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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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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The late Phil Parslow, production assistant on THE PROFESSIONALS (1966).

In researching Lee Marvin: Point Blank, I quickly discovered how much misinformation and half-truths were still in existence concerning the actor’s life and work. One of the most persistent concerned his drinking. Yes, the man did indeed drink, and several important interview sources were willing to go on the record about it. What he didn’t do, as has so often been incorrectly written, was imbibe a great deal while working. Not an uncommon phenomenon for most alcoholics, by the way, as work is usually the last thing to suffer due to drinking.
Case in point is one of Marvin’s best films and performances, The Professionals (1966). Existing print data are overflowing with tales of Marvin’s drinking ruining the film, as quoted from such unreliable sources as Michele Triola, or cohorts of writer/director Richard Brooks. I was lucky enough to interview several key participants of the film and each of them said the opposite. The fact that Marvin did not personally like Brooks because of the way he treated people, goes a long way in explaining the stretching of that particular misnomer. However, stuntman Tony Epper, costar Woody Strode, and most important of all, production assistant, Phil Parslow, all attested to Marvin’s professionalism and the ridiculousness of the rumors. I interviewed the late Phil Parslow in May of 1995 and found his anecdotes both honest and forthcoming.
Parlsow had many responsibilties on the film, both credited and uncredited. Chiefly, it was up to him to make sure everyone required to work on a given a day made it to the set ready to work. As he told me at the time when I asked about the famous Robin Hood Party: “I was the only one from production to show up because Richard Brooks and (assistant director) Tom Shaw used to spike their phone so they could work on the script all night undisturbed. It was my job to handle any problems that came up.” Consequently, many of the tales concerning Marvin’s behavior proved more fiction than fact, as neither Brooks nor Shaw were present for it. As Parslow said in this transcript of my talk on the specific question of Marvin’s drinking:
Dwayne: Was Lee’s drinking a problem?

Phil: Actually, Lee was great the entire time except for the very last day of shooting. The last day he didn’t make the gate. We were doing the opening scene where he’s demonstrating the machine gun and we couldn’t find him anywhere. That was the only time he messed up. I couldn’t find him and then at noon he ambled on to the set drunk and embarrassed. We finally got the shot and he was really apologetic but that was the only time his drinking was a problem.

D: I’m finding out that was the typical way he worked which is not uncommon for a an alcoholic.

P: I know that’s true because both of my parents were alcoholics. I’d rather work with a drunk than a drug user any day. Drunks are very predictable and you know what to expect. Drug users, forget it. You never knew what to expect. I’ll say this for Lee – He very seldom missed a line. He could do what we called ‘sight read,’ which means read it once and have it down. I used to make bets with people about that and damned if everybody didn’t go up on their lines but Lee. He was amazing that way. He amazed everybody with that. He would drink all night and sipped all day but it never effected his work. He was always able to do the work.

Parslow also showed Marvin and Lancaster’s more generous side via this unused anecdote:

Parslow in The Professionals


Dwayne: What was the shoot like?

Phil: I’ll tell you a funny story about that. Brooks had an actor that was supposed to do a scene but he didn’t for some reason. I didn’t want to, but Richard wanted me as a last minute replacement. I was nervous about messing up in front of Brooks. The scene where Lancaster comes in shackled while he spoke to Marvin, I undid the shackles and was supposed to say, “You can have him.” Well, I fumbled with the lock and we had to do several takes. When Brooks started in on me about it, Marvin spoke up on my behalf first, saying it wasn’t my fault. Burt then did it by saying the lock was causing problems. They were good guys that way.

There you have it, as witnessed by those who were there, such as Phil Parslow’s previously unused quotes and those even more meaningful quoted that did go in the book. Lee Marvin may not have been an angel but he was far from the devil.
– Dwayne Epstein

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