GAY ICONS

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.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Sgt. Magruder and Rock Hudson as Lt. Lance Caldwell in Budd Boetticher’s SEMINOLE.

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.

Lee Marvin (left) and RAINTREE COUNTY costar Montgomery Clift photographed by Bob WIlloughby.

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.

(L-R) Lee Marvin and Montgomert Clift as ‘Bummers’ during the Civil War scene in Raintree.

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

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DIRTY WHISPERS

Dirty whispers, for lack of a better term, is a rather lascivious device used in some films to set the stage for an eventual brutal showdown. There are of course several memorable examples but this being a blog dedicated to the life and career of Lee Marvin, I can think of no better example to start with than the man himself. 
 In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I discovered that he attempted this device in The Killers (1964) but ran into conflict with costar, Ronald Reagan, who hated the idea. Instead, he let it be known to the audience what he intended when he gets in the face of frightened costar Angie Dickinson and angrily whispers, “Lady, you tell us what we want to know or so help me god you’re going out that window.” 
  A few years later, he was able to use the device to much better effect when he collaborated with British director John Boorman on Point Blank (1967).

Lynn (Sharon Acker) warms up to a drunken Walker (Lee Marvin) as they circle each other on the Santa Monica pier in POINT BLANK.


In the opening prologue, in which Marvin as Walker confronts his estranged wife, played by Sharon Acker, an ingenious montage is utilized  to give the films’s back story to the viewer, as narrated by Acker. Costar Angie Dickinson told me how Marvin and Boorman would themselves whisper on set about how they would do a scene without letting the other actors in on it to maintain the film’s freshness. The opening montage is one example. Acker’s narration of course explains what’s going on for us, but in the scene itself, no words are heard but we do see Walker saying something to her (of probably the most lascivious nature) ,as they circle each other amid the other drunken denizens of the pier. 
   Later in the film, as Walker confronts his adversaries up the chain of command in an effort to get what he believes he is owed from the organization, he employs the device again to even greater effect as Marvin wanted to do in The Killers

Walker (Lee Marvin) uses a dirty whisper on a reception in POINT BLANK. Note the placement of his gun barrel.

Bursting into the outer office of kingpin Lloyd Bochner, he confronts the receptionist before she can even react to his entry, and while he scares her to near death with whatever dirty whispers we can’t hear, he uses his oversized Oxford to smash the secret alarm hidden under her desk. It’s a brilliantly realized moment in a film spilling over with brilliant moments way ahead of its time for audiences and film critics alike. 
   One can only imagine not only what Marvin was saying but what he must have sounded like, as his voice, whether booming loud or frighteningly whispered, was one of the actor’s greatest attributes.

 Film history has provided some other noteworthy examples of dirty whispers. Chronologically, to my mind, one of the first and still best is Edward G. Robinson terrorizing Lauren Bacall in Key Largo (1948). It’s amazing to think Robinson was never Oscar nominated for any of the memorable performances he gave throughout his lengthy career as this should have been one of them. 

Lauren Bacall reacts accordingly to Edward G. Robinson’s lascivious dirty whispers in KEY LARGO.


The scene induces shivers in the way Robinson gleefully does it, as much as the way Bacall reacts to it. It’s one of many stand out moments Robinson has in the film as over-the-hill Prohibition-era gangster Johnny Rocco hiding out in a Florida Hotel besieged by a hurricane. The greatness of his menacing performance has faded in moviegoer memory, since the film is largely remembered for the well-known sparks that flew and ignited between Bacall and toplined star, Humphrey Bogart. Pity, really, as Robinson was amazing in it.

The memorable near fight scene in From Here to Eternity (1952) that leads to a an even more memorable confrontation is not remembered as such but it’s initiated by another dirty whisper.

Ernest Borgnine (center) drools over the photo he snatched from Frank Sinatra (right) in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY as Montgomery Clift (left) prepares to respond.


As Frank Sinatra as Maggio shows off a photo of his big Italian family to his buddies in the bar, stocky and vicious Ernest Borgnine as “Fatso” Judson ambles into the bar. He snatches the photo, sees the image of Sinatra’s sister, kisses it, smiles menacingly, then leans over to Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift, to whisper what has to be an undoubtedly filthy suggestion. Clift rises to the challenge but is pushed out of the way by the more maligned Sinatra who proceeds to smash Borgnine with a bar stool. All looks lost until Burt Lancaster steps in with a broken beer bottle. Damn exciting stuff, again the result of a probably forgotten dirty whisper.  
 Last but not least is possibly the best example of a dirty whisper and its aftermath. In The Hustler (1961), the great Piper Laurie plays Sarah Packard, the tragic and crippled girlfriend of the title character, ‘Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman.

(L-R) Paul Newman, Piper Laurie & George C. Scott enjoy Louisville’s Derby Day party in THE HUSTLER.


Celebrating the Kentucky Derby at a Jazz party, Felson’s manager Bert Gordon, played by George C. Scott, sees how vulnerable Ms. Laurie’s character is and proceeds to take advantage of it. While a Dixieland band blares in the background, he sidles up to the fragile woman, out of ear shot of everyone (especially Newman) and whispers something so devastating to her, she breaks down in tears and eventually does the unthinkable.
   What was said? Well, we may never know for sure what is said in such emotional scenes, but there is one interesting anecdote. According to Piper Laurie in her autobiography, “I finally asked him [Scott] what he had whispered into my ear in the big party scene in The Hustler that elicits a violent response from me. We shot it perhaps three or four times, and I could never figure out what he was saying: it sounded something like ‘isha-pa-pish-po.’ He told me he chose to use just gibberish, knowing he could never invent words or phrases as powerful as what my imagination could summon up. Probably true.” 
 Whether a result of avoiding the censor or the fertile imagination of gifted actors and actresses, such moments remain dramatic and powerful in their own right. Anybody remember any others?

  • Dwayne Epstein
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BOB WILLOUGHBY ON LEE MARVIN & RAINTREE COUNTY

Bob Willoughby (1927-2009), famed unit photographer of many classic Hollywood production and magazine covers, also worked on Raintree County, MGM’s failed attempt to recapture the magic of Gone With the Wind, which premiered on this day in 1957.

Lee Marvin (left) and RAINTREE COUNTY costar Montgomery Clift (right) as photographed onset by Bob WIlloughby.

I was fortunate enough to interview several of the important contributors to the film for Lee Marvin Point Blank, including director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter Millard Kaufman, and costar Rod Taylor, all of whom told me wonderful anecdotes about the film and Lee Marvin. I have also written about it here on this blog utilizing several unused quotes and images.
However, this being the anniversary of its release, I recently came across an interesting little quote from Bob Willoughby about his opinion of Lee Marvin while working on the film. The quote is from his 2001 photographic autobiography Hollywood: A Journey Through the Stars, in which tells fascinating tales about his life, work and influence. His coffee table book The Platinum Years is also highly recommended.

RAINTREE COUNTY COSTARS Elizabeth Taylor (left) and Eva Marie Saint (right) turn the tables on photographer bob Willoughby (center).

In the text of Hollywood, he wrote the following concerning Lee Marvin: “Lee Marvin was one of the most unforgettable actors I’ve ever encountered. He seemed to have the energy of two or even three people, an inexhaustible life force. It’s hard to believe that he’s now gone. To give you an example, many years later, Lee got into an elevator at Saks with my wife Dorothy and me. He went two floors, patted me on the back, waved goodbye and the doors closed, leaving us alone. Dorothy said she was so glad he was gone, which I didn’t understand, until she told me that she felt he had up all the of the air in the elevator. That was Lee. He was a fine actor, told outrageous jokes and I liked him very much!”
– Dwayne Epstein

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