‘FEUD’S ROBERT ALDRICH, JOAN CRAWFORD & LEE MARVIN

From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”

The original cast of “Feud” (L-R): Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and Robert Aldrich.

That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”

I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that portrays him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:

Director Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK! co-stars Lee Marvin and the ‘late’ William Smithers.

“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’

To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:

“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.

Newlyweds Betty and Lee Marvin around the time Lee was offered a ‘role’ opposite Betty’s former employer, Joan Crawford.

What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”

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FOR MEMORIAL DAY: MY INTERVIEW W/ EDDIE ALBERT ON ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

This being Memorial Day Weekend, I can think of no better way to honor it’s true meaning then to highlight a film in Lee Marvin’s canon of work that has been sadly overlooked for decades. I wrote about it, of course, in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, but it could still use some more overdue attention. Based on the play “Fragile Fox” (the film’s working title, by the way) director/producer Robert Aldrich’s Attack! (1956) may be the first film to daringly question the abilities of American military commanders.
Not an easy movie to sit through, I grant you, but it’s certainly worth the effort. A stellar cast, led by Jack Palance (in a rare turn as a hero), the stand-out, Oscar-worthy performance really belongs to Eddie Albert in the thankless role of a cowardly officer. Albert was actually a hero in WWII but didn’t care to talk about it, understandably. Prior to his passing in 2005 (at the ripe old age of 99!) I was fortunate enough to interview him at his home back in 1997. Below is the unpublished portion of that interview in which he elaborates further on the experience of working on Aldrich’s Attack!….

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Dwayne: Do you remember the Robert Aldrich film, Attack!?
Eddie: Oh yeah. Oh my god, he was so fucking wonderful. Geez, he was good. That was a few years later. He was … he should have gotten…well, we all should have gotten something for that.
D: You especially. You were great in that film. Let me show you something real quick. Sometimes seeing photos can bring back memories. This is a book that came about Robert Aldrich’s a few years ago [shows him pix]. Right there is you and the back of Marvin’s head…

The photo from the book "What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich" I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

The photo from the book “What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich” I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

E: [looking] Oh yeah. And that son-of-a-bitch, the other guy, he was a giant. Wasn’t he great?
D: Palance?
E: Yeah. God, he was good. He was kind of a new kid at the time. He came out of the mines of Pennsylvania somewhere. [Laughs] But man….I was sick the whole time because I had to…I had just come from the war and I had a bad time during the war….I had to talk myself into that I was a coward, which will make you sick. All day, like the master at that time..the other guy, what was his name?
D: Jack Palance?
E: Yeah, he was a master. He whipped himself to such a hatred against me. Really, he did.
D: That could be pretty frightening. So, it made you more of a coward in your part.
E: Yes, but he had no intention of holding his punch, either So, I’d put a foot out like that [demonstrates] because I was ready to move if he made the slightest move. I was going to get out of there. It was that close. I had nothing but admiration for that guy. I think he was one of the most individual actors that I have ever seen. Jack, I’m talking about. Now, going back to our friend Marvin here, he was totally in charge. He was always in charge. He had done his homework.
D: Do you remember the two big scenes you had with him in the movie?

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

E: I can’t think of anything special about that but every time I saw him, he had grown tremendously in charge of the peculiarities of acting. He had a wonderful voice. [looks at Aldrich book] I never saw this book about him. I did about four pictures with him. I loved him.
E: What was he like? What kind of man was he?

A rare photo from the film's pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

A rare photo from the film’s pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

E: He knew acting. He selected us [Marvin & Albert] all the time with several other guys he could count on…I forgot all the things I did with him. I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main soldier.
D: William Smithers?
E: That could be. Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, “I want to have a conference.” He said to everyone gathered the importance of being on time. Then, looking right at Smithers, he said, “Now, this is very important: if you are ever late again, I’ll run your ass right out of this town…”
D: That’ll do it.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

Also in the pressbook is this example of the studio taking advantage of the U.S. Military’s disdain for the film…

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry's dsidain for the film.

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry’s dsidain for the film.

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