The passing of Mitch Ryan occurred recently but in the midst of such harrowing headlines as Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the stubborn pandemic and record-setting inflation, the death of a veteran character actor may not get much media attention. However, to this writer it certainly bears attention as I got to know the man, albeit briefly, and found him to be warm, personable and most of all, one hell of an actor. My experience with the man had been blogged about previously here, as well as here,
I was extremely fortunate to get him to go on the record with me about his friendship with Lee Marvin as he proved to be a most valuable source concerning Marvin’s final days, having visited him in the hospital on the last day of his life, all detailed here in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
His passing at the ripe old age of 88 has been chronicled sufficiently on entertainment news websites, citing his work in such films Letha Weapon(1987) and 1960s TV’s “Dark Shadows.” However, I thought he was hysterically funny as the deadpan dad of Greg on TV’s “Dharma & Greg.”
However, the performance I felt was his personal best was the tragically poignant ‘Shorty’ in the criminally underrated Monte Walsh(1970).
(L-R) Lee Marvin, Mitch Ryan and Jack Palance in MONTE WALSH.
Here’s a spoiler alert warning if you haven’t seen the film but if you have, consider this a rarely known anecdote defining the brilliance of both Marvin and Ryan. The film’s finale consists of former friends Monte (Marvin) and Shorty (Ryan) facing down each other in a gunfight for Shorty’s murdering of Chet (Jack Palance). According to Ryan, it was Marvin’s idea that just before they were to draw on each other, Ryan should drop his arms and open his hands, as an admission of guilt for killing Chet. Director William Fraker clearly liked the idea and did a close-up of Ryan’s hands a split second before Marvin draws on him. What follows is an even more poignant moment as Marvin cradles the dying Ryan in his arms and gives a touching requiem to his fallen comrade. See it again with this new perspective and it just might get even better than you may have remembered it.
And so with the passing of Mitch Ryan the world has again become a little less interesting place. Thank you, Mitch, for your time, generous nature, but most of all your extremely impressive talent.
(L-R) My girlfriend Barbara poses with Mitch Ryan, her hero from “Dark Shadows” at my book signing at Larry Edmunds. Right after I took this, photo, Ryan kissed her cheek (!)
Lee Marvin & Jeanne Moreau lit up the screen in Monte Walsh (1970) and they also did the same during a dual interview on “The Dick Cavett Show” from October 15, 1970 to promote the film. However, you would never know it since Cavett never brings it up! What you do get in the clip is the wonderfully flippant attitude from Marvin which is why he was so much fun to watch on talk shows of the era. More impressive is the sparks that fly between Lee Marvin & Jeanne Moreau. Just watch the way she looks at him when speaks.
Screen grab of Lee Marvin & Jeanne Moreau on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW as Moreau clearly shows her admiration for Marvin.
Personally, I never really cared much for Cavett as an interviewer, as he loves to drop names to whomever he interviews, as he does here in mentioning his friendship with Orson Welles (usually it’s Groucho or Woody Allen). He doesn’t always get some of Marvin’s comments, either, nor does he avoid asking such sexist questions of Moreau: “What do you look for in a man?” “How come you weren’t considered beautiful?” Geez, Cavett! Would you ask that of Marvin? Okay, gripes aside, it is tantalizing watching the two actors together. Several of my sources who worked with them on Monte Walsh, such as actor Mitch Ryan told me about Marvin & Moreau’s relationship for my bio Lee Marvin Point Blank and it was quite fascinating, considering they almost married after the film was completed. In fact, his publicist was surprised that they DIDN’T get married! Find out all about that in my book: wink, wink. I had blogged a little about it previously but it’s more fun to watch them together here as well as in the film itself. And so, I give you Lee & Jeanne. Enjoy! – Dwayne Epstein
The Lincoln Highway, a recently published bestselling novel by Amor Towles, references Lee Marvin in an early part of the story. The story takes place in the 1950s and concerns four unfortunate juvenile delinquents attempt to return to their small hometown in Nebraska, only to be forced to go to New York City. Early on, one of the main characters encounters a fight and the author approaches it this way:
“Alan Ladd in Shane. Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity. Lee Marvin in The Wild One. You know what these three have in common? They all took a beating. I don’t mean getting a pop in the nose or having the wind knocked out of them. I mean a beating. Where their ears rang, and their eyes watered, and they could taste the blood on their teeth. Ladd took his at Grafton’s Saloon from Ryker’s boys. Sinatra took his in the stockade from Sergeant Fatso. And Marvin, he took his at the hands of Marlon Brando in the street of a little American town just like this one, with another crowd of honest citizens gathered around to watch.”
Believe it or not, The Lincoln Highway is not the only bestseller to reference a Lee Marvin film. While researching Lee Marvin Point Blank I was made aware of an an ever better example. Author James Michener gave praise to Monte Walsh (1970) in his popular 1976 novel, Centennial:
“‘Have no fear [a character says]. I’m taking you to a masterpiece.’ And he dd. Monte Walsh, a low-budget picture starring Lee Mavin Jack Palance and Jeanne Moreau, unfolded with such simplicity, such heart-tripping reality, that a strange mood developed. Everyone who had any knowledge of the Old West sat transfixed by the memories the film engendered, but those who had known the religion only secondhand felt irritated at the wasted evening. Masterpieces are like that; they require an active participation and offer nothing to those who are unwilling to contribute.”
It never ceases to amaze me how much influence the work of Lee Marvin has had on popular culture, both retro and contemporary. Of course if you want to know why he’s still so influential, read Lee Marvin Point Blank.