BRUCE DERN, A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE

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Bruce Dern, The legendary Oscar-nominated actor turned 86 years old on June 4th. The length and the breadth of his career certainly deserves recognition. Although he never worked with Lee Marvin, the two actors did have parallel careers, almost crossing paths a few times despite their age difference they both guest starred on the likes of Wagon Train, Ben Casey & Route 66. as documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank
   That aside, I’ve read much about him lately via social media in praise of his canon of work and that canon is worthy indeed: The best screen version of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1972); A rival to Jane Fonda in both They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969) and Coming Home (1978); a recent inductee into the Quentin Tarantino stock company with Django Unchained (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015) and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019); a cornucopia of other great films in his seven decades of acting that is still going strong. 
  However, the role he will always be remembered for is that of “Longhair” in the John Wayne western The Cowboys (1972). It’s been said that as the man who shoots the Duke in the back, Wayne told him with a smile “They’re gonna hate you for this,” to which Bruce Dern replied, “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley for it.”
   Such stories abound on social media lately, but the one I liked best came from Dern’s 2007 memoir, “Things I’ve Said, But Probably shouldn’t Have.” For some reason this great little anecdote has not been mentioned so I intend to rectify that:

The cover of Bruce Dern’s 2007 memoir.

“We’re filming the The Cowboys and in the first scene I’m trying to get Wayne’s character to hire me. Duke says, ‘Who recommended you?’
I say, ‘Mr. Leeds recommended me to you, Mr. Anderson.’
He says, ‘Really? And how long ago did you meet him?’
I say, ‘Oh, about six weeks ago. I was down yonder at his ranch.’
‘And you rode all the way up here just to see me? If that’s the case, you rode a long way for nothing, because I ain’t interested in hiring you..’
‘Really? Why is that, sir?’
‘Because Leeds died four years ago. So you’re a liar. An I don’t hire liars.’
‘Well, I swear on my mama’s sainted grave that I ain’t no liar.’
Duke says, ‘I’d question that somebody like you ever had a mama.’
I look around and I say, ‘Well sir, if you’re going to coin a phrase ‘had a mama,’ I guess I’d say I had yours about five years ago.’
   Wayne just breaks up laughing. He’s up on a horse and he turns around in the saddle, and the sun is sinking, and you can’t really see the expression on his face because he’s got that goddamn lid hat that comes out to here. He looks pretty fucking great on a horse when he’s up there all six foot six and 285. He looks around and says, ‘And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why this prick is in the movie. It ain’t gonna be in the movie. But that’s why he’s the guy that’s gonna kill John Wayne. Because that’s clever goddamn thinking ain’t it?’ Everybody breaks out and applauds. And then we go to take two.”

Photographer Bob WIlloughby’s on location portrait of Bruce Dern in The Cowboys.

So, happy birthday Mr. Dern, and many, many more!
– Dwayne Epstein

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JAMES GUNN, SUICIDE SQUAD & LEE MARVIN

James Gunn and Lee Marvin are not two names often associated with each other but surprisingly, recent news via a Google search has done just that. 
Director James Gunn, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, is also the director of the new and highly anticipated Suicide Squad movie reboot for 2021. He recently tweeted that one film and one film only was the inspiration for the upcoming all-star comic book film and that film was another all-star production from a few decades earlier. That’s right. None other than The Dirty Dozen (1967).

Opening image I used for LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK is the actor’s performance of Major John Reisman in The DIRTY DOZEN, the film that helped make him the number one male box office star in the country.


Matter of fact, the news generated an online story, just a few days ago. I’m not a particular fan of comic book inspired films but I did grow loving comic books, especially D.C. superhero ones. Knowing that, the revelation involving The Dirty Dozen hardly came as a surprise. There were similiar titles even more effective, such as Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and The Howling Commandos. The same Sgt. Fury would later become Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., the only Marvel title I liked, as written and drawn by the great Jim Steranko. But I digress….
 Glad to see Marvin’s most well-known film getting it’s just respect. Of course, it’s influence is far more reaching that that. It proved to be the inspiration for several other films, as well. A short list would include:
• Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009), which at one point was to include a character named ‘Babe’ Buchinsky to be played by Michael Madsen, as an homage to Dirty Dozen costar, Charles Bronson. 
• Joe Dante’s fantasy film Small Soldiers (1998), featuring voices of several original cast members.
• The original Italian version of Tarantino’s film with Bo Svenson and Fred WIlliamson, The Inglorious Bastards (1978). Note the spelling difference which Tarantino has never fully explained. 
• Even Roger Corman’s Secret Invasion (1964) used the same premise which predates the novel’s publication by a year. Makes you wonder if Corman knew something the author didn’t.
Kind of makes you wonder if perhaps the premise is based on fact. According to the original novel’s author, E.M. Nathanson: “This story is fiction. I have heard a legend that there might have been men like them, but nowhere in the archives of United States Government or in its military history did I find it recorded.”

Makes sense but then again just because it’s not recorded, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
– Dwayne Epstein

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THE EPSTEIN BROTHERS: A VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE

The Epstein brothers, consisting of my dad Morris (“Moishe” to family and friends) and his two older brothers, Hank and Dave, emigrated from Poland in the late 1930s just in time to avoid the Nazis and the Warsaw Ghetto. All three of them proudly served in the U.S. military during WWII, hence this Veterans Day tribute to all of them.

My father (cute little guy in the front), his older brother Hank (right), his oldest brother Dave (behind my dad), their mother Lillian (right) and unidentified relative (left) pictured a few years before emigrating to America.

Probably seems odd at the very least, or out of the place at the worst in a blog devoted mostly to Lee Marvin Point Blank, but since I’ve posted so much about the Marvins and their service to their country in previous posts, I though it only fair to dedicate this post to the Epstein brothers for this Veterans Day.

My uncle Dave’s passport photo.

My uncle Hank’s passport photo.

Not quite Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, but all three Epstein brothers did their part as Polish Jews fighting back the Nazi threat. I heard fascinating stories from all of them growing up but my cousin Alan, my uncle Dave’s son, recently gave me permission to recount what I consider the most interesting details of his father’s service, as well as mentioning my uncle Hank and my father:

My uncle Dave shortly after being inducted just before the start of WWII, hence the WWI surplus uniform.

“He was one of the first batch to get drafted, they all were issued WW1 uniforms and equipment. He was stateside for awhile and then shipped out to Iceland to relieve the US Marines (for duty in the South Pacific) and English soldiers who went back to England expecting an invasion. Eventually he was sent to England for the buildup of troops and supplies for the Invasion of France. He was in the 3rd armored division (assigned to a Half-Track), this was attached the 1st army under General Hodges.
He landed at Omaha beach, Normandy in June 1944 and went on past the secured beach and into the area up from the beach called “Hedgerow” country, very heavy undergrowth, French called it “the Bocage region”, the greenery dates from Roman times. The bushes and trees were impenetrable and filled with Germans after they were pushed off the beach…. snipers, tanks and any weapon available. … After they broke out of this fighting they continued through France …the 1st army was then ordered to Bastogne, Belgium immediately by Patton, to rescue the trapped 101st airborne division.
This was the so called “Battle of the Bulge”, they were counterattacked by the Germans who pushed through. On a map it looked like a bulge. The Germans were beaten back but the fighting in The Ardennes Forest around Bastogne was awful, also the coldest European winter in 50 years and the largest ground battle in American history. When the German Panzer tanks rolled in early in the morning, they ran over the the tents with sleeping GI’s, as told by my dad.
Sorry about all the words but it HAS BEEN OVER SEVENTY YEARS and I wanted to do at least this!”

My Uncle Hank (wearing a cap and kneeling bottom left) with other members of the flight crew of his plane, Shoo-Shoo Baby.

My father’s brothers were involved too. Hank was a gunner on a B24 Liberator based in Foggia, Italy. Cerignola was a nearby city which housed another bomber squadron, one of the pilots was George McGovern, they sometimes did missions together and always requested the “Homestead Grays,” the all-black Mustang fighter escort, “Tuskegee airmen.”

My father, pfc. Morris Epstein of the U.S. Constabulary Force on his way home from Europe.

(L-R): Hank Epstein, Goldie Epstein (my uncle Dave’s wife) and Dave Epstein, pose on the roof of their Brooklyn apt. as they were both on leave during the war.

His kid brother Moishe [my dad] was a tank driver and MP, one of the white helmeted MPs at the Nuremburg trials. My mom’s brother Sid was part of the occupation army in Japan.

My cousin Alan, following in his father’s footsteps in the early 1970s. His skill as a medical sketch artist kept him from being shipped overseas to Vietnam just before his unit shipped out. Talk about timing!

I thank my cousin Alan for permission to use what he wrote and most of all, I thank my father and his brothers for their service to their country on this Veterans Day. I’m sure most families have similar tales and are equally proud, so I’m just sharing a little of the Epstein brothers’ dedication and patriotism on this important day. Not much but I think worth sharing. To one and all I just want to add happy Veterans Day!
– Dwayne Epstein

The male legacy of my dad and his brothers:
(L-R) Me, my uncle Hank’s son Steve, and my uncle Dave’s son, Alan, reunited at Tribeca 92nd St Y for a Lee Marvin Point Blank book signing about six years ago. Or, as Alan said of this photo, “look at the three old farts in glasses.”

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