A key aspect in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank was discovering an appropriate theme, and in the case of Lee Marvin, that theme emerged as his screen persona’s involvement in facing evil. He knew about facing evil from his time in the USMC, of course, but it would be some time later in which he could articulate what that meant to him through his acting career.
In the early 1960s, Marvin met Dr. Harry Willner when the actor was cast in the TV drama “People Need People.” It was based on Willner’s breakthrough experiences using group therapy to help traumatized war veterans. Marvin gave a harrowing, Emmy-nominated performance. He also became good friends with Willner, and helped him launch a version of the story to help prisoners in San Quentin!
Over the years, WIllner and Marvin continued to stay in touch and on occasion, helped each other with various projects, which included helping young veterans deal with their own PTSD. Shortly before his death, Marvin agreed to speak at a conference WIllner organized on the subject of facing evil, later compiled in a book WIllner published of the same name. Below, are Marvin’s comments which Willner used as the book’s dedication. The actor was articulate, thoughtful and, as his words bear out, highly insightful when it comes to facing evil.
– Dwayne Epstein
The cover of Dr. Harry Willner’s compendium, FACING EVIL.
Lee Marvin’s comments from his talk at Harry Williner’s conference, one of the actor’s last public appearances.
In March of 1962 Lee Marvin became involved with one of the most offbeat yet personally rewarding projects of his career. At the request of clinical pyschiatrist Dr. Harry Willner, the actor advised and oversaw a production of “People Need People,” perfomed entirely by San Quentin prisoners!
As described in Lee Marvin: Point Blank, Willner and Marvin struck up a friendship when the original show was in production a few months before. The show was the debut production of the short-lived anthology “Alcoa Premiere” and was based on the actual case histories of Willner’s work. Willner was a pioneer in the treatment of combat veterans via the then unheard use of group therapy. The stellar cast of the original show included Arthur Kennedy as Willner as well as James Gregory, Marion Ross, Paul Sand, Bert Remsen, Joey Forman and Keir Dullea. The standout, of course, was Lee Marvin as Sgt. Hughes, the most violent and hardcase member of the new group. It would be one of the few times the actor played a Marine on screen and the only time he would win an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Orignal ad from TV Guide the night People Need People aired in 1962.
When Willner later approached Marvin about the San Quentin production, he jumped at the chance. What he was slightly more reluctant about was any publicity surrounding the prison show. A gold mine of free p.r., Marvin preferred to downplay the show and his involvement in it for the most obvious reasons: He did it because he believed in it, not from any positive buzz he could generate from it.
The sole publicity the actor agreed to was a short radio piece done by popular L.A. correspondent, Ralph Story. Story was given exclusive access to the rehearsal process and filed the following story. The pages seen below are Ralph Story’s own original copy (with a few of his own handwritten changes) that were broadcast over CBS Radio more than 50 years ago. Read, enjoy, and know this was something Marvin and everyone invovled did NOT do for the money….
Lee Marvin as Ira Hayes in the dramatic TV special, “The American.”
Ironically, Lee Marvin never portrayed a Marine in any of the films he made but he did on TV, twice, and within a year of each other. Both times he gave what was arguably his best performances as tormented members of the USMC.
On the short-lived anthology show “Breck’s Sunday Night Showcase” he played real-life Pima Indian and WWII hero Ira Hayes in the episode entitled, “The American,” directed by John Frankenheimer as shown above. Marvin’s performance was poignant, subdued and powerful. Later the same year (1960), Tony Curtis played Hayes in the film The Outsider which Frankenheimer hated.
The following year Marvin played a psychologically disturbed Marine entering into a facility to join an experimental group therapy project in a special entitled, “People Need People.” The show was based on fact, with Arthur Kennedy playing real-life doctor Harry Willner, whom Marvin would later befriend and do an amazing thing with as described in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
The TV epsiode had an impressive ensemble, including James Gregory, Kier Dullea, Paul Sand, Jocelyn Brando, Marion Ross and Bert Remsen. The show’s on-air host, Fred Astaire, was reportedly so shaken by Marvin’s performance, it took him all day to shoot his introduction in what normally would have taken no more than an hour. Marvin received his only Emmy nomination for his performance.