DIRT BIKE DEMON LEE MARVIN?

Imagine for a moment that you’re a tough, young teen in the early 60s, out on your dirt bike in the California desert, when who should come riding up but the likes of Steve McQueen, Keenan Wynn, Bud Ekins….and Lee Marvin!
Now imagine again that you are an fledgling biographer and then a trusted friend comes up and tells you he has somebody you should interview that can relate the events of the previous sentence. Put these two images together and you would have yours truly at the Lone Pine Film Festival in October, 1994, attempting to mine some golden nuggets of wisdom from Vito Franco, only to wind up with nothing but pyrite. I trusted this friend because the event had already yielded several other nuggets of true gold (John Mitchum, Charles Champlin, John Ericson, etc.), so why I should doubt his veracity?
My research for Lee Marvin Point Blank was in its earliest stages and the subject of Vito Franco was not someone I was fully aware of. Hence the problem. I learned quickly from this example to do my homework on impending interviews and it has since paid off. Read the entire interview below and you’ll see why it is not included in the text of my book. There are, however, nearly a hundred others that are included that thankfully, yielded much better results…

Dwayne:You used to ride bikes with Lee Marvin?
Vito: Yeah, out in Red Rock and Jawbone Canyon.
D: When was this, the 50s?
V: 60s. 60s & 50s. You’re dating me, man.
D: I gotta get it, for the record.
V: Yeah, right, right. Actually, I didn’t know him personally. We would just nod our heads when we were getting in the watering hole or something. That’s about it, just dirt bikes in the desert.
D: What kind of rider was he? Any good?

A mud splattered Lee in his motorcycle leathers smiles for wife Betty's camera. The helmet, a gift from Betty, had two connecting hearts on the front with their initials inside.

A mud splattered Lee in his motorcycle leathers smiles for wife Betty’s camera. The helmet, a gift from Betty, had two connecting hearts on the front with their initials inside.

V: Yeah, very good. He and Keenan Wynn and McQueen, they were all good. We all had dressed out bikes in those days.
D: Was there any rivalry between Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin in terms of what kind of bikers they were?
V: Yeah, yeah. I remember that there was. Quite a bit.
D: What was it that stood out?
V: Turn it off, for a minute [I turn off recorder, then] I can’t tell you that much. They were just in the same place at the same time I was. That’s all I know. We were just in the same place at the same time. But they were good riders who rode with all their heart. They had a lot of fun. I do remember the three of them, very much. One thing you should look into, though, I do a lot of scuba diving in Australia and one of Lee Marvin’s favorite places was a place called Lizard Island.
D: Lizard Island, right.
V: Off the coast.
D: I remember he used to like go marlin….
V: Black marlin fishing out there…
D: On the Great Barrier Reef…
V: Right. There’s a lot of people out there who could tell you some great stories.
D: Yeah, that’s a bit of trek, though, unfortunately.
V: I’ll be there in 2 months, so if you want me to, I’ll get as many stories as you want.
D: Would you really?
V: That’s what I do. I go there to film underwater. So, it wouldn’t hurt the marlins, I turn the cameras on them.
D: Did you ever go fishing with him?
V: No, never. I didn’t know him that well. I did see him out here in the desert, the California desert.
D: Do you remember when you first met him?
V: I would say ‘62, maybe ‘61. I’m trying to think.
D: Was there anything that that stood out in your mind when you first met him? Was there anything striking about him? Anything he might have said?
V: Well, other than he was Lee Marvin and I was quite impressed and I was riding with him. That’s about it.
D: What kind of bike did he ride, do your remember?
V: I think he had the same as us, but don’t quote me on that. We had Triumph motorcycles… It was the ultimate bike in that day for desert riding. Bud Ekins was the one that put them all together, for me and them too, if I’m not mistaken.

Lee shown taking a hill on his Triumph.

Lee shown taking a hill on his Triumph.

D: Very cool. Just real quick, you said you wanted to think about it, a little bit. The thing about a possible rivalry between the way they rode…
V: No, I really couldn’t tell you. You want to know the truth, I couldn’t tell you. The only one I could really say was McQueen, when we used to race. I remember him, he was a trouper. He was really good. He took racing with all his heart. Even when he changed his name so he could get in there so the studios wouldn’t get him in trouble.
D: Do you remember when Lee Marvin stooped riding?
V: I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t think you could even quote me on the date. I’d have to go back and try to figure that out. I think it was the early 60s. Yeah, because I was still in high school in the 50s so it would have to be the 60s.
D: How did you get hooked up with them?
V: With who?
D: Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Keenan Wynn and Bud Ekins and all of them.

Rare photo of Lee and good friend Keenan Wynn out dirtbiking for the day. They also rode their bikes in less competitive venues, such as the showroom of the Beverly Hills Mercedez-Benz dealership.

Rare photo of Lee and good friend Keenan Wynn out dirtbiking for the day. They also rode their bikes in less competitive venues, such as the showroom of the Beverly Hills Mercedez-Benz dealership.

V: Just through bikes.
D: You just happened to all come together?
V: Just through bikes. That was all it was, yeah. Steve McQueen with the Baja 1,000. He was always involved in that…that’s all.
D: Listen thanks for your time [END].

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ALEX BEN BLOCK & OTHERS ON LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

Alex Ben Block, Veteran correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter and author of the first — and in my opinon, still the best — biography on the legendary Bruce Lee, recently agreed to write a review on Amazon for my book, Lee Marvin Point Blank. For reasons neither one of us can understand, Amazon will not post the review. Being the good-hearted mensch that he is, when I asked him if he would allow me to post it on my blog, he fully agreed. What a guy, huh?

The cover of my own copy of Alex Ben Block's THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE, published a year after Lee's 1973 demise.

The cover of my own copy of Alex Ben Block’s THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE, published a year after Lee’s 1973 demise.

Anyway, what he wrote is below, and I’ve posted it not for ego-boosting purposes (although I will admit, it is quite a rocket launcher in that regard!) but to enforce the point of how incredibly fortunate I am to have someone of his stature take note of my work. Hopefully, maybe it’ll encourage others to read it…or better yet, rediscover Lee Marvin and his films!
And so, I give you, Mr. Block’s assement of my work. Enjoy…….
“This is the definitive book on Lee Marvin, who had one of the great screen careers in the era bridging the final days of the Golden Age of the studios and the modern age of blockbuster movies. Dwayne Epstein deserves praise for his in depth research, often insightful writing and for bringing back some wonderful memories for this Cat Ballou fan. I enjoyed reading it and came away with a greatly changed view of Marvin, and much more respect for his career, and the way he lived his life – exactly as he wanted no matter who liked it or how the world saw him. Marvin leaves a rich cinematic legacy, a lot of interesting TV work, an impressive military record, years of hard core alcoholism and the cloud of an absurd “palimony” suit, in a colorful and full life. This book delivers it all in detail, with context, rich characters and a feeling of truth – all done in a flowing and interesting narrative that kept me reading until the very end.”

A photo of Alex Ben Block (right) with iconic 70s actor and personal favorite, Elliot Gould, at a recent Hollywood function.

A photo of Alex Ben Block (right) with iconic 70s actor and personal favorite, Elliot Gould, at a recent Hollywood function.

 

I don’t mind saying, I have been extremely fortunate to have several notable individuals praise my work, among them NY Times Bestselling biographer Stefan Kanfer,  Screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook, author & TV writer Phoef Sutton, biopic writer Larry Karaszewski, and more!
They all boggle my mind in terms of their praise but several stick out for other reasons. One of the those notables is Tracy Keenan Wynn. Son of the legendary actor Keenan Wynn and grandson of comedian/actor Ed Wynn, Tracy and his brother Ned were forthcoming with me in interviews in which they spoke of their father’s friendship with Lee Marvin. Of course, there is no guarantee that after the book comes out either one of them will like the results.

Three generations of a show business dynasty: (L-R) A young Tracy Wynn with his father actor & Lee Marvin cohort, Keenan Wynn, and vaudeville legend, grandfather Ed Wynn.

Three generations of a show business dynasty: (L-R) A young Tracy Wynn with his father, actor & Lee Marvin cohort, Keenan Wynn, and his grandfather vaudeville legend, Ed Wynn.

Tracy is the highly noted screenwriter of everything from The Longest Yard (the original!) to The Autobiography of Mis Jane Pittman. When I asked if he’d be willing to write a review of my book, his response blew me away…

“Author Dwayne Epstein’s newest book, LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, is a detailed and accurate account of the good and not so good chapters of Lee Marvin’s personal and professional lives, off and on the screen. This is an in-depth study of one of Hollywood’s near mythical character actor/ leading man hybrid personas….the book is at once an in depth study and as well as a highly readable and entertaining overview of one of Hollywood’s most endearing and enduring action stars.”

Another wonderful surprise was from actor Ron Thompson. His performance(s) in Ralph Bakshi’s animated film American Pop remains one of my all-time favorites as he beleivable essayed the character of Tony and his illigetimate son, Pete. Because the film was rotoscoped, no one realized it was even him on screen!

A recent photo of good friend Ron Thompson (inset) and one of his two animated alter egos, Pete, from Ralph Bakshi's AMERICAN POP.

A recent photo of good friend Ron Thompson (inset) and one of his two animated alter egos, Pete, from Ralph Bakshi’s AMERICAN POP.

I made friends with Ron on Facebook a while ago and was extremely glad to see our correspondence blossom into friendship. Actually met him in-person once, too. When I asked if he’d write a blurb for my book, I had no idea he’d write what he did below. I’m telling you, folks, life is constantly full of happy surprises!

“As a young teen, I went to see Brando in The Wild One. I left talking about Lee Marvin.
I truly enjoyed Lee Marvin: Point Blank. It enlightened me on who the man was. Some of you may know I’m an actor. I could relate to a lot of the stories. Especially when he was a NY actor and ‘making the rounds’ and doing live TV. I was unaware that he had been a New York actor.
There are wonderful stories of his adventures in movie making. Dwayne Epstein paints a 3 dimensional picture of the man: A good, kind, thoughtful and extremely troubled man. I highly recommend Point Blank. Well done, Dwayne Epstein.”

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MEN’S MAGAZINES W/ LEE MARVIN, PART. 1

The 1950s through the 1970s saw an immense amount of Men’s Magazines flood the market and almost every single one of them at one point or another ran an article on Lee Marvin. Doing research on Lee Marvin: Point Blank found yours truly perusing these periodicals but other than the graphics (ahem!) I found most of these articles were simply rehashed material from other sources. The graphics however, were indeed worthy as one such example below can attest. It’s Topper Magazine from July, 1961…….

Cover of Topper Magazine, July 1961

Cover of Topper Magazine, July 1961

Actually, I’ve never heard of this particular one of these Men’s Magazines entry as it must have gone out of print before I could read it. Small wonder as Marvin isn’t even mentioned on the cover of this issue. However,  inside is a terrific photo layout with a brief introduction explaining how the likes of Marvin’s buddy Keenan Wynn, actor Rory Calhoun, Olympic gold medalist Bob Mathias and legendary stuntman Cary Loftin spend a weekend in Malibu. Personally I love the shot of Marvin in Loftin’s motorcycle sidecar. Take note of how Marvin’s address is shown and also Marvin’s lack of helmet, or any other protective gear, for that matter. He simply wears his bathing trunks and cool shades. Ahh, the simpler days. Enjoy….

Introduction of article in Topper

Introduction of the article in Topper concerning Lee & friends enjoying their weekend biking.

 

1st page of pix from Topper article

1st page of pix with appropriate captions from Topper article.

Page 2 of pix w/ Marvin, Keenan Wynn, Rory Calhoun & Bob Mathias

Page 2 of pix w/ Marvin, Keenan Wynn, Rory Calhoun & Bob Mathias

 

FInal page of color pix including Lee Marvin's Malibu home

Final page of color pix including shared libations at the bar of Lee Marvin’s Malibu home.

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