THE URBAN LEGENDS OF LEE MARVIN

Urban legends have a way of never fading into permanent obscurity no matter how great the effort is to exterminate them. You all know the ones: The faked moon landing, the origins of AIDS, the scuba diver scooped up by the water helicopters and then burned when dumped in a wildfire. My personal favorite has to do with Neil Armstrong and what he may have actually said when he stepped on the moon’s surface, but that, as they say, is another story.
Believe it or not, there are actually several such urban legends with Lee Marvin as the central focus.  Google the following words or phrases and you’ll see what I mean:
– Lee Marvin’s life was saved in WWII by Bob “Captian Kangaroo” Keeshan.

Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo (L) and Lee Marvin probably never even met, despite urban legends to the contrary.

Magnificent Seven co-star James Coburn is Lee Marvin’s brother.
– Marvin had his sciatic nerve severed when wounded on Saipan which earned him the Navy Cross.

Within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, readers will not find any reference to these myths, for the simple reason that they are not true. Simply denying them is not enough for some folks, which I guess is the reason the website Snopes came into existence. One of the things that keep such rumors alive (or at least believable) is the amount of details they are given to make them seem true. I can’t tell you the amount of people I’ve heard say to me, “I know it’s true about Captain Kangaroo because I saw Marvin tell it on Johnny Carson.” As they say, the devil is in the details.
As for James Coburn, well there is indeed a certain resemblance, but that’s as far as it goes. Lee Marvin did have a brother, though, Robert, who bore no resemblance to James Coburn.

Lee Marvin & James Coburn looking brotherly on an episode of M SQUAD.

(L-R) Actors Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Katy Jurado and director Sam Peckinpah enjoying themselves in the late 70s.

  • I remember once many years ago being in the great memorabilia shop, Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, when I overheard an argument about the very same subject. The owner walked over to me to settle it, calling me the resident Lee Marvin expert. A simple shake of my head may have lost somebody a very big bet. Of course, that won’t stop such popular badly written searches on the internet as “Lee Marvin’s brother, who played in Magnificent Seven.
    As to Marvin’s war wound, that’s harder to disprove as Wikipedia and elsewhere still repeat it. I have seen his service record which includes a medical report. His sciatic nerve was NOT severed and he did NOT win the Navy Cross. Purple Heart, yes, but not the Navy Cross.
    I’m sure such urban legends will continue no matter how great the effort is to squelch them. Instead of wondering whether they’re true or not, I have a better idea. Read Lee Marvin Point Blank. The real story of Lee Marvin is infinitely better than any urban legend.
    – Dwayne Epstein

Urban legends aside, in LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK yours truly DOES  write about these two miscreants and get the inside scoop on their “related” lineage to Lee Marvin.

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WILD BUNCH REMAKE? DON’T FORGET LEE MARVIN!

The Wild Bunch remake has recently been announced, to be written and directed by Mel Gibson. Lots of voices are arguing over whether it should even be done but to my mind, the question is will Lee Marvin finally get the credit he so richly deserves? What credit, you may ask? Well, as I discovered in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, he was heavily involved in the project’s creation and was set to play the William Holden role of Pike Bishop.

Lee Marvin in THE PROFESSIONALS as Henry ‘Rico” Fardan, looking a lot like….

William Holden as Pike Bishop in the original version of  THE WILD BUNCH.

I discovered this lost nugget of information thanks to the files at the Academy Library in Beverly Hills in which the notes and communications between producers Phil Feldman and Ken Hyman tells the remarkable story in detail of Lee Marvin’s involvement in Sam Peckinpah’s renowned classic.
For Marvin’s part, he told his version to Grover Lewis in a 1972 Rolling Stone interview: “Good ol’ lovable Sam. …He approached me about doin’ The Wild Bunch. Shit, I’d helped write the original goddamn script, which Sam eventually bought and rewrote. Well, I mean I didn’t do any of the actual writing, but I talked it out with these guys who were writin’ it, Walon Green and Roy Sickner. Sam said, ‘Jeez, aren’t you even interested?’ I told him I’d already done The Professionals and what did I need The Wild Bunch for? And when the picture came out I didn’t think it really succeeded. It didn’t have the — I mean, it had all the action and all the blood and all that shit, but it didn’ have the ultimate kavoom, you know? It didn’t have the one-eye slowly opening it should’ve had.”
What Marvin failed to mention was the real reason he turned it down and why he made Paint Your Wagon, instead. Career-long agent Meyer Mishkin revealed that to me, which of course, is in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
As to The Wild Bunch remake? I reserve judgement on Gibson’s version until I see it. Bad enough he ripped off Marvin’s Point Blank with his bizarre remake Payback. Hopefully, with The Wild Bunch remake, he’ll give the devil — in this case Lee Marvin — his due.

(L-R) Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode in a p.r. still from THE PROFESSIONALS (1966).

(L-R) Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in the climatic scene in THE WILD BUNCH (1969).

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IN HONOR OF VALENTINE’S DAY, LEE MARVIN STYLE

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I was rather stumped for a blog idea that would be appropriate for the occassion. At first, I though of simply uploading the image below. No, it’s not from the set of The Untouchables, although Lee did appear on it frequently enough. Actually, it’s a rare picture of Lee and first wife, Betty Marvin at a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party in the 50s courtesy of Betty Marvin

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine's Day Massacre Party.

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party.

herself.. Cool, huh?

Howevever, even better than the image is a completely different blog entry that was posted in Vanity Fair online shortly after Lee Marvin: Point Blank was released. Writer James Wolcott takes an interesting look at the subject that may seem far afield, but nails it nontheless. What do you think?

“FEBRUARY 14, 2013 3:15 PM

“Wash his face. He’s fine.”
BY JAMES WOLCOTT
It being Valentine’s Day, I can think of no more romantic way to waste the day (before I get to work) than by dipping in and out of a tender, caring, just-published biography of America’s former sweetheart, Lee Marvin. In Lee Marvin: Point Blank, written by Dwayne Epstein, the action star who terrorized the West with a bullwhip in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, taught a squad of murderers and borderline psychos how to love again in The Dirty Dozen, and let Angie Dickinson use him as a punching bag for her furious little fists in the movie that gives this bio its subtitle weaves through the pages like the big rangy scary cat he was.

I’d often wondered why Marvin and director Sam Peckinpah never worked together in movies. Such simiarities. Both tough ex-Marines, both heavy intakers of alcoholic content, both volatile, both white-haired with a silvery patina to their appearance. Maybe it was because their experience shooting a TV’s Route 66 killed off any chance of bromance:

…Frustrated with his career, at odds with director Sam Peckinpah, and hating the dreary Pittsburgh location, the actor drank too much during work hours and paid the price. “What I remember most was his eyes,” recalled co-star Bert Remsen [who would go on to become a member of Robert Altman’s rep company, appearing in California Split, Thieves Like Us, Nashville, et al]. “He’d come in from the night before with his eyes all red and that strange walk he had, and say with that voice, ‘Hiya baby! You going out drinking with me tonight?'” I’d say, ‘No way! I gotta work the next day.’ He could do it though. He’d come in all disheveled and go throw up in the corner. Sam would say, ‘Wash is face. He’s fine.’ He’d do the scene and never miss a line…”

It’s never good to work woozy, however, and during this episode there was a fight scene with Martin Milner where one of the actors zigged when he should have zagged and the result was a punch that split Marvin’s nose wide open, the resulting damage putting his career in jeopardy. He was fortunate, notes Epstein, that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was shot in black and white, masking the discoloration.

The pages devoted to Donovan’s Reef, the “rollicking comedy” (an extinct genre) that reunited Ford, the Duke, and Marvin, confirm the impression that I acquired at an early age that Donovan’s Reef is one of the booze-bathed movies of all time, a sot’s vision of tropical paradise. “For tax reasons [Ford] had to sell his beloved yacht, The Araner, so he decided to use it in the movie before selling it off, and figured he could have a good time drinking on board during the film.” This is the sort of consideration that seldom comes up in film-studies courses. As it turned out, Ford wasn’t allowed to drink for health reasons, so he “had to referee” while Wayne and Marvin went watery-eyed.

I once heard someone compare Donovan’s Reef to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but that person might have been drinking too.”

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