ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD….THERE WAS ALSO LEE MARVIN

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest opus from favorite contemporary filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, was anxiously awaited by yours truly like a kid awaits the end of the school year and the start of summer vacation. Seriously. Everything I had read and seen about it had me practically drooling in anticipation. Then I watched it.

(L-R) Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth and Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton leaning against the facade of Hollywood’s famed Egyptian Theater.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad picture, at all. It’s just that I guess my anticipation of it, had me expecting  more.
There’s also much to recommend. My family and I moved to California from New York in 1968 so I’m familiar with what the southern California scene of 1969 was like in those days. Tarantino’s re-creation of that time and place is something to marvel at throughout the film. Whether it’s the bus benches advertising Hobo Kelly, or the brief TV moment showing late night L.A. horror host Seymour, it brought back nostalgic childhood memories for yours truly.
Most of the performances in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood are also uniformly excellent. A true standout is Brad Pitt as the laconic stunt double and gopher to Leonardo DiCaprio’s fading TV star.
I say ‘most’ performances as some of them are downright strange. The film is peppered with cameos of real-life individuals and some are just strange. An actor playing Bruce Lee challenges Pitt to a fight in one of my favorite scenes and one of the most controversial in its portrayal of the legendary martial artist.
In another sequence, British Actor Damian Lewis makes a brief appearance as Steve McQueen at a party at the Playboy Mansion in a performance that can best be described as bizarre. While there is a resemblance, in speaking with McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, we both agreed that the speech pattern Lewis invokes is just plain weird. He may have been trying to mask his British accent but the result is nothing like McQueen. Bizarre.
So, what is it about the film that received a six minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film festival that I have a problem saying that it’s truly great? Simply put, the main character played by DiCaprio is just not worthy of much sympathy and being the central focus of the film, it’s the key factor keeping me from loving the film. Hate to say it but it’s true.
I won’t give away any more as I hate when writers do that sort of thing. Suffice to say, I’ll probably see it on DVD, if only to see again my Lee Marvin Point Blank interview subject, Clu Gulager as an aging Westwood bookstore owner. Until then, I wonder why such a big Lee Marvin fan as Tarantino left Lee Marvin out of the film when he was big box office in 1969. How big?  Check out Lee Marvin Point Blank to find that out. In the mean time….
-Dwayne Epstein

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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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A WRITER’S START, PART 1: YOUNG ADULT FICTION & MORE!

Professional writer’s get their start in a variety of ways and for yours truly, author of Lee Marvin Point Blank,  it actually began with the genre of young adult fiction and later non-fiction. As noted in a previous blog, I was working as a waiter when I met Mike Miller of Miller Educational Material. He took note of my past experience writing for local newspaper and decided to hire me on to work on his company’s catalog. In short order, one catalog became two and then two became three when he decided to branch out into publishing his own short fiction for the young adult market.

THE COOLR KING, published 2001 by Artesian Press.

My first was The Cooler King, described in the company catalog (also by yours truly): “Marty Berger had been terrorized by Ricky Hyde for as long as he could remember. Even worse, Theresa was watching as Ricky challenged Marty to a fight. All Marty really wanted to do was just watch old movies on his VCR. Why couldn’t he be cool like his hero, Steve McQueen? With the help of a little man and a magical videotape, Marty gets more than he bargained for…he gets the late, great Steve McQueen! Can the original “Cooler King” help Marty face Ricky Hyde?”

The subject of the young adult fiction was my own, with publisher Mike Miller’s approval and artwork by his former Disney artist wife, Fujiko. It was one in a series of five short books published by his Artesian Press, the small company’s newly formed publishing division.

FANTASY TEACHER’S RESOURCE GUIDE written by, me, Dwayne Epstein!

In fact, each of the various series put out by Artesian Press required a resource guide, all written by yours truly. They included Horror and Romance Resource Guides, also.

Speaking of horror,
I was also offered to write one of those in the series, as well, entitled From The Eye of the Cat...

FROM THE EYE OF THE CAT, published 2002 by Artesian Press. .

As summarized in the catalog, written by your humble narrator:
“Saturday was Ernie’s favorite day of the week because he got to play in the fields with his friends. Lately, the’ve been spending more time taunting the neighborhood cats. They’ve even taken to calling themselves the Cat Stalkers. Ernie would rather just play army. Then, one morning, he woke up to a living nightmare. Somehow, he became a cat himself. Now he must survive in this frightening new world he sees from the eye of a cat.”
Granted it’s not Hemingway but it did fit within the requirements of the company’s guidelines of young adult fiction subject matter and, most important of all, the reading level dictated by schools nationwide. Sales were decent and some name authors in the field contributed to the various series via Mike Miller’s persistence. I found myself on the receiving end of a promotion, a small staff that I had hired and of course, more responsibility. This included help editing all the titles and, on occasion, adding to the series, such as my entry into (gulp!) the Romance Series entitled Connie’s Secret:

CONNIE’S SECRET, published 2003.

“Shy Connie Martinez has a secret for doing well on school tests. Class clown Jerry Gordon has a secret to being popular. Even though she’s not sure of his reasons, Connie and Jerry agree to share their secrets. Will romance blossom for the mismatched pair?”

In several instances, I was required to do something more. Take for example another title, this time in The Ancient Egyptian Mysteries Series called The Great Pyramid.
“The Oldest and greatest “Wonder of the World” stands silently and demands explanation — how and why? The Great Pyramid of Khufu is so big, so old, and so beautiful that many can’t believe it was built by an ancient people…but it was! And that is the greatest mystery of all — the mystery of the this great people; their organization, enthusiasm, and genius.”

There was yet another mystery which had nothing to do with the pyramids but the actual author of the title. The credited author was a friend of the publisher but the resulting manuscript he turned in left much to be desired in terms of readability. Now I can solve that mystery: I rewrote the entire thing!
As Johnny Carson used to say, more to come!
-Dwayne Epstein

THE GREAT PYRAMID published in 2004.

 

 

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