WAGON TRAIN: THE CHRISTOPHER HALE STORY

Wagon Train, the long-running western series (1957-1965) had many a famous guest star during its run and that includes Lee Marvin who appeared in two episodes: “The Jose Morales Story,” as a Mexican bandito (!) and “The Christopher Hale Story,” the subject of this blog entry. A regular reader of this blog recently informed me that that retro cable network, ME-TV, will be airing that 1961 episode on Monday, November 30th at 4pm Pacific Standard Time. If you’re lucky enough to get that network and have the time to do so, by all means watch or DVR it, as it’s one of Lee’s best efforts, especially the ending! 

Lee Marvin as sadistic wagon master, Jud Benedict.

Fans of the show know that this particular episode is also a pivotal one for another reason. The show’s original wagon-masters were Robert Horton and Ward Bond so when Bond died suddenly, a replacement was immediately needed. Hence this Wagon Train episode guest starring Lee Marvin and Bond replacement, John McIntire, but he has to get thru a conflict with Lee Marvin first.
 There are several interesting aspects to this Wagon Train episode for Lee Marvin fans. Marvin replaced Bond when he died before production on Liberty Valance began and here…well, you’ll see for yourself. Also, Marvin was good friends with the show’s other main cast member, Robert Horton, who enjoyed having Marvin on the show, as he told this author a while back. 

Jud Benedict (Lee Marvin) & John McIntire (Christopher Hale) confront each other on WAGON TRAIN.


 There’s yet one more reason the episode is a worthy watch and I’ve long been wanting to mention it. I interviewed veteran actor L.Q. Jones back in 1995 and it remains one of my favorites. He spoke quite colorfully of the times in which TV westerns were in their heyday, and the likes of himself, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens and others worked constantly on the likes of Gunsmoke, The Virginian and yes, Wagon Train. Also according to Jones, their card-playing skills between scenes often earned them more money than their acting skills. Ahh, gone are the days. So, with that in mind, here’s a little anecdote about that particular episode of Wagon Train that I was not able to work into Lee Marvin Point Blank (but many other great ones did!), as told but the great L.Q. Jones….

L.Q. Jones: Did you ever play Pitch?
Dwayne: No I haven’t.
L: Pitch is cowboy bridge. It’s a brutal game. It seems so simple as to be ridiculous yet, it’ll tear you a new hole if you don’t know what your doing. You can play a hand in Pitch and maybe, you can deal it, play it in a minute, minute-and-a-half if your playing with people who understand the game of Pitch. If your playing..I’ve seen one guy leave as they throw their cards, “Aw shit!” That’s the end of that. You know what the outcome is going to be. You can’t screw it up. So we played Pitch a lot. … We’d play a lot of Hearts. You know what Hearts is?
D: My father used to play Hearts. That and Pinochle.
L: It’s great. I never good warm to Pinochle but Hearts is great fun because you play the people. God, we were playing and we had Lee and..do you know who Red Morgan is?
D: The name is familiar.
L: One of the most beautiful stuntmen of all time. He’s just one of the world’s great people. Loved to play Hearts. So he, Red, Lee, I’m not sure who the other one was..
D: Was it another stuntman?
L: Wait a minute! It probably was Frankie McGrath who was the other player and myself.
D: Frankie?
L: He was the cook on Wagon Train
D: I couldn’t tell you. “Wagon Train” was a little before my time.
L: I’ve really forgotten. He was a great stuntman and that’s the thing he ended up doing. He was playing. He was also one of John Ford’s favorites. You never saw a picture that Ford directed that Frankie wasn’t in, as a stuntman. Totally crazy but that’s why the old man loved him. ….Anyway, we had Lee Marvin, Red, Frankie and myself. Brutal Hearts players. Of course the thing in Hearts is to either make all of them, or none of them. All the hearts plus the Queen of Spades. It’s an unwritten rule that if I stop someone from getting all of them, you give me a heart but you don’t give me the Queen of Spades. Because the Queen of Spades is thirteen, where a heart is just one. It would cost you let’s say $65 if you’ve got the black queen. The Queen of Hearts, it would cost you five dollars if you got a heart. So you just, you don’t reward a guy for saving your fanny by giving him the queen. So, we’re playing along and it’s all quiet, really no noise. Lee stopped somebody, I figure probably Frankie, from going for it. I watched Red and Red’s eyes, you could just see the sparkle. He dropped the queen on Lee. Lee went off like a cheap skyrocket. (Mimes Marvin) “You son-of-a-bitch! I’ll kill you, goddamit!” Now he’s getting so…the company’s trying to shoot..

Veteran actor L.Q. Jones as he appeared as Lee Marvin’s henchman on WAGON TRAIN.


D: Oh geez, so he screwed up the shot? 
L: Right, and the A.D. screaming, “Shut up!” (mimes Marvin again) “That cocksucker gave me..” It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes and Red is rolling, we’re playing on the ground, rolling on the fucking ground. We’re trying to keep control because Lee is so mad.
Oh he was really ticked and rightly so. Finally, the director came over and said, “Lee, you’re gonna have to just shut up! We gotta get this shot and your killing us.” (mimes Marvin again) “Goddamit!” I finally said, “Okay Lee, let’s go down and get a cup of coffee.” Anything to shut him up. He mumbled and..he tried to get Red which is the wrong thing because Red is one of smoothest working. He’s probably dead by now. He was smoothest Heart players that ever existed. Then it hatched a feud that I don’t think Lee ever won out on.
D: But he kept trying, by god.
L: Oh yes. He never..I’m sure he asked for Red on a lot of his shows so he could play him, again (I laugh),

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IN HONOR OF THE PASSING OF ROBERT HORTON (1924-2016)

The recent passing of Wagon Train’s Robert Horton on March 9th, reminded me of the interview we did for Lee Marvin Point Blank back in 1995. He was a most affable interview and told great tales, both good bad of his friendship with Lee and first wife Betty Marvin. Below is a portion of that interview and two never-before-seen photos……
Dwayne: When you think of Lee Marvin, what’s the first thing to come to mind?
Bob: (Pause) That’s a funny question…I guess the first time I saw Lee Marvin, or met Lee Marvin, he had married a girl I had dated while in college….I walked in and Lee said, (Mimes Marvin) “You know, I know you dated Betty, but I want you to know your very welcome here.” I dated her in college. I met her when..I graduated in ‘49 and probably, I guess Betty and Lee got married in ‘54?
D: Um, a little earlier, ‘51 or ‘52.
B: Really? By that time I was dating a girl by the name of Barbara Ruick…we all went to college together. Not Lee, but Betty and myself, of course, and other people we associated with. What I think about with Lee, that’s a…very interesting thing because I’ve had several interesting experiences with Lee.
D: If you’re willing to share them I’m willing to hear them.

Skiing in Wrightwood, Calif are (L-R) Lee Marvin, Marilyn Horton, unidentified, Betty Marvin and Robert Horton. Betty and Robert had dated in college.

Skiing in Wrightwood, Calif are (L-R) Lee Marvin, Marilyn Horton, unidentified, Betty Marvin and Robert Horton. Betty and Robert had dated in college.

B: I’m willing to share them. There’s nothing wrong with that. He and Betty gave a party for me after I left “Wagon Train” because I was going back to New York to do a show. It was a New Year’s Eve party. Everybody wore black ties. It was a most well-behaved party and certainly Lee was as well-behaved as anybody who was there. …That’s an evening I remember very clearly. My wife was very fond of Lee. Lee always..people think about Lee as being big and rough and tough and all that. Lee was really quite a gentleman. He used to fool around with the motorcycles with Keenan and all those guys who taught him. Steve McQueen, a whole bunch of guys who were really into motorcycles. I was never into them. I learned how to ride once for a picture. When I finished I thought, “Thank god, I won’t have to get on that again.” That experience with Lee was a memorable experience. Once, when I was in Japan making a picture, [The Green Slime] Lee was in Japan ballyhooing The Dirty Dozen. We both ended up at the same hotel…The Okira! I was busy during the day at the studio and when Lee came in he called when I was at the studio. So, he spoke to Marilyn, he said, “Would you like to have a cocktail or something?” Marilyn said, “Why don’t you come up here?” He said, “No, why don’t you come down here?” Such-and-such a suite. So Marilyn came down. Lee greeted her. She came in and they ordered a cocktail. Lee made a point of leaving the door open, so that there wasn’t any kind of compromising situation between two American actors who were there at the same time. He was a gentleman. He made a wonderful living playing heavy characters. He was a gentleman and conducted himself in that framework 90% of the time, as far as I’m concerned.
Another wonderful story I have about Lee Marvin was about being in a place called Danny’s Hideaway in New York. It was very much THE place. Ed Sullivan used to come there every Sunday night after the show. It was a place that if you got in the right room, it was the right room to be in because Mr. Sullivan would be there, Groucho Marx would be there, Clint Eastwood, whatever. Jack Cassidy walked into the restaurant and into the right room, so to speak. Lee and I and Marilyn and a publicity woman from Columbia, which is where he made the thing about the horse..Oh, Cat Ballou. We were sitting there talking and having dinner and Jack Cassidy walked in. We were right at the first corner table. Jack said, “Hi.” Lee got up and grabbed Jack, took him in his arms, bent him over, and kissed him full on the lips. He then stood Jack back up, sat down, and didn’t say a word. That’s a true story. Jack was embarrassed. He was looking around. I mean he really, really kissed him. He looked around (Mimes Cassidy), sat down at his table.
D: Was Marvin in his cups at the time?
B: No, no it was a joke. He did the Carson show one time and he went and made Johnny Carson sweat because every thing he answered was, “Yep,” “Nope.” He told me he was going to do it before he did it. He said to me, “You watch tonight.”…“Did you enjoy making that movie?” “Nope.” So he made Carson do the work.
D: Betty said, during the time they were married, you and Marilyn and Betty and Lee were very close..
B: Yeah, we saw each other. I use to date a girl named Inger Stevens and we saw the Marvins at that time.
D: You dated Inger Stevens?
B: Before I married Marilyn. She was a very attractive woman but a sad girl.
D: You said earlier, the first time you met Lee Marvin, he welcomed you to the home saying even though you dated Betty, you’re welcomed here anytime?
B: Yeah!
D: When was that?
B: That was in the early 50s becuase I was with Barbara. Then Barbara and I got a divorce in I guess ‘55 and that’s when I met Inger. I dated Inger until ‘57. I know I was at the Marvin house with Inger at least once. I met Marilyn in ‘59 and we got married in 1960.
D: Did you maintain a relationship with Lee Marvin through the years, even after he broke up with Betty?
B: I saw Lee. He was broken up with Betty when I saw him both in Japan and when I saw him in NYC, he was no longer with Betty. The only two actors I’ve ever really thought were my friends, and I emphasize friends. I know a lot of actors who are acquaintances you spend time with, go to dinner with, work with, One was Lee Marvin and the other was Gig Young. We used to see both of those people, not together, but we used to spend a lot of social time with both of those people.
D: When you would see Lee through the years, would you notice any change in his personality or in his maturing process through the years?
B: I never noticed any change in his personality. When he did Paint Your Wagon, I thought what he did was a very daring performance. He never was a safe.. He never played anything safe.
D: Had you told him that,you thought it was a daring performance?
B: Well, he did “Wagon Train.” After Ward Bond died, they introduced the new fellow who replaced Ward, a guy named John McIntire. They introduced John by casting Lee Marvin as a wagon master who..the way the plot evolved, it was done purposely to cast somebody who had both the position and an image and a presence, then write in such a way that the character John McIntire played would come up on top in relation to Lee in some kind of a showdown. That was done deliberately. As with any television show, you have problems with the script. I remember one day, Lee said to me on the set…it was the first time we ever worked together. He said, “You’ll fight for what you believe in, won’t you? You don’t care if it takes a little while.” I said, “You bet your ass, I’ll fight for what I believe in.”
D: He must have been impressed by that.
B: I think he was, really. But we never saw each other related to..we never saw each other unless we were with the women we with. We never went out and played golf. I used to fence and do a lot of esoteric things.

Clowning on the beach are (L-R) Lee Marvin, Robert Horton and neighbor Dr. Hans Kohler. Horton was staying with the Marvins at their beach house while his agent renegotiated his WAGON TRAIN contract. According to Horton, when the studio discovered where he was staying, they met his demans immediately, just to get him away from what they considered Marvin's potentially bad influence.

Clowning on the beach are (L-R) Lee Marvin, Robert Horton and neighbor Dr. Hans Kohler. Horton was staying with the Marvins at their beach house while his agent renegotiated his WAGON TRAIN contract. According to Horton, when the studio discovered where he was staying, they met his demans immediately, just to get him away from what they considered Marvin’s potentially bad influence.

D: Really? From what I understand he was into deep sea fishing.
B: Oh yeah he loved that. He’d go off into the South Pacific and fish where most would go across the street to fish. Well, also I think he was in the war, he was in Tarawa. I think he was wounded there when he was in the service. I know he went back to one of those islands during the period. I knew that he did like to go to the South Pacific to fish. At any rate, I knew he had married this girl. He seemed to marry her right out of left field as far as we were concerned. He’d been dating this girl..what’s her name? A little girl..
D: Michelle Triola?
B:Yeah, Michelle Triola. He was dating Michelle Triola most of the time that I, you know..after he and Betty..That reminds me of another story when we were in Japan together. He had completed the ballyhoo for The Dirty Dozen and we had dinner together that evening. He looked at his watch and said, “In fifteen hours I’ll be back in Malibu and I’m going to be fucking” (Both laugh). He was speaking about Miss Triola, whom he was obviously very attracted to. … I never heard him speak of hear that I recall except that. I remember that. He did not necessarily name the person to whom he was going to be involved in this conjugal bliss but he did..he was very clear about the time.

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