Gay icons exist in the movies and two of the most well-known worked with Lee Marvin. Since June is Gay Pride month (which not so coincidentally is also a theme on TCM for the month) I thought it a good time to comment on Marvin’s work with these two prominent gay icons. It’s important to keep in mind that at the time of these two actors’ greatest popularity their sexual orientation was NOT known, as it would have meant professional suicide. This fact of course allowed them to become major stars and sex symbols to their admiring fans.
First up, Rock Hudson, an often mediocre actor at best but a wonderful and legendary light comedian with a charming air when most befuddled. Marvin’s films with Hudson were not memorable in and of themselves but they certainly helped his career. Released in 1953, Gun Fury and Seminole both top-lined Hudson in rather bland performances. Something, in my opinion, that was often the case with him in dramas, with the sole exception being the riveting performance he gave in Seconds (1966). Gun Fury was released in 3-D and allowed Marvin to put on his resume’ that he worked with the great Raoul Walsh as well as a friendship with Leo Gordon. Other than that…
Seminole, on the other hand, actually had scenes in which Marvin and Hudson interacted — albeit, briefly — throughout the movie.
It was simply another programmer for Hudson, but for Marvin it meant working with cult director Budd Boetticher for the first time, who would go on to cast Marvin in Seven Men From Now (1956), one of the actor’s best performances. What did Marvin think of working with Hudson in the overtly macho period films? I have no idea. I do know, however, that for a man of his generation, he had some surprisingly forward-thinking ideas on the subject of homosexuality that he expressed in Playboy Magazine.
As to other gay icon, that would be Montgomery Clift, the legendary Method actor who’s tragic life Marvin witnessed firsthand.
Marvin had gone on record as not being a fan of Method actors as a rule yet ironically, he claimed two of the best actors he ever encountered were Marlon Brando (when he cared) and Clift. Raintree County (1957) was the film he made with Clift and was also the film in which Clift suffered a disfiguring car accident early into the production.
Marvin’s performance in the film is one of his best while Clift is naturally just painful to watch, no matter how hard he tried. That aside, Marvin had his own theory on the accident’s cause which will not be expressed here, as it is strictly hearsay. Luckily, the tragedy of Clift’s forced hidden sexuality and disfiguring car accident does not hamper his legacy as a superb actor, thanks to his many extraordinary film performances.
As to the Gay community in general, Marvin had several run-ins with members of the community on a personal level. One such encounter was hilariously retold to me by Marvin’s friend and costar Bob Phillips and concerns Marvin’s dedication to the USMC. Another concerned one of his children and both tales can be found in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. So happy Pride, dear readers, and remember, Gay Icons may be everywhere but on film, they are often legendary.
– Dwayne Epstein