BRUCE DERN, A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE

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Bruce Dern, The legendary Oscar-nominated actor turned 86 years old on June 4th. The length and the breadth of his career certainly deserves recognition. Although he never worked with Lee Marvin, the two actors did have parallel careers, almost crossing paths a few times despite their age difference they both guest starred on the likes of Wagon Train, Ben Casey & Route 66. as documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank
   That aside, I’ve read much about him lately via social media in praise of his canon of work and that canon is worthy indeed: The best screen version of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1972); A rival to Jane Fonda in both They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969) and Coming Home (1978); a recent inductee into the Quentin Tarantino stock company with Django Unchained (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015) and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019); a cornucopia of other great films in his seven decades of acting that is still going strong. 
  However, the role he will always be remembered for is that of “Longhair” in the John Wayne western The Cowboys (1972). It’s been said that as the man who shoots the Duke in the back, Wayne told him with a smile “They’re gonna hate you for this,” to which Bruce Dern replied, “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley for it.”
   Such stories abound on social media lately, but the one I liked best came from Dern’s 2007 memoir, “Things I’ve Said, But Probably shouldn’t Have.” For some reason this great little anecdote has not been mentioned so I intend to rectify that:

The cover of Bruce Dern’s 2007 memoir.

“We’re filming the The Cowboys and in the first scene I’m trying to get Wayne’s character to hire me. Duke says, ‘Who recommended you?’
I say, ‘Mr. Leeds recommended me to you, Mr. Anderson.’
He says, ‘Really? And how long ago did you meet him?’
I say, ‘Oh, about six weeks ago. I was down yonder at his ranch.’
‘And you rode all the way up here just to see me? If that’s the case, you rode a long way for nothing, because I ain’t interested in hiring you..’
‘Really? Why is that, sir?’
‘Because Leeds died four years ago. So you’re a liar. An I don’t hire liars.’
‘Well, I swear on my mama’s sainted grave that I ain’t no liar.’
Duke says, ‘I’d question that somebody like you ever had a mama.’
I look around and I say, ‘Well sir, if you’re going to coin a phrase ‘had a mama,’ I guess I’d say I had yours about five years ago.’
   Wayne just breaks up laughing. He’s up on a horse and he turns around in the saddle, and the sun is sinking, and you can’t really see the expression on his face because he’s got that goddamn lid hat that comes out to here. He looks pretty fucking great on a horse when he’s up there all six foot six and 285. He looks around and says, ‘And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why this prick is in the movie. It ain’t gonna be in the movie. But that’s why he’s the guy that’s gonna kill John Wayne. Because that’s clever goddamn thinking ain’t it?’ Everybody breaks out and applauds. And then we go to take two.”

Photographer Bob WIlloughby’s on location portrait of Bruce Dern in The Cowboys.

So, happy birthday Mr. Dern, and many, many more!
– Dwayne Epstein

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CINEMA’S GREATEST VILLAINS

CINEMA’S GREATEST VILLAINS! Pretty bold statement, wouldn’t you say? Well, that’s what I found when doing a Google search and came up with this clickbait entry. Granted several of the choices are right on the money, such as Robert Mitchum In Cape Fear (1962) and Night of the Hunter (1955) and of course, Lee Marvin in many of his earliest roles but he also made a terrific return to villainy in Gorky Park (1983). 

Lee Marvin as nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983’s Gorky Park.

Just to make the point as in the case of the likes of Marvin, Mitchum and other leading men who have sauntered occasionally into the realm of classic villainy, sometimes the best of them are actors you wouldn’t associate with cinema’s greatest villains, such as Laurence Olivier in Spartacus (1960) or Gregor Peck in The Boys From Brazil (1978). It’s one of the reasons I always felt it was a shame John Wayne never played an out and out bad guy, just once. He came close a few times with his characters being pretty close to the edge in such films as The Searchers (1956) and Red River (1948) but never a complete villain, sadly.
Speaking of John Wayne movies, Bruce Dern was one of the great bad guys of all time in The Cowboys (1972). 

Basically stated, I believe in order to be an especially memorable bad guy that can rank among cinema’s greatest villains, you probably need to have a little of what it takes off-screen, as well. I’m not alone in that belief, either. To quote Lee Marvin himself, as I do often in Lee Marvin Point Blank:

“You know as character actors we play all kinds of sex psychos, nuts, creeps, preverts and weirdoes. And we laugh it off saying what the hell it’s just a character. But deep down inside, it’s you baby.”
 – Dwayne Epstein

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ROBERT MITCHUM & LEE MARVIN: IN HONOR OF MITCHUM’S BIRTHDAY

Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin. Both names conjure countless images of never-to-be-forgotten films enacted by two men who although similar, were far from identical. Each had their own persona, that sadly, other than a few brief scenes in Stanley Kramer’s Not As A Stranger (1955), never crossed paths on the silver screen. Along with Frank Sinatra, the 3 iconic actors played med students (!) in producer Kramer’s directorial debut as seen right….

Lee Marvin (left), Frank Sinatra (center) and Robert Mitchum (right) as med students in Stanley Kramer's Not as a Stranger.

Lee Marvin (left), Frank Sinatra (center) and Robert Mitchum (right) as med students in Stanley Kramer’s Not as a Stranger.

Marvin’s one big scene in the film comes when the med students (all men, by the way) gather before class to discuss their future fortunes. Marvin, as Brundage, informs one and all that it’s not what you practice but where, as in Beverly Hills. The most idealistic of the students, Robert Mitchum’s Lucas Marsh, is clearly disgusted by Marvin’s philosophy.

Lee Marvin (far left) sets his fellow students straight, including Sinatra (center) future director Jerry Paris (next to Marvin) and a disgusted Robert Mitchum.

Lee Marvin (far left) sets his fellow students straight, including Sinatra (center) future director Jerry Paris (next to Marvin) and a disgusted Robert Mitchum.

Through the years, the two men would meet socially on occasion but were never close. More is the pity as they actually had much in common. Both men had a superficial veneer of indifference that shielded some deep-seeded emotional scars. For Marvin it was the war-induced PTSD, while Mitchum’s childhood abandonment, wanderlust and incarceration was rarely spoken of with any depth. When they did meet socially, as in the candid photo below with French director Roger Vadim, they kept the conversation light….

Mitchum (left) and Marvin (right) smoke and talk in this candid photo, with French director Roger Vadim (center) clearly distracted by possibly wife Jane Fonda .or another starlet in the proximity.

Mitchum (left) and Marvin (right) smoke and talk in this candid photo, with French director Roger Vadim (center) clearly distracted by possibly wife Jane Fonda .or another starlet in the proximity.

I would have liked to have interviewed Mitchum for  Lee Marvin: Point Blank, but sadly, never got the chance. I did however, speak with his character actor brother, John, in 1994 at the Lone Pine Film Festival the unused portion of which can be read below. He had co-starred with Marvin in Paint Your Wagon and as a famed storyteller, he had a fascinating take on working with Marvin and his older brother’s thoughts on men of their generation…..

D: If I could, Mr. Mitchum, just talk to me about Lee Marvin.
J: Well, you want the truth, don’t you?
D: Absolutely.
J: You can edit it any way you want. Well, the first two weeks on Paint Your Wagon, Lee had been drinking a great deal. I don’t think he needed an excuse… Now, as you remember, I played the Mormon with two wives. I had this big black outfit. They flew me in a helicopter on the day before I was to shoot so they could try my outfit on. So, here I got this big outfit on and Lee came over and he grabbed me by the collar, drinking, mind you. He said [slurred] “Well, Mitchum, tonight when we wrap, why don’t you wear this outfit down in Baker so they’ll know you’re an actor?” Then I found out why he was so incensed because I had done nothing to merit that. He had a babysitter named Boyd Cabeen, who’s gone now, too. They hire babysitters to work with the star, so if the star get in a fight in a bar, the babysitter walks in and stops it. He says, “If you want action, try me on for size.” So, Boyd was talking to Lee and said, “Why don’t you quit drinking, Lee? You can’t handle it. You don’t know your rear end from the Grand Canyon after you’ve had two beers. I used to babysit Mitchum at Metro and he would be drinking until six in the morning, be on the set at seven, never drop a line. But you can’t….” But the name Mitchum, “Ah Ha!” That was stewing in his mind. So, when I came up there — of course, I’m the closest target — Bob wasn’t anywhere around. Lee did apolgize a couple of days later after he saw the rushes. His apology was very left-handed. They showed the rushes of my coming in on the jackass with two women, the first scene at the trading post, there. He stood up and looked at the whole cast and crew and said, “Finally, we got an actor up here who’s got balls.”

John Mitchum, brother of Robert, as he appeared in Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin.

John Mitchum, brother of Robert, as he appeared in Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin.

D: [laughs} That sounds like Lee Marvin. That’s a Lee Marvin compliment.
J: But Lee was a very complex man. He was in the Marine Corp during the war. By the way, I saw him up on Paint Your Wagon do a karate kick straight up in the air. If he wanted to kick your chin off, he could have done it in a second. He was that agile. During the war, he made a number of invasions. He was a very, very tough man. With all that movie star stuff, he was very tough.
D: Was there any rivalry between him and your brother, at all?
J: No.
D: They were often up for the same parts.
J: No, I don’t think there was any rivalry. As far as my brother is concerned, he didn’t understand that, at all. He did a picture with Bruce Dern, That Championship Season. I said, “Bob, what was it like working with Bruce?” His answer was clarifying. He said, “He [Dern] still doesn’t know that acting is not a competitive business.”
D: Bruce Dern obviously thinks it is.
J: Oh yes. “You have to compete with so and so..” Now, how can you do that? You can do that by upstaging and picking your nose at the wrong time.
D: And in the long run, you’re going to suffer for it.
J: That’s right.
D: Did your brother know Lee Marvin, well?
J: He knew him, but he didn’t know him closely.
D: They were also offered the same roles on occasion, like Patton. Was there any animosity between them?
J: No, no such thing. No way, with either of them. They’re too manly. They’re men. They’re not little boys. Both of them were extraordinary men, as far as I’m concerned.
D: Oh, definitely.
J: Extraordinary. See, I worked on “M Squad” with Lee. I did it years ago.
D: Any stories about that?
J: Only that he was a marvelous man to work with. There was no heroics. No, ‘I’m the star.’ None of that.
D: Just a professional.
J: Total professional. Total. Which to me, is the most beautiful way to work. People just do their jobs, shut up and go home. None of this posing around. Neither one, Bob or Lee, would do that, whatsoever.

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