William Shakespeare is not usually a name associated with the likes of Lee Marvin. More is the pity as the actor had several brushes with the bard as recounted in my book Lee Marvin Point Blank. First, as a fledgling postwar acting student at the American Theater Wing (ATW), in which several hilarious anecdotes are retold by David Ballantine, a friend from Lee Marvin’s Woodstock days.

Lee Marvin (far right) cavorts  with fellow students during his American Theater Wing days in costumes from a play by William Shakespeare.

Later, on the set of The Big Red One, in which costar Kelly Ward recounted an amazing incident at sunset in an ancient Israeli ampitheater. 
Apparently, my research struck a chord with one who would definitely know more about the subject of William Shakespeare’s work than I ever would. Through the wonders of the digital age, noted actor/writer/historian David Weston sought me out to contact recently and wrote me the following:
“I was an actor for more than 50 years and I agree with all you say about Marvin’s talent and magnetism. He would have been game-changing in several Shakespearean roles..” 
 I was humbled by his words once I found out more about him via the internet. Not only does he know his stuff, he’s married to actress Dora Reisser, who knew Marvin well, ever since her costarring role as Telly Savalas’s victim in The Dirty Dozen. When I asked David if I could use his comments concerning William Shakespeare and Marvin on my blog, he sent me the following mini-essay. To call it a wonderful surprise, is an understatement. Here now is David Weston making the point better than I ever could. Enjoy….
– Dwayne Epstein

(L-R) Dora Reisser and David Weston.

Lee Marvin as a Shakespearean Actor

Shakespeare’s plays are full of violence and comedy, two things Lee Marvin revelled in. Titus Andronicus, probably the Bard’s first play, contains mutilation, rape, ripped out tongues and cannibalism. As far as I know Lee Marvin never appeared in a Shakespeare play, although he told my wife, Dora Reisser, that when he was filming The Klansman with Richard Burton, he would make up mock Shakespearean speeches and ask the inebriated Welshman to guess which plays they had come from. I will give some examples of roles in which Marvin could have excelled at various stages in his life. It could have happened. Richard Burton, like Marvin, no the weak spinner of fanciful tales, once told me that Marlon Brando had wanted to join him for a season at the Old Vic, only to be rejected by the board.

As a young actor Lee Marvin was never a Romeo, but he would have been a superb Mercutio [Romeo’s best friend], revelling in the bawdy comedy.  His catlike movement would have been ideal for the sword fights and tragi-comic death.

Richard Burton was a pretty good Petruchio [in The Taming of The Shrew], but can you imagine Lee’s drunken antics or his savage treatment of Kate – Gloria Graham’s coffee springs to mind.

Likewise he was born to play Bottom [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. Kevin Kline attempted it recently but he would not have touched Lee’s befuddled wonder at acquiring ass’s ears and the love of the Fairy Queen.

His lighting quick humour and savagery would have made him a terrifying yet hilarious Richard III. Kevin Spacey was a pussy cat in comparison.

Sean Connery was the best Hotspur I’ve seen [Henry IV, Part I], but Lee would have run him close.

Shakespeare could have written the part of Pistol, the bawdy braggart, with Lee in mind, but in the same plays in his more mature years he would have been one of the great Falstaffs. I can close my eyes and see him in the tavern scenes, bragging, wenching, hilarious – yet over brimming with pathos, glimpses of which we saw in Cat Ballou.

Marlon Brando was a superb Marc Antony [in Julius Caesar), in what I consider to be the second best Shakespeare film ever made after Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, but Lee Marvin would have been better.

So many actors can play King Lear in their old age – it is in fact one of Shakespeare’s easiest leading roles – but Lee’s fury would have been terrifying and his grief over Cordelia’s death heart-breaking. As a young actor he would have revelled in the sadism of the Duke of Cornwall in the terrible scene when he takes out Gloucester’s eyes.

Last of all Iago [in Othello]. Again the humorous villainy and savagery – Liberty Valence in tights.

There is something for him in every play. It is our loss he was never asked.
– David Weston

Covering McKellen by David Weston.

Covering Shakespeare by David Weston

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Marvin Movie Quotes
As many fans know by seeing his films and reading Lee Marvin: Point Blank, Marvin had a unique ability to make memorable lines of dialogue in a film eminently quotable. Even in the earliest stages of his career, his resonant voice and often sarcastic delivery made Marvin movie quotes stand out from the rest of the cast and even the basic premise of the film. Personal friends and associates noted the same thing when viewing his films.

Lee Marvin (“Meatball”) and Claude Akins (“Horrible”) in Edward Dymytrk’s The Caine Mutiny (1954).

Take for example his almost throw-away line in The Caine Mutiny uttered when he and fellow sailor Claude Akins are carrying some heavy equipment through a passageway on ship and want to clear the decks:

“Lady with a baby, coming through!”

Adolph Heckeroth, Marvin’s boss at Heckeroth’s Plumbing in Woodstock, had a son, Bill, who took over the company, and remembered the line (and his father’s former employee) so well, he said he repeated constantly at work whenever he needed to clear the area.

During a conversation with Marvin’s son, Christopher, another one of the great Marvin movie quotes came into play. I was helping him do some gardening when a weed seemed a little harder to remove than first thought. Automatically, we both uttered the same line his father said to one-armed Spencer Tracy when their two characters first met in Bad Day at a Black Rock:

Henchmen Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin watch as Spencer Tracy gets off the train and prepare to confront him in John Sturges’ Bad Day at a Black Rock (1955).

“You look like you could use a hand.”
The laughter and high-fives continued for some time after.

And then there’s his less than stellar film and performance in the all-star cast 3-D opus Gorilla at Large (1954). Marvin’s good friend from his Woodstock days, David Ballantine  told me with tongue planted firmly in cheek that he considered it Marvin’s greatest role. Ballantine told me that his friend’s role as Officer Shaunessey, charged with keeping an eye on the title character, remains his favorite because….well, you’ll have to read Lee Marvin Point Blank to find that out. In the mean time, there’s this memorable Marvin line of dialogue given the weighty dramatic delivery it deserves….

Lee Marvin utters his memorable line to Lee J. Cobb in Gorilla at Large (1954).

“They haven’t made a gorilla yet that can out smart, Shaunessey!”

Hey, any actor can do Shakespeare but let’s hear Olivier bellow out that beauty!
– Dwayne Epstein

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MONTE MARVIN: DEC. 19, 1896 – APRIL 6, 1971

Lee Marvin’s father, Monte Marvin, passed away April 6, 1971 and to say the two men had a complicated relationship is indeed an understatement. Lee both idolized and resented his father through the years as the the two of them grappled with first Lee’s tumultuous childhood and later, his adventurous aduldhood.
One example is the way in which both men remembered Lee’s childhood. In 1965, Lee had this to say about it: “I was a misunderstood child. I got kicked out of 15 prep schools all over the East — mostly for smoking. One of them was a Quaker school and I got booted there for throwing a guy out of a second story window. It didn’t hurt him much.”
Countering that statement, Monte told an interviewer in 1970 that his son was: “Wild, harmless, innocent but a crazy kid. But there was never a period of misunderstanding. I wouldn’t say that he understood me but I understood him. I used to take him fishing. He was thrown out of not — not 15 schools, but let’s say six schools. What a kid. I just had to put him someplace…I put him in Admiral Farragut [Naval Academy]. Shelled out $600 for uniforms, he was there two weeks and Admiral Robson said, ‘Take him away, take him away.’”
Lee’s good friend from Woodstock, David Ballantine, witnessed the relationship firsthand and noted: “One thing I recall Lee said about Monty was that he said, ‘Someone may go in and they may sit in a bar. They will make shit for everyone sitting in the bar and they’ll come to Monty and they’ll pass him by and walk around him and start in on the other side.’ Monty was pretty tough. Monty was in the First World War. Went back in the Second World War. Was offered a commission. Wouldn’t take it. Enlisted as a private. Got into an AA battery and went overseas. So Monty, you can see where somewhat of the non-Douglas Fairbanks form of swashbuckling came from. …I don’t think Monty was..like many men of his generation he was not a dad type. He had not read Dr. Spock. He had not bonded with his children. …There was a dignity about him and it may have been hard for their children to take because some are made to be the pals to their children and the children are pretty much doing what they want to do and sometimes ending up very badly. This did not mean some people didn’t end badly who had serious parents in the past. Of a generation different than the themselves rather than the parents trying to be the same generation of the children, which makes for confusion on everybody’s part.”

Monte Marvin (left) and son Lee pose a for a LIFE magazine photographer in 1965.

Monte Marvin (left) and son Lee pose a for a LIFE magazine photographer in 1965.

Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank are quite familiar with Lee and Monte’s moments of both bonding in conflict. At the end of Monte’s life, they had a grown closer but were still unable to communicate their feelings. As Lee said in Rolling Stone magazine about his father’s passing: “When the Chief died….I went down to Florida….He was in a coma…I came over and kissed him on the head and said, ‘That’s it. Chief. I’ll see you down the line?’ And then I got on a plane and guess what was playing: I Never Sang For My Father.

People hated it, man, but I loved it. It got it all out there. …Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas…Melvyn Douglas is amazing. What a great actor. One of the greatest of all time. I remember that after the movie, people were saying how depressing it was, and I started an argument with them. I was holding forth man to the whole plane. It was great. I got it out. Like that…I felt, you know, cleansed of it…..I think I understand my father more everyday. On some days I can almost…..”

Portraying father and son, Melvyn Douglas (left) and Gene Hackman in 1971's I Never Sang For My Father, looking eerily similar to the photo of Lee and Monte Marvin

Portraying father and son, Melvyn Douglas (left) and Gene Hackman in 1971’s I Never Sang For My Father, looking eerily similar to the photo of Lee and Monte Marvin

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