of his second wife, Pam Marvin, a few weeks later. Strange coincidence without a doubt, but also something that would not get much mention other than this blog, apparently.
I tried several times while researching Lee Marvin Point Blank to get Pam Marvin to agree to an interview but without any luck. It’s unfortunate as I think she would have contributed greatly to the final product.

Pam Marvin’s book, Lee: A Romance.

Her own story and her years with Lee Marvin were chronicled in her own book, Lee: A Romance which I read when it came out and went so far as to let Pam Marvin know her book would not conflict with my project.

I guess she felt differently. As I said, it’s unfortunate she felt that way as I would have welcomed her thoughts for inclusion in my work much the same way Lee’s first wife Betty and I did when she penned her book, Tales of a Hollywood Housewife. Pam’s book is a worthy read and recommended to get another point of view on her husband’s life and work.
I’d like to point out, despite my not being able to interview her at the time, I wish her family and friends my condolences on her the event of her death. I still believe in the old adage of respecting the passing of a human’s life and would have liked to have met her. She stood by her husband during the infamous palimony suit and was in court during every day of the trial. That could not have been easy.

Lee & Pam Marvin during the infamous palimony suit.

They had of course a shared history of growing up in Woodstock N.Y. and together they apparently visited there often. Lee’s brother, Robert, shared this picture of one those visits…

Lee and Pam visiting Robert and Joan Marvin in the 70s in New York.

She also went with Lee on location when his films called for schleps to such far flung places as Malta for the filming of Shout at the Devil

Lee, with ever-present cigarette and wife Pam on location for SHOUT AT THE DEVIL.

 

 

 

 

 

For such reasons and more, I again offer my condolences to her loved ones. Personally, my failed attempt to contact her was of course a disappointment, especially since she eventually agreed to speak with me at one point at the urging of her attorney, David Kagon. Kagon had represented Lee during the palimony suit and as Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know, gave a wonderful account of that episode in Lee and Pam’s life. After several refusals, Kagon did get Pam Marvin to reconsider and sent me the following letter….

Pam Marvin’s response to my many interview requests.

I of course did indeed send a list of questions. I never got a response. More is the pity. Rest in Peace, Pam.

– Dwayne Epstein

 

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