THE BELL SYSTEM: IT COULDN’T BE DONE

The Bell System, the original phone company before it was forced to break up into a lot of “Baby Bells,” was a pretty powerful communication force. Powerful enough to sponsor TV’s first color broadcast known as “The Bell Telephone Hour” (1959-1969) among other ventures. One of those other ventures was a one hour TV special aired April 1970 entitled “It Couldn’t Be Done,” hosted and narrated by none other than Lee Marvin. 

Full page oversized ad promoting “It Couldn’t Be Done” in 1970.

The idea behind it was to celebrate American industrial accomplishments with rare footage, interviews, musical interludes by the then popular 5th Dimension singing group, singer Steve Mills and insight given by Lee Marvin.
    It being 1970, he’s still sporting his long-ish hair and mustache from Monte Walsh (1970) and Paint Your Wagon (1969). It’s interesting in that at the time, once a former TV actor was lucky enough to establish a successful film career, they would never deign to again appear on TV, assuming it might jinx their hard-earned success or the medium was beneath them somehow. Not Lee Marvin. He returned to TV regularly throughout his career and doing so did not adversely effect him. Matter of fact, some of his best and most versatile performances were on television, as I discovered and wrote about in Lee Marvin Point Blank
  As for the show “It Couldn’t Be Done,” The Bell System wasted no time being as patriotic as possible in its depiction of American ingenuity while seeming to not care about the non-existent element of political correctness. For example, they fail to mention that Mount Rushmore was carved into the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota Sioux of South Dakota. Just saying. 
 Okay, political correctness aside, below is the actual (dated) one hour special as posted last year on YouTube. Enjoy!
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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THE ART OF WAR: PART I

The Art of War

For those who have never done so, such as myself, it is impossible to ever really know what it is like to experience warfare. Writers as varied as Ernest Hemingway, Ernie Pyle and Dalton Trumbo have famously come close, as well as the photography of Robert Capa and others. Words, pictures, even film, do not do justice to what actual combat inflicts on the human psyche. Lee Marvin spent most of his career trying to get that point across to an audience as his time in WWII proved to be one of the most defining aspects of his life. Even before becoming an actor, Marvin was so overwhelmed by what he went through, he sought to get the emotional impact of the war down on paper in both words and images. I myself knew it was impossible to even try so when writing that chapter of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, I let Marvin write it himself via letters home he wrote during the war.
During WWII, the U.S. government attempted it as well in an effort to get across to its citizens what their friends and family were going through overseas. Commissioned by the War Dept. in 1943 under the auspices of The Army Corps of Engineers, 42 artists (half civilian, half already in the military) were asked to channel the “essence and spirit of war” into their work. The Navy created their own such commission following the sinking of the Ruben James and it’s artistic rendering. The USMC public relations director Robert Denig, who had sent field correspondents and photographers into battle, went one better. He expanded the program to include artists who would be trained as Marine recruits tasked with going into battle as soldiers and artists. Also LIFE magazine and artwork commission by the Abbott Pharmacuetical company (!) got into the business of sending artists into battle. The belief was that the emotional impact of artwork could say more than words or photos ever could. Amazingly, these artists were not hampered by gov’t censorship or propoganda requests. Instead, they created what the saw. By the end of the war they had created more 2,000 pieces. For example, here’s some images Marvin himself might have experienced….
– Dwayne Epstein

ScoreAnotherFortheSubs

ScoreAnotherForTheSubs by Thomas Hart Benton

DeathoftheShoho

Death of the Shoho by Benney

 

The two paintings above, although badly reproduced, do evoke the image of what Marvin may have gone through as a combat Marine going into batle since the enemy was often encountered even before landing on the beachhead. Once Marvin did make one of his 21 landings, the next paintings was what inveitably followed….

CarryingEquipment

Porters and Soldiers Carrying Equipment by Boggs

TakingCover

Taking Cover by Fredenthal

The title of the above image shows what followed in the steaming jungle, which could often be shattered without warning by next image. In Part II, combat itself…….

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JANE FONDA ON LEE MARVIN

According to costars Dwayne Hickman and Michael Callan (both of whom are interviewed and quoted extensively in Lee Marvin Point Blank), during the time that Lee Marvin & Jane Fonda worked together on Cat Ballou, they did not get along or care for each other very much. Jane Fonda thought the actor a boor who did not take acting seriously and Marvin thought her the spoiled Hollywood daughter of Henry.

Time has a way of changing one’s perspective as Jane Fonda wrote in her memoir:
“Cat Ballou was a relatively low-budget undertaking. It seemed we’d never do two takes unless the camera broke down. The producers had us working overtime day after day, until one morning Lee Marvin took me aside. “Jane,” he said, “we’re the stars of this movie. If we let the producers walk all over us, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, you know who suffers most? The crew. The guys who don’t have the power we do to say, ‘Shit, no, we’re workin’ too hard.’ You have to get some backbone, girl. Learn to say no when they ask you to keep working.” I will always remember Lee for that important lesson.” [My Life So Far. NY: Random House, 2006. page 161]
Below is a scanned picture from a 1965 Life magazine article profiling Marvin at the time of Cat Ballou’s release in which, despite the polite demeanor, the differences between the two actors could not be more obvious….
wfonda

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