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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100 BEST FILMS OF ALL TIME

100 Best Films of All Time? Pretty impressive concept for a list, if I do say so myself. A gargantuan undertaking, to be sure, but I recently came across a website attempting to do just that. Granted, such lists have existed elsewhere, such as within the American Film Institute and elsewhere. What makes this particular list different is how updated it is to include films as recent as 2021.
   Therein lies the problem. I can understand updating a list every five or ten years or so. However, to be considered “the best” anything requires several aspects, most notably, the test of time. A film released last year may be considered great now but in a few years could be largely forgotten or considered overrated in its day. This particular list can be taken to task for just that reason among others. It also failed to acknowledge several known classics that has most definitely stood the test of time. There are no Capra classics on the list, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) It Happened One Night (1934), and others. Also non-existent are the films of such stars as Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Jane Fonda, Steve McQueen, Meryl Streep or James Cagney. 
   Granted, such a list is highly subjective but the fact that this list was said to have been compiled by film critics makes me shake my head in disappointment as they really should have known better. Sure, nowadays everybody seems to be a film critic via social media, but if these acknowledged critics were really worthy of the title they should definitely know better!
   Okay, my rant is over…well, almost. There sis only one single solitary Lee Marvin movie on the list. No, not Point Blank (1967). Not The Dirty Dozen (1967), not even Bad Day at Black Rock (1955! The one film? Believe it or not, at number 78 — which puts it near the bottom — they chose this….

Lee Van Cleef (far left) watches as Lee ‘Liberty Valance’ Marvin holds his own up against film legends Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

And the worst part is they give away the twist ending without even a mention of a spoiler alert! I’ve always said any critic who gives away the ending of the film in a review should not be allowed to do their job. Unforgivable! 
    Okay, now the rant is over. Don’t just take my word for it in terms of the problematic aspects of the list. You can read this “100 Best Films” list for yourself by clicking this link. Read it and weep, as they used to say. In the mean time, you can always find out what made the likes of Lee Marvin more worthy of such a list, or any list for that matter, by reading Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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DWAYNE HICKMAN

Dwayne Hickman, venerable costar of TV’s “Love That Bob” and star of “Dobie Gillis,” recently turned and impressive 87-years-old on May 18th. In honor of that milestone, I present excerpts from the interview I conducted with him way back in 1995. I met him at one of the Hollywood Collector’s Show and he could not have been more cordial or forthcoming. So, below are the unpublished insights of Dwayne Hickman on his experiences working with Lee Marvin on Cat Ballou (1965) and how Marvin interacted with the rest of the cast. The majority of what he had to say went into the narrative of Lee Marvin Point Blank, which were some of my favorite anecdotes. In the mean time, I give you, Dwayne Hickman. Enjoy…

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Kid Shelleen and Dwayne Hickman as Jed in CAT BALLOU.



Dwayne Epstein: What do you think of when you think of Lee Marvin?
Dwayne Hickman: To me, Lee seemed kind of self-destructive with the drinking and the smoking. How old was he when he made Cat Ballou?
E: I guess he was in his early forties.
H: I thought he was an old man. I liked Lee. I liked him a lot but there was a kind of a distance about him. During the movie I thought he was close but he always kept a little of himself hidden. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ball working with him. I was his straight man. All I had to do to set him off was say something like, “What do you think about that Lee?” That would get him going for hours. As a friend, though, I sensed some reticence.
E: Well, he was going through a rough time personally and professionally during the filming of that movie.
H: That’s true. It didn’t stop him from having a good time.
E: Were was the location shooting done?
H: We shot in Canyon City which is just at the foot of the Rockies. We stayed in this little motel and drove an hour to the location.
E: How did he get along with Jane Fonda?
H: Badly. She didn’t like him because of his crudity and language. She didn’t care for him and he definitely didn’t care for her. Her boyfriend at the time, who she eventually married, Roger Vadim came to Colorado, rented a car and moved in with her. I’ll tell you an interesting story. He drove her to work everyday and the Teamsters got upset because they didn’t want him doing that. They threatened to pull out which would have shutdown the production. She thought it was silly. The producers went to her and eventually she buckled under. I don’t think Jane was happy with the film. In fairness, she had a thankless role in the movie. Everybody else was funny around her and she had to carry the plot. Also, I think she may have thought Lee was overacting.
E: How did Vadim get along with Marvin?
H: Vadim walked over and introduced himself to Lee during the filming and Lee said, “I know you. You’re that fucking Frenchman.” I don’t think that sat well. When Vadim and Jane would speak French during lunch, at the picnic tables we sat at on, Lee got up and moved away. Lee was rude to Jane. Jane didn’t really want to be there. She was basically just working off her contract requirement with Columbia.
E: As an actor, what was Lee Marvin like towork with in a scene?
H: He was a very skilled, interesting actor. He’d stretch the limits of credibility. I’ll give you an example. There’s the scene in the movie after he shot Tim Strawn — the other part he played — and then came back to tell us about it. I asked him “How was it?’ And he says with a broad smile, “It was just swell.” I asked him before hand, “Are you really going to do that?” Lee said, “Yeah, it’ll be fun.” He was a very innovative and creative actor. He would always downplay his talent, though. But he took a lot of chances. He was never what you would call a safe actor. A safe actor never takes chances with his character. Lee always took chances. There’s the scene in the movie where we’re sitting around planning the train robbery and he pipes in, “I’ll drink to that!” Well, he gave it a different reading every time. Each time he’d emphasize a different part of the sentence so it never sounded the same way twice. He was very bold that way. Never blended it because of his willingness to try.
E: How would Silverstein direct him?
H: Silverstein would say to him, “It’s too big Lee. Play it softer.’ Lee would say, “Got it, sweetheart.” Then he would play it the same way every time. He had a hundred moves on screen. He also had that deep voice and big face. He could combine that with his big style and way of handling props that was really swift.
E: Do you recall when you first met him?
H: The first time I met him was during a reading at the Beverly Hilton one Saturday afternoon. The whole cast met for the first time. He seemed subdued and well-behaved. It sounds strange because that’s a term you usually use for a child but it could really apply to Lee. I was looking forward to meeting him and he said he was a fan from my TV work. He was a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor.
E: Can you recall any examples of his sense of humor?
H: He was like a kid in school who causes all the trouble. I remember one lunch break, he turned to me as we were passed the producer’s office and said, “Watch me make’em crazy.” The producer was named Jack Fier and there was an old line in Hollywood that went, “There is nothing to fear but Fier himself.” Anyway, Lee says real loud, “Haven’t got a shot all morning.” When I asked him why he said it, he said, “Watch, I betcha he’ll show up on the set.” When we came back from lunch, sure enough, he was there. That’s the kind of thing that made him endearing to some of us.
E: How would Jane Fonda react to that kind of thing?
H: What bothered Lee about Jane was that she was kind of pretentious. Jane was a product of Henry, and finishing schools in Europe and was a proponent of the method. She was very serious about acting. One thing Lee was not, was pompous. Jane was very serious. Lee was serious in his own way but also a bit outrageous. So, she was his target. Of course, she was very good, too, but approached her role in a different way. He was crude and bawdy and kind of offended her sensibilities.
E: I get the feeling she must have thought of him as a Neanderthal.
H: Yeah, but Lee was a very talented, bright guy. He knew what he was doing. People generally liked him. 
E: Can you give an example of how his intelligence would show itself?
H: No, but it would be in his general behavior. He was a very smart actor. He was always thinking of his next move. Lee wasn’t an intellectual like Jane. He worked by instinct.
E: I’ve heard conflicting reports from people like Michael Callan and others about whether Marvin drank during filming. Do you know if he did or not?
H: Well, I don’t know if he was necessarily drunk but I knew he was drinking. That first day on location when he made the driver stop so he could get a bottle of vodka which told me he was drinking.
E: I read in your book a great story about leaving Colorado with Lee. Can you expand on that a little?
H: Sure. We were about to leave Canyon City and we had to pack and get ready. The night before, he must have gone and started drinking instead. The next day when we went to get him, he was passed out in his room. He was still dressed in the clothes he must have been wearing from the night before. When we finally got him up, he put on a terry cloth robe, a hair net, a pair of dark glasses and a put a bottle of vodka in his pocket. The assistant director put his bags in the station wagon while Lee carried a little napsack. There was crazy Lee sitting in the front seat and turned to us asking, “Would you like a drink?” We said, “It’s 6:30. That’s a little early.” Well, Lee starting pouring tonic in his vodka, or vodka in his tonic, and began drinking. He pulls out this .45 automatic and started working it like he did in the movie. He rolled down the window and started shooting at the road signs. Well, in this little place in Colorado, that’s bad news. We could have all been arrested. At one point, there was some cattle grazing and Lee shot into them. He shouted out, “Hot damn! I got me a cow!” We drove to a little airfield in Colorado Springs for the flight to Burbank. Lee got in the back of the plane and played poker the whole flight back. When we got back, they tried to tell him he had to work and he got all bent out of shape because in truth he was in no condition to work. They took Lee from the plane to the ranch and into wardrobe. They had to do the scene in the whorehouse where he’s looking for his brother. They did about twenty or thirty takes. I think eventually, they had to reshoot it. 

(L-R) Dwayne Hickman, Lee Marvin and Tom Nardini on location in Canyon City, Colorado.


Lee used to kid Tom Nardini. He used to say things to him like him, “Been in show business ten minutes and you’re already a pro, huh kid.” He would kid him but he was really good to Tom. 
E: Did anybody get mad at Marvin for all his scene stealing?
H: You can’t really get mad Lee. He went for broke. He was a risk taker as an actor and you couldn’t help but admire that. There was always a fifty-fifty chance what he was doing wouldn’t work.
E: Did you have any contact with him after the film was over?
H: No, not at all. It’s kind of strange because when you work on a movie you’re part of a team. You’re like family, then when it’s done, you just move on.
E: How did he get along with John Marley?
H: They didn’t really relate much with each other. He was also very serious about acting because he came out of working with Kazan in America, America(1963). Lee provided an easier atmosphere. He acted like he didn’t take it very seriously but he really did.
E: Any last thoughts you want to add about Lee Marvin that you think most people wouldn’t know?
H: Like I said, there was that part of Lee that’s private. No matter how much you thought you knew him, he always kept a part of him at a distance. Actually, I ran into him in, I think, 1985 or ‘86. It was the People’s Choice Awards. He seemed to be in a kind of a fog. I think he was drinking. … Well, he recognized me. He said something like, “You were the preacher,” and that was pretty much it. I was kind of disappointed, to tell you the truth. He didn’t say anything like, “Hi, how are you? How have you been?” It was kind of sad to see him like that. I think it was because of his age. He was deteriorating at an alarming rate.
E: You know all that liquor and five packs-a-day smoking can do that to you. 

Bob Denver and Maynard G. Krebs and Dwayne Hickman as Dobie Gillis.

 



– Dwayne Epstein

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