Lee Marvin as Ira Hayes in the dramatic TV special, “The American.”

Ironically, Lee Marvin never portrayed a Marine in any of the films he made but he did on TV, twice, and within a year of each other. Both times he gave what was arguably his best performances as tormented members of the USMC.
On the short-lived anthology show “Breck’s Sunday Night Showcase” he played real-life Pima Indian and WWII hero Ira Hayes in the episode entitled, “The American,” directed by John Frankenheimer as shown above. Marvin’s performance was poignant, subdued and powerful. Later the same year (1960), Tony Curtis played Hayes in the film The Outsider which Frankenheimer hated.
The following year Marvin played a psychologically disturbed Marine entering into a facility to join an experimental group therapy project in a special entitled, “People Need People.” The show was based on fact, with Arthur Kennedy playing real-life doctor Harry Willner, whom Marvin would later befriend and do an amazing thing with as described in Lee Marvin Point Blank.



The TV epsiode had an impressive ensemble, including James Gregory, Kier Dullea, Paul Sand, Jocelyn Brando, Marion Ross and  Bert Remsen. The show’s on-air host, Fred Astaire, was reportedly so shaken by Marvin’s performance, it took him all day to shoot his introduction in what normally would have taken no more than an hour. Marvin received his only Emmy nomination for his performance.

Share Button


    • Not really. There is no question that Lee Marvin was a remarkable actor and actually served and was wounded in the Pacific campaign, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. His wounds were profound and serious requiring, as I understand, more than a years hospitalization. His role, however, of Ira Hayes, however much it was praised and was equally performed, I came away without the concept of Ira Hayes – three attempts at this man’s storied life have been attempted, and each fell short of its mark. I cannot see Marvin as Haynes no more than I had to witness Tony Curtis is the same role with the same painful results. Ira Hayes was a Pima, a Native American, and surely there among those grand people can be found the soul of Ira and many others who passed our way sometime perhaps unnoticed, and perhaps poorly portrayed. This is not to take anything away from Curtis or Marvin, nor any other actor attempting to portray a silent legend. Ira Hayes has more depth in his life yet to be spoken in either the English language or the language which helps protect and revere his soul.

      • Everybody is entitled to their opinion, Roman, but at the same token, such shows most be put in there proper perspective. At the time the show was aired, Native Americans were simply not played but Native Americans. In the same way that very few African-Americans ever played Othello. Also, the production values of the TV show were limited for its time and it shows in the final version. All that aside, I still believe that Marvin gave one of his best and most poignant performances.
        I think the idea of doing the story right with modern technology is a good one but unfortunately, I don’t think anyone would pay to see it in today’s cinematic realm of comic books and pyrotechnics

  1. Hi John,
    I only just now saw your comment, sorry. Yeah, its a pretty impressive show and Marvin towers over the entire ensemble. I was able to see it on a badly transferred video and he’s riveting. Are you familiar with the project that he did with Willner AFTER this show?

  2. I saw it back in 1960 at the age of 9. I could not remember the the name, but I remembered the part that Lee Marvin played. What I remember is Lee Marvin’s character sitting so a water wagon that was being filled from a pipe that was j is slightly faster than a dribble and how he wanted take a pair of pliers and open the valve, but never did. And I remember that in the movie there was talk about how the Lee Marvin character drowned in 2 inches of water. I have looked for the movie without success. About a month ago I heard the song Ira Hayes by Johnny Cash. About a week later I was given the book Flags of our Fathers. It finally came together who the character Lee Marvin was playing. It’s an imbararsment how Iar Hayes was left to suffer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please prove that you are human * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.