Father’s Day Memories: conjures up images of sweet, sometimes corny Hallmark cards, dads smiling in spite of the cheesy gifts, backyard barbecues for him in which he’s celebrated but is still working anyway…Or as in the case of my family, taking dad out to dinner in which he pays.
Writing and researching Lee Marvin Point Blank I was fortunate to come across some images that may not be typical Lee Marvin but are certainly perfect for Father’s Day. Take the image below, for example. Late 1950s or early 60s in which Lee appears to be fixing a toy for his son Christopher while his pinofore-wearing daughter, Cynthia, holds on to him in sweet admiration. Now I ask you, is this one of those most classic Father’s Day memories, or what?


A classic Father’s Day image with son Christopher, daughter Cynthia, and Lee himself, fixing a toy for his son.


Speaking of Father’s Day memories, Lee Marvin and his father Monte (below), pose in front of the door inside the Marvin Woodstock home for a photo layout that was done for LIFE Magazine in 1965. The magazine article itself includes an interview with the actor and several other candid photos, but for reasons to remain forever unknown, not the one shown below. It sort of reminds me a little of an image from one of Lee Marvin’s favorite films, I Never Sang For My Father, starring Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas.
From all the Marvins, I bid one and all, a happy Father’s Day!
– Dwayne Epstein


Lee Marvin and his father Monte in the family’s Woodstock home, approximately 1965.

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This date, November 22, is understandably remembered as the anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. This year makes it especially noteworthy as it is the 50th anniversary of that sad event, but it is also the date of Christopher Marvin’s birthday. No where near the same scale, but for a relative handful of people, it is equally noteworthy as the first birthday of Christopher’s without his presence. His mother, sisters, friends and loved ones must all endure this event somehow while the rest of our country mourns the passing of the president. These dual events effected Christopher most of his life, beginning with his 10th birthday, which is recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank in a possibly apocryphal tale. Either way, Christopher will be missed tomorrow by those who knew him, including yours truly. However, like the passing of President Kennedy, he will be remembered in the most loving way by those who knew him and when the day is over, warm memories will remain.

Below are several previously unpublished pictures from the collection of Betty Marvin.
First, Betty is photographed by Lee holding newborn Christopher for a picture sent to Grandfather Monte. Lee wrote on the back, “Looks like you Pop! Christopher at 10 days…”

Next, Father and son in a picture for which Lee wrote on the back, “Man to man talk. Christopher at 2 months.”

Christopher wrote in the Afterword to Lee Marvin Point Blank, “My father could be very stern at times, and yet sensitive and tender, kissing me on the lips with, ‘How goes the battle?’and delivering one liners to explain himself.”

Father and son again, this time taken by Betty around the time Lee was doing M Squad.

A young teenaged Christopher (far left) with his sisters (L-R) Claudia, Cynthia and Courtenay as their father visits during one of their parents’ trial separations.


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Christopher Lamont Marvin

Christopher Marvin (L) and author Dwayne Epstein (R) at a screening/book signing at Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

When Betty Marvin called me recently to tell me that her son Christopher Lamont Marvin had succumbed to cancer peacefully in his sleep, I was not surprised as I knew he was sick, but the news devastated me. The emotional effect of his passing took me completely by surprise. No matter what I tried to do for the rest of the day to take my mind off the news, a funk hung over me I couldn’t shake. If my mind wandered briefly, I still felt bad, wondered why, and a millisecond later, I reminded myself why.

It is a known rule in journalism that you should never make personal friends with your sources, as it can effect the work, but in the case of Betty and Christopher Marvin, I crossed the line and became good friends with them both, never thinking the emotional ties would be so strong. It was easy with Betty, as she is one of the warmest and most naturally open and honest people I’ve ever met.

Christopher was another story. He only granted me the interview for my book because his mother told him to do it. At a going away party for his mom’s around-the-world trip, Betty told Christopher, “You go in that room over there with the door closed and you talk to him.” Reluctantly, he agreed and although naturally reticent at first, he quickly warmed up to me and I to him. Friendship eventually followed.

That’s how it started, way back in 1995. Over the ensuing years we would maintain contact periodically, whenever I needed his help or feedback. Although I never met his father, I felt as if I had through him. Christopher was, in many ways, the living spirit of his father, just in talking with him: his voice, his gestures, his love of ironic metaphors. That said, make no mistake, he was very much is own man. I doubt (but don’t know for sure) that his father ever made 4:00 in the morning phone calls after coming home from a gig. Christopher would do that on occassion, explaining he was too keyed up to sleep and wanted to shoot the breeze. At first, these calls annoyed, but once I was fully awake, we usually had some pretty intriguing conversations, none of which ever went in the book.

There is one exception to that and it was done of course with his permission. After discovering the Bastard Sons of Lee (BSOL), he asked me for their contact info.  Their founder was then called and of course Christopher surprised the hell out of him with a 4 am phone call  that DID go into the pages of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

I know through the years Christopher wrestled with his feelings about his father but he never let on. He always spoke of him to me in the warmest and highest regard. When I asked if he’d be willing to write something for the book, he told me he’d think about it first. A week later he came through with a poignant and touching piece that made a natural afterword to the book.

The last time I saw him was after the book came out and he graciously came out for a book signing I did in Santa Barbara. Sadly, there was a rather poor turnout, which is a shame, since any Lee Marvin fans would have been able to meet not only Christopher, but his mother and his sister Cynthia, as well. At the end of the evening, I asked the bookstore owner how’d we do sales-wise, fearing the answer. She told me not many sold that night (3 to be precise) but about 15 were sold since the book was delivered. When I then asked were they sold piecemeal or all at once, she responded, “Oh, all at once. They were bought by Christopher. He got them as gifts for his friends up north.”

The last few years of his life he left his beloved Northern California small town of Cotati. He spent them living with his mother and helping her with daily chores, walking his dog, Liberty, scouring the beach for glass, and working on his mosaic artwork. It is an ironic twist that once he got his life to a place of sanity and calm, the cancer diagnosis threw everything back into turmoil.

I never did get to talk him again once his mother told me he was sick but I had to honor his wishes and keep his privacy. That phone call recently from his mother still haunts me.

I don’t know if Christopher left this life satisfied with what he accomplished but I kind of doubt it. I remember asking him once if he was bothered by the fact that his father only left him $12,000 in his will. I’ll always remember his response: “Hey, $12, 000 is still a lot of money. But…it would have been nice if he left me and my sisters a little more. Not for myself, but I always thought it would be cool to open a music school for handicapped children.” It would’ve sounded corny coming from anybody else but from Christopher, for all of his hard-edge and cynicism, it sounded genuine and heartfelt. I believed him.

For that reason, he might have been heartened by the fact that a benefit was held in his honor the weekend he died. His mother said hundreds of people showed up, including all the members of the 14 different bands he had played in as a drummer. They successfully raised enough money to have a park bench installed in his honor that will read, ‘The Mayor of Cotati, Christopher Marvin.’ It’s not a music school for handicapped children but it’s a decent reminder of the legacy he left behind: Comfort for the many who knew and loved him and a view to enjoy on a sunny day. Sometimes, that’s the best legacy of all.

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