WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND…LEE MARVIN?

William Shakespeare is not usually a name associated with the likes of Lee Marvin. More is the pity as the actor had several brushes with the bard as recounted in my book Lee Marvin Point Blank. First, as a fledgling postwar acting student at the American Theater Wing (ATW), in which several hilarious anecdotes are retold by David Ballantine, a friend from Lee Marvin’s Woodstock days.

Lee Marvin (far right) cavorts  with fellow students during his American Theater Wing days in costumes from a play by William Shakespeare.


Later, on the set of The Big Red One, in which costar Kelly Ward recounted an amazing incident at sunset in an ancient Israeli ampitheater. 
Apparently, my research struck a chord with one who would definitely know more about the subject of William Shakespeare’s work than I ever would. Through the wonders of the digital age, noted actor/writer/historian David Weston sought me out to contact recently and wrote me the following:
“I was an actor for more than 50 years and I agree with all you say about Marvin’s talent and magnetism. He would have been game-changing in several Shakespearean roles..” 
 I was humbled by his words once I found out more about him via the internet. Not only does he know his stuff, he’s married to actress Dora Reisser, who knew Marvin well, ever since her costarring role as Telly Savalas’s victim in The Dirty Dozen. When I asked David if I could use his comments concerning William Shakespeare and Marvin on my blog, he sent me the following mini-essay. To call it a wonderful surprise, is an understatement. Here now is David Weston making the point better than I ever could. Enjoy….
– Dwayne Epstein

(L-R) Dora Reisser and David Weston.

Lee Marvin as a Shakespearean Actor

Shakespeare’s plays are full of violence and comedy, two things Lee Marvin revelled in. Titus Andronicus, probably the Bard’s first play, contains mutilation, rape, ripped out tongues and cannibalism. As far as I know Lee Marvin never appeared in a Shakespeare play, although he told my wife, Dora Reisser, that when he was filming The Klansman with Richard Burton, he would make up mock Shakespearean speeches and ask the inebriated Welshman to guess which plays they had come from. I will give some examples of roles in which Marvin could have excelled at various stages in his life. It could have happened. Richard Burton, like Marvin, no the weak spinner of fanciful tales, once told me that Marlon Brando had wanted to join him for a season at the Old Vic, only to be rejected by the board.

As a young actor Lee Marvin was never a Romeo, but he would have been a superb Mercutio [Romeo’s best friend], revelling in the bawdy comedy.  His catlike movement would have been ideal for the sword fights and tragi-comic death.

Richard Burton was a pretty good Petruchio [in The Taming of The Shrew], but can you imagine Lee’s drunken antics or his savage treatment of Kate – Gloria Graham’s coffee springs to mind.

Likewise he was born to play Bottom [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. Kevin Kline attempted it recently but he would not have touched Lee’s befuddled wonder at acquiring ass’s ears and the love of the Fairy Queen.

His lighting quick humour and savagery would have made him a terrifying yet hilarious Richard III. Kevin Spacey was a pussy cat in comparison.

Sean Connery was the best Hotspur I’ve seen [Henry IV, Part I], but Lee would have run him close.

Shakespeare could have written the part of Pistol, the bawdy braggart, with Lee in mind, but in the same plays in his more mature years he would have been one of the great Falstaffs. I can close my eyes and see him in the tavern scenes, bragging, wenching, hilarious – yet over brimming with pathos, glimpses of which we saw in Cat Ballou.

Marlon Brando was a superb Marc Antony [in Julius Caesar), in what I consider to be the second best Shakespeare film ever made after Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, but Lee Marvin would have been better.

So many actors can play King Lear in their old age – it is in fact one of Shakespeare’s easiest leading roles – but Lee’s fury would have been terrifying and his grief over Cordelia’s death heart-breaking. As a young actor he would have revelled in the sadism of the Duke of Cornwall in the terrible scene when he takes out Gloucester’s eyes.

Last of all Iago [in Othello]. Again the humorous villainy and savagery – Liberty Valence in tights.

There is something for him in every play. It is our loss he was never asked.
– David Weston

Covering McKellen by David Weston.

Covering Shakespeare by David Weston

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SUPERBOWL SUNDAY: HOW LEE MARVIN HELPED THE NFL, SERIOUSLY!

With the Panthers & Broncos battling in the Super Bowl this Sunday, it seems as good a time as any to consider another unmentioned aspect in Lee Marvin: Point Blank worthy of exploration… Although in truth, there is very little in the book left unexplored but that’s what this blog for. So, besides being gridiron legends, do you know what Woody Strode, Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson (ahem!) and Joe Namath also have in common? You probably have already guessed based on the theme of this website but yes, they all co-starred in films with Lee Marvin.
The kind of films Marvin made probably had a lot to do with it, but Marvin himself saw film acting as a logicial progression from football. While making The Dirty Dozen with Jim Brown, he joked, “You see those guys on the field every Sunday and they’re acting. When they take a hit and walk off, you see how they play to the crowd with a little extra limp and grimace…and thos guys are the pros!”
Known more for his impressive presence in films, the proverbial gentle giant, Woody Strode is not often remembered for his pro ball career. However, along with Kenny Washington, they integrated the NFL playing for the L.A. Rams, a full year before Jackie Robinson did the same in baseball.  Strode was also a professional wrestler but told this author that the time he spent working with Lee Marvin in both The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and later (and more prominently) in The Professionals, bonded a life time friendship with Marvin like none he had ever known in other films….

Woody Strode (left) and Lee Marvin on location during The Professionals and bonding a life long friendship.

Woody Strode (left) and Lee Marvin on location during The Professionals and bonding a life long friendship.

Sometimes called the greatest fullback in NFL history, Jim Brown’s tailor-made role in The Dirty Dozen established him evern more than his previous film, Rio Conchos. His acting career then skyrocketed with other big budget films but it was the blaxploitation genre of the early 70s for which he’ll be most remembered cinematically. One such film was even an update of Marvin’s Point Blank entitled The Split.
None of this would have even happened had Brown not made a fateful decision during the filming of The Dirty Dozen. The film ran over schedule due to the constant rain in England, forcing Brown to confront a difficult choice. When Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell threatened a heavy fine if Brown wasn’t back in time for pre-season training, Brown’s decision was thus made: He quit the NFL and set out on his film career. Helping him decide was Lee Marvin, who rightly predicted of Brown’s future: “He’s going to be a wild actor. He’s not afraid of himself. He lets everything show he thinks is right. He’s not pretending. Pretending has no value. To do it right with control has real value.”

Jim Brown & Lee Marvin on set of THE DIRTY DOZEN from the NY Times article annoucing his NFL retirement.

Jim Brown & Lee Marvin on set of THE DIRTY DOZEN from the NY Times article annoucing his NFL retirement.

NY Jets quarterback Joe Namath had a fairly decent film career that in no way eclipsed his record-breaking NFL career. Such films as C.C. & Company with Ann-Margret, as well as The Last Rebel, co-starring Woody Strode, certainly did not break box office records, but he was able to put on his resume that he worked with such veteran performers as Lee Marvin, Robert Shaw, Maximillan Schell, Horst Bucholtz and others in the tepid cold war thriller, Avalanche Express. Namath went on record as stating that in spite of his famous partying days with the Jets, he had never seen anybody drink a tumbler full of vodka for lunch each day as he witnessed Marvin and Shaw do….and then go to work!

Lee Marvin & 'Broadway' Joe Namath in AVALANCHE EXPRESS

Lee Marvin & ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath in AVALANCHE EXPRESS

And then there’s O. J. Simpson. Perhaps the les said about him the better, as the man who worked with Marvin in the wince-inducing disaster titled, The Klansman, was reputed to be more clean-cut than what we now know and think of him. Then again, the still from the film below, might just be the most appropriate. Had Marvin pulled the trigger, who knows…..

Lee Marvin contemplates doing what the Goldman family might have done.

Lee Marvin contemplates doing what the Goldman family might have done.

 

 

 

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LEE MARVIN’S KLANSMAN: WHAT IF IT DIDN’T GO SOUTH?

The recent events dominating the news out of places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, got me to thinking about Lee Marvin’s 1974 film The Klansman. While it is of course axiomatic that nobody sets out to make a bad film, certain ones, with even the best intentions, have no choice but to turn out that way.
In the case of The Klansman, Marvin was not necessarily drawn to controversial subject matter but what he read in Sam Fuller’s adaption of William Bradford Huie’s novel got him to change his mind.  While the reasons for The Klansman’s embarassing failure is well documented in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, Fuller’s original script was anything but cliche’ and Marvin signed on for it. Fuller’s friend and neighbor, John Cassavetes read it first and told Fuller, “It’s a pisscutter of a script.” Want proof? Here’s just one sequence in the film Fuller wrote involving Marvin’s character, southern sheriff ‘Big Trak’ Bascomb and his free-thinking college age son, Alan…..

 An amazing sequence from Sam Fuller's original script of The Klansman, featuring Marvin's characterof  Bascomb and his son Alan that did not make the final cut.

An amazing sequence from Sam Fuller’s original script of The Klansman, featuring Marvin’s characterof Bascomb and his son Alan that did not make the final cut.

Can you imagine what the reaction to that would have been in even more open-minded 1974 America? There had been other films in which redneck sheriffs were lead characters but there was always some sort of redemption in the end. In the Heat of the Night comes to mind and was certainly the best of the lot but there, too, the characters played by Rod Steiger and Sideny Poitier came to respect each other by film’s end, and there was certainly no sequence in it as shown above.

The script Marvin read had him playing a character who actually got WORSE as the film went on and Marvin liked it. No excuses for his behavior was originally written other than what he had displaying onscreen all along except it simply got worse for the audiences to gasp at, expecially Fuller’s ending! In short, racially motivated violence by police, as we’ve seen alot of lately, would have fit the mould of The Klansman if the filmmakers had the courage of their convictions. When the film was about to start production, Marvin had this to say to the publicist….

The Klansman's publicist got this quote from Marvin just as the film went into production to later be used us part of the film's press kit.

The Klansman’s publicist got this quote from Marvin just as the film went into production to later be used us part of the film’s press kit.

 

The changes that were made disgusted the actor and his drinking naturally escalated, although not as much as his strangely cast costar Richard Burton. After the film’s release and the behind-the-scens debauchery had made front page news, Marvin said this in an interview with a short-lived magazine called Girl Talk (!)

In the long defunct GIRL TALK magazine, Lee Marvin gives his thoughts on The Klansman after its release.

In the long defunct GIRL TALK magazine, Lee Marvin gives his thoughts on The Klansman after its release.

Sadly, Marvin would never again commit to a film with a controversial social commentary. Not because he didn’t want to play an unsavory character, as some actors would. He had no problem with that. He clearly didn’t want to run the risk of seeing the message he was trying to convey become diluted. A shame really, as he did look good in the costume, though….

Marvin as 'Big Trak' Bascomb in The Klansman, looks like a cross between Mayberry's Andy Taylor and The Dirty Dozen's Maj. Reisman.

Marvin as ‘Big Trak’ Bascomb in The Klansman, looks like a cross between Mayberry’s Andy Taylor and The Dirty Dozen’s Maj. Reisman.

 

 

 

Other than in The Klansman, anybody know a police dept. in which a Thompson submachine gun is regular issue?

Other than in The Klansman, anybody know a police dept. in which a Thompson submachine gun is regular issue?

The Klansman's two ad campaign's featuring its stars.

The Klansman’s two ad campaign’s featuring its stars.

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