BETTY MARVIN, JULY 16,1928- MARCH 9, 2018

Betty Marvin, first wife of Lee Marvin and mother of his four children, passed away from complications following the flu just a few months short of her 90th birthday. When I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank and throughout the entire 20 year journey to its publication, she was the single most important individual source in getting it see the light of day. It’s for that reason I loathe writing such blog entries as this but it’s also the reason why I feel it must be done.
I don’t recall exactly how I was able to come in contact with her but my best guess would be through her former brother-in-law, Robert Marvin. At one point, I was with Robert in Woodstock, NY, when I needed to speak with Betty Marvin on the phone. While she and I spoke, Robert eventually asked for the phone. When I gave it to him, I witnessed Robert, who had not spoken to Betty in decades, poignantly apologize to Betty for their lack of contact and they way he had treated her when they had been in contact. I never asked what that was in reference to but I was genuinely moved to hear Robert speak the words. Betty Marvin was the kind of a person that could elicit such words.

Newlyweds Lee and Betty Marvin.

That first night I met Betty Marvin, way back in 1994, remains a cherished memory. Prepared for the interview as best as possible, I drove up to Montecito from Long Beach with the intent of being as professional as I knew how. That didn’t last long. Upon meeting her, I was completely disarmed by her frankness, hospitality and good humor. In no time at all it seems the initial interview went into the wee hours, making it too late to drive back home for the night. She graciously offered me her guest bedroom and the next morning we went to her storage facility where she was even more gracious in allowing me access to her family photos and years with her ex-husband. Many of those never-before-seen photos ended up in the book.

A photo from her own book depicts Betty’s home in Santa Barbara County where she graciously welcomed me. On the left side of the home towards the back is where her son Christopher planted cactus from cuttings taken from his father’s original plants.

I should also point out that during that first long confab, she constantly asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink. When I eventually acquiesced, she put out a wonderful spread of homemade goodies and uncorked some wine. As the wine flowed through the night, so did the laughter and on occasion some tears.
We stayed in contact regularly after that first get-together and even went to the movies and had dinner on occasion. There are no amount of positive adjectives that can best describe what a wonderful person I discovered her to be. Once she put her faith and trust in what I was working on, she could not be more helpful. She gave me additional contacts, the aforementioned photos, as well continuing insights and anecdotes I could never have gleaned from anyone or anywhere else.
Whenever I was enroute to northern California to visit my girlfriend’s family, we always stopped by and saw Betty on the way, who offered such surprising delicacies as hearty homemade bread and delicious wild mushroom soup on our journey. She said the recipe  came from her good friend, Julia Child….

Betty Marvin (left) with good friend Julia Child depicted for one of her wonderful Xmas cards.

My favorite thing she managed to do was get her son Christopher to agree to go on the record with me. Reticent at first, I met Christopher at a going away party for his mother as she was about go on an around the world excursion all by herself…in her 70s! Betty got both of us together during the party by rounding us up in the midst of the revelry and said to her son, “Now you go in the next room with this man and you talk to him!’ Since it was her party, Christopher sheepishly agreed and another great exclusive (and friendship) was put on the record.
As the worldwide trip can attest, Betty was also quite a lover of life. She painted, sculpted, got her pilot’s license, created biodomes in Mexico and more, all while most people were languishing in retirement. Just an amazing woman! When she was considering writing her own memoir (Tales of a Hollywood Housewife) she asked me if she thought it best to use her own name in a straight forward account of her life or a fictitious telling and non de plume. I told he she should call herself “Mrs. James Coburn.” We both got a kick out of that.

Betty Marvin’s own account of her life, which is still very much available and HIGHLY recommended!

I have so many wonderful memories of Betty I can keep this one blog entry going forever. Suffice to say writer’s cramp makes that idea rather prohibitive but on occasion, when the mood strikes, I will revisit some of those memories here once more. In the mean time, below are several more images from her book and other images that may show just a portion of what a terrific lady she was.
I’ll miss her dearly but the memories are intact and will be as long as I’m alive. I’m pretty sure the same can be said by anyone who knew her. So long, Betty. Your time here helped change and enlighten many a life. I know it did mine.
– Dwayne Epstein

Betty photographed by Lee holding their ten day old son, Christopher.

Typical Xmas card Betty sent me and her friends a few years back.

At Betty’s book signing in her Santa Barbara home, her close friend tab Hunter agreed to sign my copy on the page pictured above.

 

 

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THE “OTHER” LEE MARVIN BIOGRAPHIES

Ahh, Lee Marvin biographies. As for mine, the story of how I came to write Lee Marvin Point Blank began in the mid-nineties when I introduced myself to Steve McQueen biographer, Marshall Terrill. I had read his book, liked it, found a few minor errors in it and asked to meet him about it. Maybe my corrections would make its way into a revised text, or so I thought. Better than that, perhaps my name would get in the acknowelegements.
I was working as a waiter at the time, having all but given up pursuing my previous career as a staff writer on a local newspaper. When I did indeed meet with Marshall, a conversation began that went from our dual appreciation of Steve McQueen, to discussing the possibility of my writing a bio myself on a favorite film actor. Going through a list of candidates, we landed on Lee Marvin mainly because there had not been a suitable bio written of him and Marshall convinced me the time was ripe. Well, merely two decades later (!), I found an agent and a publisher who agreed.
Up until then, this is what existed on Marvin and what I think of them…..

Published in 1967 by Pyramid Books.

Published in 1967 by Pyramid Books.

• First up is this compilation, sleazily titled Hollywood Confidential, which contained a full chapter and a quotable interview with the actor from 1967. Truth be told, it’s the only decent chapter in the book that consists of articles from an old men’s magazine. Can you tell by the cover? Anyway, for a quite a while, other than film periodicals with some deep background info, this one chapter remained the only book that was available on the actor. That is until…..

Published in 1980 by St. Martin's.

Published in 1980 by St. Martin’s.

• At the time I began working on my bio, the book Marvin, by veteran British gossip columnist Donald Zec, was the only one in existence. Not to be too catty, but what a blown opportunity! Zec had Marvin’s co-operation on the project, as well as access to several now deceased interviews subjects, and what does he do with such gold? He constantly overwrites important passages with his own drippy, salacious style of gossipy prose. Very frustrating as both a fan of the actor and as a researcher, I must say. Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, told me she met with Zec. When they went to some restaurant, all he did was constantly point out the celebrities and what he thought of them, which she said she found particularly annoying, much like his writing style. ‘Nuff said.

Published in 1997 by Faber & Faber.

Published in 1997 by Faber & Faber.

• Lee’s second wife, Pam Marvin, penned Lee: A Romance in 1997 while I was still working on my own book. I attempted several times to interview her but was declined each time. On the last attempt I was made aware of the fact that she was writing her own book about  Lee and to leave it at that. When I wrote her that our two projects would not conflict with each other but actually be a boost, I received no response. I realized I was grasping with that statement but when her book came out, it turns out I was right. Hardly a full-fledged biography of Lee Marvin, it proved to be the memoirs of the author and her eventual life with the actor. Far too much of the tome is also taken up by the palimony case, in which the author includes trial transcripts with snarky italicized comments in between. I need not had worried.

Published in 2000 by McFarland.

Published in 2000 by McFarland.

• Robert J. Lentz’s book, Lee Marvin: His Films & Career, was aptly titled as it is in no way, shape, or form a biography. It is, however, a pretty comprehensive look at the actor’s career with a minimal amount of errors. It proved to be a valuable resource for further research on my part as it’s lengthy bibliography was a godsend. His personal assessment of Marvin’s films & TV work are fairly on the money in most but certainly not all cases. Some more biographical info would have been nice but my biggest quibble had nothing to do with the author. Speciality publishing companies, such as McFarland and Scarecrow put out wonderful products for the most part but can anybody explain to me why they are so damn expensive?!? Lentz’s book retails for $45.00!!! I know they sell mostly to libraries and research facilities, but c’mon! Not everybody can shell out such cash for a book, especially since most of their product lack even a dust jacket. Be reasonable for crying out loud! Geez!

Published in 2009 by iUniverse.

Published in 2009 by iUniverse.

• Now we come to Betty Marvin’s book, Tales of a Hollywood Housewife. At the outset, I should explain that I am extremely biased, as I got to know and genuinely like Betty. In fact, our first meeting consisted of an all-nighter, in which she reminisced about Lee over several bottles of wine and a whole lot of laughter and in truth, a few tears. I just can’t say enough about this remarkable woman. When she told me she was working on her book, she sought a minimal amount of advice from me, such as if she should use her real name or a non de plume. My advice was to call herself Mrs. James Coburn. Luckily, she didn’t take my advice. The book is a wonderful personal journey, from her traumatic childhood, through her years with Lee, up to the time of the book’s publication, in which she once again comes out triumphant. Sure, some of her our stories overlap during the Lee Marvin years, but certainly not to the extent that they conflict in any way. After all, my book was a biography of Lee Marvin. Hers was an unabashed autobiography without any hidden agendas or misleading concepts. A terrific read I highly recommend without reservation.

Published in 1999 by Naval Institute Press.

Published in 1999 by Naval Institute Press.

• Part of an interesting series of books on celebrities in different branches of the military, the one focusing on the USMC naturally had to include a chapter on Marvin. Titled Stars in the Corps, it did a thorough job of delineating the military careers of the those pictured on the cover. So why not put Oscar-winner and 1960s leading box office champion Lee Marvin among the cover montage? At least in place of say, oh, I don’t know, Hugh O’Brian? Barry Corbin? Lee Powell?????? Seriously, what were they thinking? Maybe it was because the chapter on Lee, though interesting, consisted of culled quotes from Donald Zec’s book (!). Ah well, such is life. I will add that the other chapters are pretty detailed and cover a substantial range of actors, with eye-opening accounts of their Marine Corps experiences. Once again, the catty part of me has to mention the downside: the writing is rather clunky, especially when it came to the actors’ post-military life and their acting careers.

Having said all that about the above titles, I think it becomes rather obvious why I came to research and write Lee Marvin Point Blank. Not merely a fan of the actor, there was clearly a dearth of good material about his life in the open market. All of which comes down to the the most obvious of all. What exactly is the best biography on the award-winning, legendary actor??? Hmm, I wonder…..
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