Since Monday, January 15th marks the 88th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recount Lee Marvin’s contribution to civil rights during the 1960s. Granted, it is indeed an extremely minor contribution compared to Dr. King and other civil rights leaders but in his own way, Lee indeed contributed.
One would think, based on his upbringing, that Marvin would hardly be in favor of civil rights and equality for all races, particularly African-Americans. His mother Courtenay Marvin was an old-world southern Virginian and all that would entail. However, his father Monte Marvin had been in command of a black calvary unit during WWI and had a much more liberal view of African-Americans. Then again, according to Lee’s brother, Robert, both parents hit the roof when Robert briefly dated a young black woman.  And yet again, both boys were cared for by a black maid named Erlene whom they adored. Growing up on the eastern seaboard also meant encounters with various races throughout their formative years, resulting in a rather different view of black people than the one held by their parents.
All that said, Lee Marvin was still very much a product of his time and not above using racially-charged language. However, if one believes that actions speak louder than words, even in those less enlightened times of the early 1960s, Marvin’s more liberal attitude was very much in evidence. Case in point: his lifelong friendship with black actor, Woody Strode. They met during the making of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and remained tight for the rest of their lives.

Although they had no scenes together, Woody Strode (left) and Lee Marvin are pictured at a cast ‘tea party’ during John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

I was extremely fortunate to get what I believe to be the last interview with Strode. His love of Lee Marvin (as well as John Ford) knew no bounds. Their hilarious initial meeting on the set of the film is well-documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Strode, by the way, was not as happy working on the film with Hollywood icon John Wayne. Consequently, he did enjoy watching Ford tease both James Stewart  and Wayne unmercifully for the sake of the performances he wanted from them. Like Ford, Marvin also teased the two conservative Republicans, particularly, Stewart. Reportedly, he needled Stewart by telling him that when the black man rises up, Stewart had better be rightfully frightened in his sleep. He may of course simply had been in character as Liberty Valance but such comments rankled Stewart and tickled both Strode and Ford.

Woody Strode (center) clearly enjoys seeing John Wayne (right) dumbfounded by Jimmy Stewart’s belt in the mouth in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Several years after Liberty Valance, Marvin and Strode appeared on screen again, this time in Richard Brooks’ underrated western adventure, The Professionals.

Lee Marvin discusses a scene with Burt Lancaster, writer/director Richard Brooks and Woody Strode on the Set of The Professionals.

It remains one of Marvin’s best films and should be required viewing by any fan. According to Woody Strode, it was Lee Marvin who managed to get Strode earlier screen time in the film. Again, all is explained in Lee Marvin Point Blank and is not said to deter from Burt Lancaster in any way. The man was only human and had his own foibles and insecurities as anybody else does. In fact, Strode explained to me why he only appeared in the outfit he wore in his opening scene, only in that opening scene. Want details? Gotta read the book.

Woody Strode as he appeared in the opening title sequence of The Professionals.

This may all sound far afield from the original intent of this blog entry but it actually does serve to make the point concerning Martin Luther King Day. King fought and died for civil rights as we all know and Marvin may not have done nearly as much but he did his part, getting his good friend unheard of billing in a period western. More to the point, as King famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  According to Woody Strode, Lee Marvin upheld that creed and became one of the few white friends Strode had in Hollywood. One of the last times Strode saw Lee Marvin was after his success in Europe’s popular ‘Spaghetti Westerns.” As he tells it:

I hadn’t seen Lee for about four years. I got a job in New Mexico called Gatling Gun (1972). By now, I got a Mercedes. The good life had touched me. I called Lee. I said, “Lee, I’m working in New Mexico and I’m coming to see you when I finished.” We finished the picture. I didn’t let him know I was driving a Mercedes. Well baby, it took a couple of days for us get there. I parked out in front of the house, I think in Tucson. I honked the horn. He come out saying, “Who the hell is honking that horn?” He come outside and I said, “Hello, you son-of-a-bitch.” He said “Woody!” I said, “You see what I’m driving?”I got to the fucking money, in a foreign country.” …..So, we had our little weekend. […] When I got there, a writer from Australia was doing an article on Lee Marvin. He saw our relationship and said, “You guys are like brothers.” I been in Europe almost four years and he ain’t seen me in years. I’m in a Mercedes, got a little bank account. It made him feel good.”

As was said, they were like brothers.
If that’s not a worthy story for Martin Luther King’s birthday, I don’t know what is.
-Dwayne Epstein




On this date in 1962, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance premiered and it’s production, reception and legacy is fully covered in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Readers will discover how the cast REALLY got along during the filming, what John Ford thought of his new but late-in-the-game stock company member, Lee Marvin, why Lee Marvin’s son considers it his favorite film, what he said when introduced to John Wayne and infinitely more! Most exclusive of all was an interview with the late, great Woody Strode and his personal take on what happened on set and why he loved Lee Marvin.
However, to honor the occasion, here a few strange tidbits from the past to pay tribute to the last great John Wayne/John Ford western that were not included in the book.

Pre-release movie magazine teaser ad for LIBERTY VALANCE.

This strange ad above is the kind of thing you just don’t see any more, and maybe that’s a good thing. What’s with the nursery rhyming scheme? Did the publicity dept, think anxious  film fans would put it to music and sing these little ditties to help promote word-of-mouth? Bizarre. Did these folks even seen the film? Andy Devine’s character of Sheriff Link Appleyard hardly lived to help ‘the ones in need.’ The one for Valance isn’t even accurate. He didn’t spread shame. He spread pain!
Then there’s this ‘Behnd-the-scenes’ article from the June, 1962 issue of Screen Stories.

Screen Stories 1962 article on the making of LIBERTY VALANCE.

You can already tell from the opening that a good portion of it was a result more of p.r. than it was actual onset reporting. That’s fine in the long run, I guess, but it also has some interesting trivia, such as the fact that the entire male cast were each 6-foot tall or taller!
Also has one of my favorite John Ford quotes: “We have a very fine cast of actors in this film, and John Wayne.”

Behind the scenes article, page 2.

And there’s this review, which explains why the movie took a while to get an audience. Not only does the reviewer spell Jimmy Stewart’s name wrong, he commits the ultimate sin of a reviewer by giving away the ending…and then rates the film a C-!

Movie rag…er…mag review of LIBERTY VALANCE.

Is it any wonder I dislike most critics? Ahh well. Never mind the critics. Just enjoy the great film for what it is: One of Lee Marvin’s best performances and a lasting testament to what John Ford contributed to the American Western: When the truth becomes the legend, print the legend.

Smack dab in the center is Lee Marvin in the March, 1962 issue of PARAMOUNT WORLD, promoting the release of Liberty Valance.



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.