Lee Marvin’s mother, Courtenay Washington Davidge, is clearly a worthy subject for this Mother’s Day blog entry. To say Lee Marvin didn’t like his mother is an oversimplification of a very complicated relationship. Family and friends related to me several examples of Lee’s attitude towards his mother, all of which went into the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Although he rebelled her emphasis to maintain social graces, it did leave an indelible mark on him throughout his life. When he was at his most boorish and outlandish, he instinctively knew when to pull back back his behavior by muttering, “Uh-oh. Courtenay wouldn’t like it.” Such was the effect she had on her sons, Lee and Robert.

(L-R) Unidentified neighbor holding Cynthia, Lee’s mother, Courtenay in glasses, son Christopher, Lee holding daughter, Claudia, wife Betty (barely visible) and daughter Courtenay.

Speaking of Robert Marvin, my ability to convince him to go on the record with me for the first time, resulted in some wonderful treasures unearthed from the Marvin family archives. Many of those images appeared exclusively in the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. However, this being Mother’s Day, here are other images documenting the life of Lee Marvin’s mother, the proud Virginian steel magnolia, Courtenay Davidge Washington Marvin. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all!
– Dwayne Epstein

A rare photo of a VERY young ad serious looking Courtenay during her school days in the early 20th century.

Portrait of Courtenay believed to be in her late teens or early twenties.

Dated December 21st, 1914, Courtenay tries several poses for what might have been p.r. images for her burgeoning writing career.

Courtenay and future husband Monte Marvin in the early days of their relationship  prior to their marriage in 1921 (left) and then a decade after they were married (right) in front of their apartment in Queens, New York.

On the roof of their NY apartment, Courtenay poses with baby Lee for Monte’s camera.

(L-R) Courtenay, Lee’s older brother, Robert, and Lee pose on the rocks one summer in Woodstock, New York.

Young Lee sits on his mother’s lap with brother Robert beside them.

Several images of of a blonde Courtenay with sons Robert and Lee as they enjoy the sun and surf.

Proud parents Courtenay and Monte visit Lee following his completion of basic USMC training.

Fashion conscious Courtenay was a working woman in the field of beauty journalism long before it became the norm. Robert told this writer he remembers many a sleepless night listening to her clacking away on her typewriter as she freelanced for PHOTOPLAY, SCREENLAND, VANITY FAIR and the cosmetic line of Helena Rubinstein, among many other assignments.

After the war, the Marvins settled in Woodstock. (L-R) Courtenay, Lee ‘s then girlfriend, Helen Wagner ,and Lee stand in front of his car. The crumpled rear fender and roof are recounted in a very funny story in the pages of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK.

Courtenay died suddenly March 23rd, 1963, of a massive stroke. Here she’s pictured towards the end of her life in the garden of Lee’s home in Santa Monica. Rest in Peace, Mrs. Marvin.


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Marvin Movie Quotes
As many fans know by seeing his films and reading Lee Marvin: Point Blank, Marvin had a unique ability to make memorable lines of dialogue in a film eminently quotable. Even in the earliest stages of his career, his resonant voice and often sarcastic delivery made Marvin movie quotes stand out from the rest of the cast and even the basic premise of the film. Personal friends and associates noted the same thing when viewing his films.

Lee Marvin (“Meatball”) and Claude Akins (“Horrible”) in Edward Dymytrk’s The Caine Mutiny (1954).

Take for example his almost throw-away line in The Caine Mutiny uttered when he and fellow sailor Claude Akins are carrying some heavy equipment through a passageway on ship and want to clear the decks:

“Lady with a baby, coming through!”

Adolph Heckeroth, Marvin’s boss at Heckeroth’s Plumbing in Woodstock, had a son, Bill, who took over the company, and remembered the line (and his father’s former employee) so well, he said he repeated constantly at work whenever he needed to clear the area.

During a conversation with Marvin’s son, Christopher, another one of the great Marvin movie quotes came into play. I was helping him do some gardening when a weed seemed a little harder to remove than first thought. Automatically, we both uttered the same line his father said to one-armed Spencer Tracy when their two characters first met in Bad Day at a Black Rock:

Henchmen Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin watch as Spencer Tracy gets off the train and prepare to confront him in John Sturges’ Bad Day at a Black Rock (1955).

“You look like you could use a hand.”
The laughter and high-fives continued for some time after.

And then there’s his less than stellar film and performance in the all-star cast 3-D opus Gorilla at Large (1954). Marvin’s good friend from his Woodstock days, David Ballantine  told me with tongue planted firmly in cheek that he considered it Marvin’s greatest role. Ballantine told me that his friend’s role as Officer Shaunessey, charged with keeping an eye on the title character, remains his favorite because….well, you’ll have to read Lee Marvin Point Blank to find that out. In the mean time, there’s this memorable Marvin line of dialogue given the weighty dramatic delivery it deserves….

Lee Marvin utters his memorable line to Lee J. Cobb in Gorilla at Large (1954).

“They haven’t made a gorilla yet that can out smart, Shaunessey!”

Hey, any actor can do Shakespeare but let’s hear Olivier bellow out that beauty!
– Dwayne Epstein

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Some of the many comments I’ve receive from folks who have read Lee Marvin Point Blank concerns his drinking. There are some who understandably enjoyed his more humorous exploits during those less informed and politically incorrect times. Others have said it changed their opinion of the actor and not for the better. For myself, in doing the research for the book, so many of those stories not only took a much darker tone, I also discovered how distasteful dealing with these incidents had become. After a while, it became downright morbid and forced me to make a conscious decision about it. Instead of constantly ticking off such events in the man’s life, I chose to only include particular stories or events that shed some light on the man’s character. In doing so, I think the result was more enlightening, but of course, there were still some readers who felt shorted, or worse, still thought I over-emphasized the problem simply by the inclusion. Just goes to show, you can’t please everybody.
With that in mind, I found a few images from my research of Lee imbibing that did not make the book but is  included here…or what’s a blogosphere for?

A 15-year-old Lee Marvin (far left) and friends at New York's 1939 World's Fair.

A 15-year-old Lee Marvin (far left) and friends at New York’s 1939 World’s Fair.

The first photo, which to my knowledge has not been previously published, shows a barely in his teens Lee Marvin with some friends enjoying beer and cigarettes at the NY World’s Fair. Since the fair ran from April of 1939 to October 1940, one can only assume Marvin & company went during the summer when school was out. Of course, with Marvin’s academic history, drinking beer and smoking would be a minor consideration for him if he had already ditched class for the day.

Some time in the late 50s, Lee Marvin holds court behind his home bar while wife Betty holds her gaze on her husband's intake.

Some time in the late 50s in their Uplifters Ranch home, Lee Marvin holds court behind his bar while wife Betty (far right) holds her gaze on her husband’s intake.

When Lee and Betty Marvin married and eventually bought a house for their growing family, it was in an area of Santa Monica known as “The Uplifter’s Ranch,” whose history was as colorful as its name. Established in 1913 by several wealthy (and well known) gentlemen, according to Betty Marvin: “The old Uplifters Ranch, it was in the early days, remember the producer Sam Briskin? That era. He had our house. It was a men’s club, a private club for people in the business. They were log cabins and before Will Rogers had polo fields, there were pole fields down below. The men would all go there without their wives and they would play polo and they would drink and play bridge and go crazy. It was a wild club. They had a big pool and stuff. Anyway, Sam Briskin’s wife, and the women found a way to get in. They put up curtains and such…When I found this house it was a mess. Berle, her name was, Johnny Weismuller’s wife, they had all those boys and the place was filthy, chewing gum on the walls. But the bones of the house was great. The architecture was wonderful. When we went there, there was still potholes in the road. It was a private road even though out of spite one of the last widows gave the property to the city so it became a city park. Nobody knew it because there was only one entrance and exit. It was a city park but we still the owned the road in front and half the road in back. No one used it except the kids of the neighborhood and the bus stopped across the street to the little old schoolhouse down the hill….An acre of land with these big old oak trees and avocado trees. It was wonderful. It was so right for us…” And so, The Uplifters Ranch. Not that he needed one but the history proved a perfect place for Lee to imbibe, under his wife’s watchful eye.

Late 1960s: Lee (seated), his father Monte (center) and brother Robert (right) settle an argument in Marvin Woodstock home.

Late 1960s: Lee (seated), his father Monte (center) and brother Robert (right) settle an argument in Marvin Woodstock home.

A little later in life, Lee visited his family in Woodstock for the holidays and is pictured with his brother and father in the 1960s (judging by the actor’s hair), as they peruse an atlas to settle a disagreement. Also, you don’t often see Lee Marvin wearing reading glasses. So, why is this picture included? If you examine the photo a little closer, you might notice the glass on the edge of the end table. It is doubtful the clear liquid is water, probably closer to gin or vodka. It certainly would be the case, if only having to deal with the pajamas that inebriated Robert is wearing.

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