Ahh, Lee Marvin biographies. As for mine, the story of how I came to write Lee Marvin Point Blank began in the mid-nineties when I introduced myself to Steve McQueen biographer, Marshall Terrill. I had read his book, liked it, found a few minor errors in it and asked to meet him about it. Maybe my corrections would make its way into a revised text, or so I thought. Better than that, perhaps my name would get in the acknowelegements.
I was working as a waiter at the time, having all but given up pursuing my previous career as a staff writer on a local newspaper. When I did indeed meet with Marshall, a conversation began that went from our dual appreciation of Steve McQueen, to discussing the possibility of my writing a bio myself on a favorite film actor. Going through a list of candidates, we landed on Lee Marvin mainly because there had not been a suitable bio written of him and Marshall convinced me the time was ripe. Well, merely two decades later (!), I found an agent and a publisher who agreed.
Up until then, this is what existed on Marvin and what I think of them…..
• First up is this compilation, sleazily titled Hollywood Confidential, which contained a full chapter and a quotable interview with the actor from 1967. Truth be told, it’s the only decent chapter in the book that consists of articles from an old men’s magazine. Can you tell by the cover? Anyway, for a quite a while, other than film periodicals with some deep background info, this one chapter remained the only book that was available on the actor. That is until…..
• At the time I began working on my bio, the book Marvin, by veteran British gossip columnist Donald Zec, was the only one in existence. Not to be too catty, but what a blown opportunity! Zec had Marvin’s co-operation on the project, as well as access to several now deceased interviews subjects, and what does he do with such gold? He constantly overwrites important passages with his own drippy, salacious style of gossipy prose. Very frustrating as both a fan of the actor and as a researcher, I must say. Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, told me she met with Zec. When they went to some restaurant, all he did was constantly point out the celebrities and what he thought of them, which she said she found particularly annoying, much like his writing style. ‘Nuff said.
• Lee’s second wife, Pam Marvin, penned Lee: A Romance in 1997 while I was still working on my own book. I attempted several times to interview her but was declined each time. On the last attempt I was made aware of the fact that she was writing her own book about Lee and to leave it at that. When I wrote her that our two projects would not conflict with each other but actually be a boost, I received no response. I realized I was grasping with that statement but when her book came out, it turns out I was right. Hardly a full-fledged biography of Lee Marvin, it proved to be the memoirs of the author and her eventual life with the actor. Far too much of the tome is also taken up by the palimony case, in which the author includes trial transcripts with snarky italicized comments in between. I need not had worried.
• Robert J. Lentz’s book, Lee Marvin: His Films & Career, was aptly titled as it is in no way, shape, or form a biography. It is, however, a pretty comprehensive look at the actor’s career with a minimal amount of errors. It proved to be a valuable resource for further research on my part as it’s lengthy bibliography was a godsend. His personal assessment of Marvin’s films & TV work are fairly on the money in most but certainly not all cases. Some more biographical info would have been nice but my biggest quibble had nothing to do with the author. Speciality publishing companies, such as McFarland and Scarecrow put out wonderful products for the most part but can anybody explain to me why they are so damn expensive?!? Lentz’s book retails for $45.00!!! I know they sell mostly to libraries and research facilities, but c’mon! Not everybody can shell out such cash for a book, especially since most of their product lack even a dust jacket. Be reasonable for crying out loud! Geez!
• Now we come to Betty Marvin’s book, Tales of a Hollywood Housewife. At the outset, I should explain that I am extremely biased, as I got to know and genuinely like Betty. In fact, our first meeting consisted of an all-nighter, in which she reminisced about Lee over several bottles of wine and a whole lot of laughter and in truth, a few tears. I just can’t say enough about this remarkable woman. When she told me she was working on her book, she sought a minimal amount of advice from me, such as if she should use her real name or a non de plume. My advice was to call herself Mrs. James Coburn. Luckily, she didn’t take my advice. The book is a wonderful personal journey, from her traumatic childhood, through her years with Lee, up to the time of the book’s publication, in which she once again comes out triumphant. Sure, some of her our stories overlap during the Lee Marvin years, but certainly not to the extent that they conflict in any way. After all, my book was a biography of Lee Marvin. Hers was an unabashed autobiography without any hidden agendas or misleading concepts. A terrific read I highly recommend without reservation.
• Part of an interesting series of books on celebrities in different branches of the military, the one focusing on the USMC naturally had to include a chapter on Marvin. Titled Stars in the Corps, it did a thorough job of delineating the military careers of the those pictured on the cover. So why not put Oscar-winner and 1960s leading box office champion Lee Marvin among the cover montage? At least in place of say, oh, I don’t know, Hugh O’Brian? Barry Corbin? Lee Powell?????? Seriously, what were they thinking? Maybe it was because the chapter on Lee, though interesting, consisted of culled quotes from Donald Zec’s book (!). Ah well, such is life. I will add that the other chapters are pretty detailed and cover a substantial range of actors, with eye-opening accounts of their Marine Corps experiences. Once again, the catty part of me has to mention the downside: the writing is rather clunky, especially when it came to the actors’ post-military life and their acting careers.
Having said all that about the above titles, I think it becomes rather obvious why I came to research and write Lee Marvin Point Blank. Not merely a fan of the actor, there was clearly a dearth of good material about his life in the open market. All of which comes down to the the most obvious of all. What exactly is the best biography on the award-winning, legendary actor??? Hmm, I wonder…..