In April of 1969, Lee Marvin was granted an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from his alma mater St. Leo in Florida, as well as having a dormitory named in his honor. Pretty heady stuff for a man who never even graduated from the school, or any other, for that matter. The event is chronicled in Lee Marvin: Point Blank, but this blog exists to fill in some gaps unable to be squeezed into the pages of the book.
In spite of his being a top box-office draw at the time, the event recieved little media attention in advance of the proceedings. There was this blurb in the L.A. Times from Hollywood columnist Joyce Haber, with some factual information incorrect (Marvin wasn’t kicked out of St. Leo and attended up to June, 1942) which seems to be the extent of the coverage it recieved…..
Joyce Haber’s L.A. Times blurb of Lee Marvin receiving a degree and Dorm Hall commemoration.
When Marvin attended St. Leo, it had been a Catholic school for boys but later it evolved into an accredited university at the time of his honor, which it remains today. Also honored was high-profile attorney Melvin Belli and then Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird. Because of the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War, several protestors appeared but were kept at bay without incident.
Lee Marvin. second from right, posing with other St. Leo degree reciepents, lncluding then Sec. of Defense, Melvin Laird, second from left.
The actor was of course, honored for the degree and also surprised to meet some old classmates from his St. Leo days. A former classmate recalled the event in 1998….
Paul DeGuenther: When I saw him at St. Leo in 1969, the first thing I said to him was, “Hey there, Dogface!” He looked over and he said, “Dee! How are you?” He came over and we hugged. Like I say, I was so happy that he was there for the get together, we would sing. When he was receiving his doctorate, his Ph.D. in 1969, when I saw him, I was with my children and he was the kindest, sweetest guy to my children that you ever saw. He never changed. He stayed the same, as far I know, all his life. A friendly warm human being. He took to them and just loved them. They were very impressed. My daughter was about 12 and my son was 13. Anyway, we got together and sang our little song while he was changing clothes in their dressing room. …It’s called ‘Little Joe’ [from Destry Rides Again]…‘They would have got him quicker if they let him have his liquor now he’s gone with the breeze, Little Joe.’. Now he was a baritone and so was I. And that was really some kind of song. He had a little song that he sang all by himself every now and again back in school. It was, ‘I gotta gal by the name of Lulu. Sing to me Lulu. I gotta gal by the name of Lulu. Sing to me Lulu. second verse, same as the first.’ It just went on and on. Finally, when he’d get up to about the 15th verse we’d run him off. He was crazy.
Marvin accepts his degree with a few brief comments.
His former teacher, Fr. James Hoge, graciously spoke with me about that day as well as the fallout concerning ‘Lee Marvin Hall’ and what actually happened to cause it to become Charles Henderson Hall’…
Fr. James Hoge: He said a few words but nothing memorable. He expressed his gratitude to the school for making, I mean honoring him by naming the building after him. Now, I don’t know if you know the aftermath or not. Shortly after that…I’m a member of the board of trustees so that part I know pretty well. After that, he was into the palimony thing and it was quite an embarrassment to the trustees and the school who had just named the building in his honor and with the anticipation that he would be contributing financially to the school. Obviously, when this palimony thing tied up his assets he couldn’t. So, after a period of I’d say 8 or 9 years, they renamed the building after Charlie Henderson, one of my fellow trustees who had been contributing very generously down through the years in his membership on the board. Charlie Henderson was a NY banker & broker…. I’m sure Lee was embarrassed financially long before it came to trial. It must have tied up his assets one way or another. I think that his assets were really tied up. I don’t know anything about who handles his finances but I rather suspect that somebody else was responsible.
Dwayne: I had heard the school approached him for the money but it fell on deaf ears.
Fr. James: No, that’s not the case at all. We never made a formal approach [to Lee] at all. We naturally presumed it was a tacit understanding that he would contribute but the contribution never came. We did not approach him directly. Now Thomas Southern, who was the president of the school at that time, several times approached me and said, “You need to get out to Calif and see Lee Marvin and try to make him make a commitment on the making of the dormitory” I said, “You name the date and the both of us will go out there.” If I had gone out there on my own, it would have been out of my pocket and I just didn’t have the money to do it. If he had gone, he could have taken it from the school’s financial budget. He never did and so I never did. That’s the way that finally turned out. They waited what they considered to be a reasonably long time then they named it after Charlie Henderson.