RON SOBLE, LEE MARVIN & THE UNUSED ANECDOTE

Ron Soble, a veteran character actor of the 1950s and 60s, was one of the few people who worked with Lee Marvin who refused to go on the record for Lee Marvin Point Blank. A shame, really, as the brief story he told me was a good one.
I met Ron Soble back in the 1990’s at the Beverly Garland Hotel’s Hollywood Collector’s show where I would collect wonderful quotes and interviews en masse from those who worked with Marvin. When I asked Soble if he had ever worked with Marvin, he told me about the episode of The Virginian they were in together.

Lee Marvin in the “It Tolls For Thee” episode of The Virginian directed by Sam Fuller.

I was familiar with the episode but had not seen it at that point. Turns out that it, and another episode with Charles Bronson, were sloppily edited together to cash in on their late life fame and released theatrically as an embarrassing mess called, The Meanest Men in the West.
Soble gave me some background on the episode with Marvin and then told me what I considered to be a hilarious anecdote about the off-camera doings of this particular episode.

Network caption to previous photo explaining to newspapers the episode plot.

I should explain, Soble was a pretty trippy guy, kind of like the way Jack Palance was a pretty trippy guy. I remembered him best as the creepy gambler who challenged Steve McQueen in the beginning of The Cincinnati Kid and wound up with a rusty razor to his jugular. Trekkies may remember him from an episode on the original Star Trek series where he played Wyatt Earp. The clenched teeth way he spoke in his scenes was indeed the way he spoke in life. Strange man.

Ron Soble as part of Lee Marvin’s gang in The Virginian.

The story he told me had to do with a between-camera-set-ups moment he overheard between Lee Marvin and Lee J. Cobb. According to Soble, the cast was sitting around waiting to be called to the set as Lee Marvin did what he often did between takes, needle his co-stars. This time his target was Cobb, a legendary actor who originated the role of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The fact that the acting legend was now a regular on a TV western was the point of Marvin’s needle.

(L-R) Lee J. Cobb as Judge Garth & Lee Marvin as Kalig in The Virginian.

A voice was suddenly heard stating, “Lee! You’re wanted on the set.” Cobb rose to the call until Marvin asked him, “How do you know they’re calling you?” With sharp comic timing, Cobb responded, “Because I’m the Lee with the talent.”
Great little anecdote, right? Well I laughed until Soble said I couldn’t use it. When I asked why he just shrugged his shoulders. I persisted but he never changed his mind. I assumed he thought it would hurt somebody’s feeling but he never relented.
Well, I recently saw on the ‘net that Soble passed away back in 2002. His permission no longer needed, you’re now reading the anecdote here. Not much, I know,  but I would’ve put in the book if he let me. There are a few other tidbits I’ll write about in due time here but until then, there’s always Lee Marvin Point Blank and what IS in the book is just as good, if not better than what is not. Enjoy!
– Dwayne Epstein

The one with the talent?

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LEE MARVIN’S LUMP-IN-THE-THROAT MOMENTS, PART 1

A recent thread on Facebook gave me the idea for this blog entry concerning ‘lump-in-the-throat’ moments. Due to the kind of films Lee Marvin made, that kind of emotional impact on audiences were not always readily apparent. However, in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, it did indeed become apparent when having to happily watch and/or rewatch all of his performances. He actually had several such lump-in-the-throat moments in his career and to my mind, there are a couple on both film and television, even within the realm of such genres as war film and westerns. Go figure. First up, on screen….

The look in Jeanne Moreau’s eyes as she gazes into Lee Marvin’s speaks volumes in this scene from Monte Walsh.

Although he was disappointed with the way the studio tampered with director William Fraker’s final cut, Marvin has said that the elegiac western Monte Walsh remains one of his favorite films. Probably because the film’s poignant message of an aging cowboy with nowhere to go still packs a punch. The message is quietly stated by costar Jack Palance, who tells Marvin, “Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever, Monte.”
A personal relationship with costar Jeanne Moreau may be another reason the film resonated for Marvin. In one scene in particular, without giving away the ending, he had never been more touching. He simply absorbs the moment and allows us to feel what he is feeling and it works every time. The film then quickly shifts moods into a thrilling climax involving Mitch Ryan but again, no spoilers here. See it for yourself and you be the judge.

The poignant climax to The Big Red One with Lee Marvin as the unnamed sergeant and a frail, young concentration camp survivor.

Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, an epic and episodic WWII memoir remains one of Lee Marvin’s best performances and for my money, should really have been his cinematic swan song. He’s a wizened, old war horse throughout the film but a powerful and amazing climax involving a liberated concentration camp culminates with the most impressive, stoic performance that Marvin has ever given. Once again, no spoilers. Simply see it for yourself and make your own judgment. I dare you not to be moved by it.
– Dwayne Epstein

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ADVENTURES IN AUTHORING: ANSWERING NEGATIVE CRITICISM

A while back I was having dinner with my publisher, Tim Schaffner, when the subject of negative criticism of Lee Marvin Point Blank came up.
Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of reviews of the book have been largely positive and for that I am eternally grateful.

Paperback back cover of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK (designed by Jake Kiehle) highlighting some of the reviews.

However, the handful of negative criticism still stick in one’s craw. I can chuckle at it now but at the time, you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be pummeled over something the critic claims authority over, yet in reality, knows nothing about….and then blames me!
What had bothered Tim was a review that not only raked the book over the coals, but also tore into what the reviewer thought was the awful editing of the book. Why did that bother Tim so much? He just happened to have been the editor! I told him I had read some other negatives too, but he emphasized to me in no uncertain terms that no matter how tempting it is: DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND. His point being that it gives them a platform, brings you down to their level, and might even effect sales negatively in the long run if the review is believed.
He was right of course, but seeing as how this is my blog, to help support and supplement my book, run for cover if you are so inclined as I’m-a gonna fire back, once and for all. As James Dean said to Rock Hudson in Giant: “And there ain’t a dang thing you can do about it!”
Okay, Since I had told Tim I wouldn’t respond in kind, and to keep myself as honest as possible, I’ll just focus on two such reviews and I won’t be citing the source of the criticism. I’ll merely quote the inane comment anonymously and then show how frustratingly wrong they can be. Ready? I’ll start with the one that pissed off Tim so much. Here goes….

… Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank isn’t anything close to definitive. A sloppily edited assemblage of interviews, it’s first-draft oral history in which readers with considerable patience can find Epstein issues several medical diagnoses derived from his own conclusions….Marvin fans who can get through all the throat-clearing tedium will find similar quotable bits in these underedited pages.

Heh, heh. Can you see why Tim, the book editor, got so pissed? No proof to back up their claim, no alternative response, not even an example of my ‘throat-clearing tedium,’ other than one sentence in which the quote is taken completely out of context. I hope the idiotic reviewer got paid well for his online rant because he may have kept a lot of well-meaning movie geeks from reading my book and discovering Lee Marvin for themselves. Sadly, it’s their loss.
And now, my personal favorite. Here’s the one from a respected and long-in-the-tooth film journal that went to town on my facts. Strange scenario involved as well because the reviewer sent me the review and apologized as it was a last minute assignment for him, thus hinting that he may not have read the whole thing. Like a bonehead, I thanked him for his effort without reading the review first. Still kicking myself over that one. Here’s part of what bugged me….

Epstein does tell of Marvin—during the filming of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), his last great role—taking the stage at a Roman-built amphitheater in Israel to recite a soliloquy from King Lear. That event is as surprising to the reader as it must have been to Marvin’s costars, as there’s no other mention in the book of Marvin having an affinity or aptitude for William Shakespeare or classical drama.

Hmm, do you think he may have missed the section in which Lee studied the classics at the American Theatre Wing (ATW)? Possibly. Then again, he probably also missed this image in the photo section (laid out by graphic artist Jake Kiehle), as well…..

Lee Marvin in LM:PB’s photo section shown in Shakespearean garb while attending the ATW.

I swear to you folks, try as you might, you just can’t make these things up!
Okay, enough ranting. Don’t go by my word as to the book’s value. Certainly don’t go by the word of an online movie geek or pompous film journalist, either. By all means, judge for yourself. Read the book. Find out about Lee Marvin. Rent or download some of his films. Then, do something revolutionary these days: make up your OWN mind.
– Dwayne Epstein

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