LEE MARVIN: IN COLD BLOOD

I recently watched the 1967 classic true-crime thriller In Cold Blood on TCM and it still packs one hell of a wallop. Writer/Director Richard Brooks was at the peak of his game in his stark tale of the horrific murders of the Clutter family at the hands of ex-con drifters Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickox (Scott Wilson). As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, Marvin himself came pretty damned close to being in the film.
How close? From the IMDb: “Lee Marvin wanted the role of Alvin Dewey but director Richard Brooks gave it to John Forsythe instead. Brooks had worked with Marvin on the extremely successful, The Professionals.  but Marvin had proved to be a handful on the set.”

L-R: Veteran character actor James Flavin, Robert Blake, Gerald S. O’loughlin, John Forsythe (in the role Marvin was to play) & Scott Wilson in Richard Brooks’ true crime thriller, IN COLD BLOOD.

I’m not quite sure where the IMDb got its information from but I had interviewed stuntman Tony Epper, who had worked very closely with Brooks and Marvin on The Professionals. His version of why Marvin was not in the film was quite different. While it’s true Marvin and Brooks did not always get along, both men were well aware of each other’s  personality traits and it was Marvin, not Brooks, who did not want to work with the other. Marvin thought of Brooks as a martinet who may have been a military veteran, but having not seen actual combat, he considered Brooks a phony and a bully. Unfortunate really as it was another golden opportunity that Marvin missed in being a part of portraying the horror of violence on film as never seen before at that time.

Lee Marvin as Detective Frank Ballinger on M Squad, or, as I like to think of it, how he would have appeared in the John Forsythe role for IN COLD BLOOD.

Tony Epper: “I’ll tell you what Lee did. I came over and Lee said ‘Go get some of that good wine at the liquor store.’ It was a different label, that’s all. Other than that, after the third drink, you know. Anyway, I get a phone call. I lived down in the valley in those days. It’s Richard. I remember Tommy Shaw, who was the production manager, in those days. He was a good production manager. Anyway, Brooks wanted to get the script of In Cold Blood to Tommy. He had called Tommy and Tommy couldn’t come. I took it, because his wife had a liver problem. That’s where the money went. Anyway, I went over and that’s when Brooks was still with Jean Simmons. He and I were good friends. Nothing but good friends…Anyway, I go in the house and there’s Richard. He says, ‘I want you to do me a big favor.’ I said ‘Do you want me to kill somebody?’ (laughs) He gives me the script. Lots of seals all over it. I stopped by Lee’s with the script and the bottle he wanted. Anyway, this part was Lee’s idea. He saw the sealed script I was to deliver to Shaw, and since he knew Brooks was so paranoid about anybody reading his script, he came up with this idea. He said, ‘Let’s just break the seal before giving it to Shaw.’ I asked Lee if he wanted to read it first. We never read it, just broke the seal. Brooks, until the day he died, kept asking me if we had ever read the script to In Cold Blood. I think that’s why he changed his mind about offering the role to Lee.”
– Dwayne Epstein

IN COLD BLOOD writer/director Richard Brooks (behind the camera) and cinematographer Conrad Hall behinds Brooks.

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NEVADA MAGAZINE ON “THE PROFESSIONALS”

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the coverage given to the 1966 classic action film, The Professionals, which was done with much research via the likes of Nevada Magazine, for instance. On newsstands in the fall of 1966 to coincide with the film’s November release, it’s a short piece but contains some beautiful photography of the Valley of Fire State Park location used in the film. In fact, the images belie the sweltering temperatures all the participants groused about on and off camera.
The article’s author, Don Payne, does a commendable job in summarizing the film as well as its production. Being a Nevadan, he make sure to include such colorfully named locales  used in the film as Deadman’s Canyon, Coyote Pass and of course, California’s own Death Valley. It’s a p.r. piece, to be sure but after reading it, one does certainly want to see the film the author is writing about.
It’s interesting on another level, as well. Payne mentions in passing an event during the film’s production. He refers to it as “An impromptu downtown archery exhibition staged by several cast members.” Rather tame description of the event. I was fortunate to interview several individuals closely involved to the film, such as Jack Palance and producer Phil Parslow. Best of all were lengthy interviews conducted with stuntman Tony Epper and costar Woody Stroe. They were the key participants in the “impromptu exhibition” and to hear them tell it, the event was anything but staged. In fact, it practically — and it truth, should have — landed the two of them and unwitting participant, Lee Marvin in jail. The shenanigans of The Rat Pack could not hold a candle to what Epper, Strode and Marvin perpetrated. Those unfamiliar with the wild and woolly tale must read the book, of course. For those who have read the book, read the article below with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
– Dwayne Epstein

Cover of Nevada Magazine, Fall 1966.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 1.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 2.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 3.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 4.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 5.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 6.

Nevada Magazine article on THE PROFESSIONALS, page 7.

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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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