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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REMEMBERING LEE MARVIN’S BUDDY, STUNTMAN TONY EPPER

This past October 2nd marked the birthday of legendary stuntman/actor, Tony Epper. Part of a family dynasty of stunt performers, Epper’s career included doubling for Burt Lancaster throughout Lancaster’s career and appearances in some of the most famous films & TV shows of all time….

A rare p.r. still of Tony Epper early n his career.

A rare p.r. still of Tony Epper early n his career.

Tony’s important contribution to film history has included some of the most impressive stunts ever performed, such as the tumble off the canyon wall during the gunfight scene n The Professionals. He also worked as an an actor, but ironically, it was sometimes under tons of make-up, as in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy…..

Under mounds of make-up is Tony Epper as Steve the Tramp in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy.

Under mounds of make-up is Tony Epper as Steve the Tramp in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy.

Or, as shown below, his last role as a drunken Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Epper as a drunken Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Epper as a drunken Klingon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Tony succumbed to cancer in 2012 but in another October, back in 1994, I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend the day with him talking about one of his favorite subjects, his friend Lee Marvin.

Tony Epper as he looked around the time of our 1994 interview, minus the beard he had grown at the time.

Tony Epper as he looked around the time of our 1994 interview, minus the beard he had grown at the time.

The stories he told were ribald, fun, poignant, and insightful. The most impressive of which are between the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank and must be read to believed, such as the real events behind the famous Vegas Vic sign (!) In honor of the legendary stuntman, here’s an excerpted anecdote from our interview together that did not make the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. It took place in the quiet little of town of Baker, Oregon where Paint Your Wagon was filmed. Epper recalled the rented house the more rambunctious members of the crew stayed in and what happened when they tried to get Lee Marvin to the set:

“I remember times Tommy Shaw calling. I could always get Lee because I never get that drunk. I was never that kind of guy where I lost control, where Lee would. They had to shoot that day something very important. They had it backed up. They had 10 million dollars in Paint Your Wagon. See Tommy Shaw was prod. mgr. & Frank Orsatti was a fellow stuntman. Anyway, they called that they can’t find Lee. Frank & I had been up all night because we knew we didn’t have to work that day. This was about 6:00 am. I knew right where Lee was.
Anyway, we were hungover so we took a big ol’ slug. Me and ol’ Frank went down to find him. I remember all these hippies had come to town. Lee, he just loved that because he had an audience. If Lee had an audience, oh boy! I remember coming down there. We ran down the street knocking hippies off the sidewalk. We were such rednecks, let’s face it. All of us were in those days. Knocking these guys off the street, you’re not hurting anybody bad. We just bulled our way through in a big old black Cadillac sedan. We were Just pissed off because we had to get Lee. We didn’t get any sleep. Me and Frank had been up all night partying. We went anyway, got in a fight and god almighty…..
Anyway, Lee escapes out the back door. He goes and jumps over the goddamn fence.. He wasn’t hung over. Shit, he was still bombed! He hadn’t been to bed yet. He didn’t want to go to work. He didn’t want to get caught. Anyway, he knew we were after him. So, I knew, we looked through town so I said, “Aw, bullshit. Fuck him. We’re going back. I’m tired.” We had a hard night and the girls were still in the house. Anyway, we go back, open the door, and there’s Lee sitting in my chair. He knew we’d catch him sooner or later so he just ran around the damn neighborhood — it was about four or five blocks.  Doubled back and came back to the house [Mimes Marvin in chair]. With a big bottle of gin in his hand. You couldn’t help but laugh at him. He had the goofiest look on his face.
Shaw was downstairs and we said, “He won’t work today. You better figure out something to shoot around him because he ain’t going to do it.” So, Shaw said, “Put him in a car and let’s get him out there.” I said, “All right.” Anyway, they came and got him. I wouldn’t go. So, Lee goes out to the set. I guess he was going out and he threw up out the window. I mean, the window was up. The guys that were there, stopped, took him around and took him home. I really don’t want to talk about that [I laugh]. He’d done that more than once.
What was funny about the story, though, after all us going and getting him — how picture companies can get away shit in those days. The Chief of Police called us on the phone. He said, “Mr. Epper and Mr. Orsatti? We understand you were in town riding your car through the sidewalks, running people off the sidewalk. You went in and got in a fight in bar with all the people…” He couldn’t say hippies. He said, “You’re under arrest. Would you guys come down to jail at your convenience?” I swear to god, “At your convenience.”

Using an infrared lens, still photographer Bob WIlloughby captures Lee Marvin during the filming of Paint Your Wagon. Probably the way he looked to Epper at the time.

Using an infrared lens, still photographer Bob WIlloughby captures Lee Marvin during the filming of Paint Your Wagon. Probably the way he looked to Epper at the time.

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LEE MARVIN, STAR TREK & SCOTTY

It isn’t widely known but in Lee Marvin’s long and varied career he worked with almost every member of the original cast of Star Trek in one medium or another. In the early days of live TV, William Shatner played his hotheaded younger brother in a Playhouse 90 western titled “Time of the Hanging.” During the run of Marvin’s series M SquadLeonard Nimoy appeared twice as a criminal who tangles with Marvin’s Lt. Ballinger. An early 60s anthology show called The Great Adventure had Marvin playing an unlikely Armenian grape grower with young Walter Koenig playing his son. He also had a great scene in the film Raintree County as a maverick Union soldier who captures a gentlemanly Confederate officer played by DeForest Kelley. All in all, a pretty good batting score of Star Trek cast members for Marvin without ever appearing on the show!
But of all the Star Trek cast members he worked with, none were able to say they knew Lee Marvin nearly as well as James ‘Scotty’ Doohan. The two actors started out together in Woodstock New York’s Maverick Theater after the war and appeared in several plays together, including Marvin’s professional debut in “Roadside” (see picture below with Doohan on the right).
I was lucky enough to interview Doohan for my book Lee Marvin: Point Blank back in the 90s and worked most of what he told me into the text. However, for various reasons, not all of what he had to say made the final cut so below is the unpublished transcript of that conversation. The words are his own with elliptical dots replacing my questions. Enjoy, Trekkies:

James Doohan: He was a very, very impressive guy. I loved him immediately. He was just terrific. We got along like a house on fire. Always were good friends. No if, ands, or buts, fights, or anything else. He was just terrific. …He was never a phony and we got a lot of phonies in this business. He was as true to himself as he could possibly be…. He was the characters that he played. He would actually be perfect for them. He was just a great guy. Became a great self-actor….At The Maverick Theatre, yeah. It was really a nice theater. We got pretty darn good crowds. We were just a bunch of actor/students. Somebody said, “I saw this guy. He’s friends of the Ballantines. I saw this guy and geez, he’d be perfect for one of the parts that we have,” Tex in “Roadside.” (Does voice) I played old Pap Rader. Anyway… We did about 10 plays. … It was a very exciting thing. The most specific thing that I remember about Lee is that of course that he was a Marine and I was and officer in the Royal Canadian Artillery and had taken some commando training and also infantry training. One day, we were fiddling around outside in the beautiful sunshine and everything else. Lee said, “Hey Jimmy, catch!” There was a rifle coming at me (laughs). I thought “Oh wow-wee!” I caught it, and I don’t have the best hand equipment in the world because I had three bullets hit this one finger….machine gun on D-Day. I was number one off of our beach on D-Day…. That’s why he would like throw the rifle at me. “Hey, catch this!” He said it after it was in the air (laughs) I had to look up and there was a a goddamneROADSIDE W DOOHAN-1d rifle coming at me, perfectly thrown ,though. So you have chance to grab it perpendicular… I just said, “Oh, okay.” He was just, “You know what you’re doing,” except I didn’t know as much as he knew.
– Dwayne Epstein

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