GENO SMITH, FRANK GIFFORD…LEE MARVIN?

The NFL has been in the new a lot recently, what with Jets quarterback Geno Smith taking a beating from a fellow teammate and the recent passing of Hall of Famer Frank Gifford. Even though it’s still the off-season, it seems as good a time as any to repost an 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 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 like none he had 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.

Former 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.

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ACTOR BRUCE DAVISON ON MEETING LEE MARVIN

Veteran Actor Bruce Davison may be best known for the original version of the horror film Willard (1971 ), but his cinematic resume is infinitely more impressive than that cult film. It includes a well-earned Oscar-nomination for the film Longtime Companion (1989), as well as such sterling performances as Last Summer (1969, his screen debut), The Strawberry Statement (1970), Ulzana’s Raid (1972) as well as many more film, stage and TV credits. In fact, I met him briefly while he was appearing on Broadway in the physically demanding lead role in “The Elephant Man” and he could not have been nicer.

Actor Bruce Davison from around the time he met Lee Marvin.

Actor Bruce Davison from around the time he met Lee Marvin.

While he was making the film Brass Target (1978) in Munich, he occassion to meet Lee Marvin who was filming Avalanche Express (1978). Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank will know the story he so poignantly relates is true and the costar Lee speaks of was the late, great Robert Shaw. My only regret is not having heard this story prior to publication as it would definitely had been a poignant and harrowing inclusion in the story of Lee Marvin.
So, without further ado, Here is Davison’s personal recollection, with his kind permission and in his own words:

“I had one of my most indelible meetings with Lee in 1978. We were in Munich at a drunken brawl of a party for two film productions shooting there. I had recently stopped drinking and looked around the beerhall for another sober face. There was Lee sitting at a table looking quite alone. I introduced myself and he offered me a seat. I said I couldn’t drink like I used to and he said “welcome … Me neither.” As we sat like two shipwrecked survivors in a sea of swill, I had one of the most intimate conversations I ever had with a stranger. He was in his Palimony suit at the time and coping with other issues that were closing in.

Lee Marvin in Avalanche Express, around the time he met Bruce Davison.

Lee Marvin in Avalanche Express, around the time he met Bruce Davison.

He was saddened that his co-star had recently fallen off the wagon and would be dead soon if he didn’t pull out.”
Eventually we started talking about roots and drunken fathers. I told him my father was always a pleasant drunk. “you’re lucky” he said.
I asked him what was the worst. “Well… I guess the worst was when he kicked me down the steps .. I was holding my teeth and the blood was coming out my nose and I screamed up at him “what do I have to do to get you to love me?! ” he said …”fuckin die…” “That was the worst”.

Lee (L) and Monte (R) Marvin shortly after Lee joined the USMC in 1942.

Lee (L) and Monte (R) Marvin shortly after Lee joined the USMC in 1942.

That’s where Lee Marvin came from and I will love him forever even though I never saw him again”

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THE LION IN WINTER: LEE MARVIN IN A COLDER CLIMATE

With the recent winter blast that has hit most of the country, I thought it a good time to bring up the subject of Lee Marvin’s take on wintery times. Dating back to his great uncle, Ross Marvin, who lost his life during the Peary expedition of the North Pole, the Marvins have had a quite a history with inclimate weather. Lee’s father, Monte, would regale his two sons with tales of their uncle’s noble adventures in the frozen north, but never told them Ross’s true fate. That tale was uncovered in Lee Marvin: Point Blank (pp. 13-14).

Lee Marvin's great uncle, Ross Marvin, pictured above in Arctic gear during the Peary Expedition.

Lee Marvin’s great uncle, Ross Marvin, pictured above in Arctic gear during the Peary Expedition.

Spending his childhood up and down the eastern seaboard, Lee Marvin was no stranger to brutal winters. In fact, after returning from his first Arctic expedition, his uncle Ross told a reporter that New York winters felt colder than the North Pole!
After WWII, Lee Marvin’s uncertainty of his future had him thinking about colder climates for a time. In a letter to his brother after the war Lee wrote, “My feet are getting itching again and I want to be on the move. Where I don’t know but just some place that I haven’t been before, like the Yukon or some other desolate place. I just want to strike out and do something constructive with myself….The main thing that I regret is that there is no longer any frontier to work on which is just my speed. Therefore I must conform to convention which I have a very deep-set distaste for.” (Lee Marvin: Point Blank, pp. 49-50).
Once he dedicated himself to becoming an actor, he discovered one of the perks was being able to do on film what he was unable to do in life. The majority of his films however, rarely took place in the winter until much later in life. Beginning with the disaster-plagued 1979 flm Avalanche Express…..

Lee Marvin, Linda Evans & Mike Connors in 1979's all-star dud, Avalanche Express.

Lee Marvin, Linda Evans & Mike Connors in 1979’s all-star dud, Avalanche Express.

 

Express was filmed throughout Eastern Europe but the beautiful locations nor the impressive special effects did not help the Cold War thriller. Lee had better luck the following year with Sam Fuller’s epic, The Big Red One. Several winter scenes, also shot in Eastern Europe, were trimmed before release but later restored in 2006…..

On location for The Big Red One's winter scenes.

On location for The Big Red One’s winter scenes.

 

Ironically, he once advised his friend Ralph O’Hara, “Avoid the scripts that says ‘As he put on his snow shoes…'” His very next film saw the older actor doing just that in 1981’s Death Hunt. Reteaming with previous costars Charles Bronson and Angie Dickinson, Marvin hoped to work again with director Robert Aldrich but the film was ultimately helmed by Peter Hunt.
Dickinson noted the older Marvin’s unpleasant demeanor during the Alberta, Canada shoot when she pointed out to Marvin the beautiful mountains. He growled, “”Yeah, I saw’em. I’ve been looking at’em for two months!”

Lee Marvin in 1981's Death Hunt, costarring Charles Bronson & Angie Dickinson, filmed in Canada.

Lee Marvin in 1981’s Death Hunt, costarring Charles Bronson & Angie Dickinson, filmed in Canada.

His last foray into chilly environs was 1983’s Gorky Park. Helsinki doubled for Moscow but the cold was still so chilly, Marvin spent the first few days rehearsing from a hospital bed when his ephysema became too much to bear.

As nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983's Gorky Park

As nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983’s Gorky Park.

Having fulfilled his youthful desire to trek through the Yukon, albeit on scree, Lee Marvin lived out the last decades of his life in the much more warmer climate of Tucson, Arizona. One wonders what he would have had to say about the recent blizzards as his wit and tenacity are both sorely missed.

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