Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the strange shenanigans that took place during the Oregon location shooting of Paint Your Wagon (1969) and later, Emperor of the North (1973). The interesting thing is, that once a book is released, you come in contact with people you wished you had met while researching the book. Case in point, a recent new friend on Facebook brought to my attention a few rare images of Lee Marvin from the set of both films.
Katherine Wilson is a historian working on a much anticipated book on the history of Oregon filmmaking and looks to be a winner! Here’s a sample of what to look forward to in 50 Years of Oregon Film. When she saw my Lee Marvin book she made a friend request and proceeded to share with me two photos from both Oregon locations.
The first, seen below is obviously from Paint Your Wagon and, according to Wilson, the photographer was a state employee and the photos were then given to Katherine by the governor’s secretary, Wanda Merrill, who is to be credited for her generosity. Pictured left to right are: Nina Westerdahl, the assistant’s wife; Wanda Merrill, secretary to then governor Thomas McCall; Lee (in costume as Ben Rumson); Governor McCall’s wife, Audrey. Clearly, the ladies are enjoying the company, What I like about this photo is that it drives home the point that even though Lee Marvin never had matinee idol good looks, He definitely had what used to be called “star quality” and it shines in this photo. Charisma, Larger-than-life, whatever term fits, Marvin clearly had it without looking like Tyrone Power or Brad Pitt.
       A few years later, Marvin was back in Oregon (with script in hand), but this time he was there to film the underrated, Emperor of the North with multi-film costar, Ernest Borgnine. Below, they are seen with Warren Merrill, Oregon’s first film commissioner. What’s going on in this pic is anybody’s guess but it is cool to see them in costume, ain’t it?

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In researching Lee Marvin: Point Blank, some of the most intriguing stories about the man were related to me by individuals not necessarily know by the general public. Case in point: Ralph O’Hara. O’Hara was a legend around the bars of Malibu and Santa Monica and as such, he just had to have some good Lee Marvin stories to uncover. Anyone who’s read Lee Marvin: Point Blank knows how true that is. He was also willing to relate his poignant perspective to the end of Lee’s life (pp. 243-244). I can also say that after Christopher Marvin read my book he told me that the next time I see or hear from Ralph that Chirstopher has the $20 he owes him for lending him gas money from Tucson back to Calif after after his father’s funeral in 1987. Unfortunately, I long lost contact with Ralph, who apparently moved down South after he retired from bartending.


Wallawa Whitman National Forest Baker Oregon on set of Paint Your Wagon, July 1968. Ralph J. O’Hara, Julie Ayers, Lee Marvin

During the time I was in contact with Ralph O’Hara I constantly badgered him  for a picture, especially for one with him and Lee. I haranged him for several months but he kept insisting his lawyer would not allow it. Go figure that one out. One day, in the mail, I received the image above. Too ragged to be used for the book, I present the photo here for your perusal. Ralph, if you’re out there and can see this, I thank you once again!

Ralph’s own caption: “Wallawa Whitman National Forest Baker Oregon on set of Paint Your Wagon, July 1968. Ralph J. O’Hara, Julie Ayers, Lee Marvin.”

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Pillars of the Sky ad, with Lee Marvin, Jeff Chandler & a very young Martin Milner.


Veteran actor Martin Milner may not seem like a likely candidate for a wealth of great anecdotes concerning Lee Marvin but when I interviewed him he proved to be just that! He worked with Marvin several times in his career in both film and television, with each project providing great fodder for useable stories. In fact, he had such a miniscule role in the above advertised film, 1957’s Pillars of The Sky (Lee Marvin Point Blank, pp. 102-103) he didn’t even receive billing. Nevertheless, his short stint on the project provided the following anecdote not used in the the book but still worth telling here….

Martin Milner:

We were doing Pillars of The Sky (1956). We were on location in Oregon. I was only going to be up there like 10 days. I had a small part in the film. Lee was there for the duration. I was there over one weekend, or two. Lee and I both decided we wanted to go fishing because we both love to fish.
One of the guys, the location manager, or somebody, made arrangements with the local Lincoln dealer to loan us a car and some fishing equipment. We didn’t have anything with us. The fishing equipment was supposed to be in the car. I don’t remember if it was from a sporting goods store but somehow or other, the package was in the car and the car was in the hotel garage. The instructions was for us to go down there Sunday morning. There’ll be a Lincoln. It’ll be unlocked. The keys will be in it and the fishing equipment will be in the car. Sunday comes, Lee and I go down there. Somebody else went with us but I don’t remember who. We go up to this lake and we spend the day fishing. We find this nice brand new Lincoln with fishing equipment and that’s pretty nice. We got in, we drove to this lake which was about two hours away. We got back that night about 8:00. I was finished in the movie. I had stayed over a day to go fishing. I got on a plane at 8:00 the next morning and flew home. Lee stayed there.
I got home and my agent called. he said, “You are in a world of trouble.” I said, “What happened?” He said, that whoever this head of Universal was, his brother had driven this brand new Lincoln to Oregon to go fishing. Lee and I gone down and stolen the car out of the garage and gone for the day. I guess that guy only had like one day up there to go fishing. He’d chosen that place obviously because he could get comped because the movie company was there. We took his car. I laughed like hell when my agent told me this.
We made an honest mistake. There was another old Lincoln there full of fishing stuff that we were supposed to take. We took the wrong car. We took the wrong Lincoln. We took the brand new one that belonged to the head of production’s brother. So when my agent told me the story, I laughed. he said, “Don’t laugh. You’re going in to see the head of the studio this afternoon to explain what happened.” I said, “What about Lee?” He said, “Lee’s not there. He’s back on location and he can’t come. You gotta go in and explain this thing.” So I went in and I went into to this guy’s office and explained what happened. It wasn’t life altering. He understood how the mistake was made. The car was fine but his brother had lost a day of fishing. That was one funny story that happened when Lee and I were together.
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