BETTY MARVIN, JULY 16,1928- MARCH 9, 2018

Betty Marvin, first wife of Lee Marvin and mother of his four children, passed away from complications following the flu just a few months short of her 90th birthday. When I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank and throughout the entire 20 year journey to its publication, she was the single most important individual source in getting it see the light of day. It’s for that reason I loathe writing such blog entries as this but it’s also the reason why I feel it must be done.
I don’t recall exactly how I was able to come in contact with her but my best guess would be through her former brother-in-law, Robert Marvin. At one point, I was with Robert in Woodstock, NY, when I needed to speak with Betty Marvin on the phone. While she and I spoke, Robert eventually asked for the phone. When I gave it to him, I witnessed Robert, who had not spoken to Betty in decades, poignantly apologize to Betty for their lack of contact and they way he had treated her when they had been in contact. I never asked what that was in reference to but I was genuinely moved to hear Robert speak the words. Betty Marvin was the kind of a person that could elicit such words.

Newlyweds Lee and Betty Marvin.

That first night I met Betty Marvin, way back in 1994, remains a cherished memory. Prepared for the interview as best as possible, I drove up to Montecito from Long Beach with the intent of being as professional as I knew how. That didn’t last long. Upon meeting her, I was completely disarmed by her frankness, hospitality and good humor. In no time at all it seems the initial interview went into the wee hours, making it too late to drive back home for the night. She graciously offered me her guest bedroom and the next morning we went to her storage facility where she was even more gracious in allowing me access to her family photos and years with her ex-husband. Many of those never-before-seen photos ended up in the book.

A photo from her own book depicts Betty’s home in Santa Barbara County where she graciously welcomed me. On the left side of the home towards the back is where her son Christopher planted cactus from cuttings taken from his father’s original plants.

I should also point out that during that first long confab, she constantly asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink. When I eventually acquiesced, she put out a wonderful spread of homemade goodies and uncorked some wine. As the wine flowed through the night, so did the laughter and on occasion some tears.
We stayed in contact regularly after that first get-together and even went to the movies and had dinner on occasion. There are no amount of positive adjectives that can best describe what a wonderful person I discovered her to be. Once she put her faith and trust in what I was working on, she could not be more helpful. She gave me additional contacts, the aforementioned photos, as well continuing insights and anecdotes I could never have gleaned from anyone or anywhere else.
Whenever I was enroute to northern California to visit my girlfriend’s family, we always stopped by and saw Betty on the way, who offered such surprising delicacies as hearty homemade bread and delicious wild mushroom soup on our journey. She said the recipe  came from her good friend, Julia Child….

Betty Marvin (left) with good friend Julia Child depicted for one of her wonderful Xmas cards.

My favorite thing she managed to do was get her son Christopher to agree to go on the record with me. Reticent at first, I met Christopher at a going away party for his mother as she was about go on an around the world excursion all by herself…in her 70s! Betty got both of us together during the party by rounding us up in the midst of the revelry and said to her son, “Now you go in the next room with this man and you talk to him!’ Since it was her party, Christopher sheepishly agreed and another great exclusive (and friendship) was put on the record.
As the worldwide trip can attest, Betty was also quite a lover of life. She painted, sculpted, got her pilot’s license, created biodomes in Mexico and more, all while most people were languishing in retirement. Just an amazing woman! When she was considering writing her own memoir (Tales of a Hollywood Housewife) she asked me if she thought it best to use her own name in a straight forward account of her life or a fictitious telling and non de plume. I told he she should call herself “Mrs. James Coburn.” We both got a kick out of that.

Betty Marvin’s own account of her life, which is still very much available and HIGHLY recommended!

I have so many wonderful memories of Betty I can keep this one blog entry going forever. Suffice to say writer’s cramp makes that idea rather prohibitive but on occasion, when the mood strikes, I will revisit some of those memories here once more. In the mean time, below are several more images from her book and other images that may show just a portion of what a terrific lady she was.
I’ll miss her dearly but the memories are intact and will be as long as I’m alive. I’m pretty sure the same can be said by anyone who knew her. So long, Betty. Your time here helped change and enlighten many a life. I know it did mine.
– Dwayne Epstein

Betty photographed by Lee holding their ten day old son, Christopher.

Typical Xmas card Betty sent me and her friends a few years back.

At Betty’s book signing in her Santa Barbara home, her close friend tab Hunter agreed to sign my copy on the page pictured above.



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Christopher Lamont Marvin

Christopher Marvin (L) and author Dwayne Epstein (R) at a screening/book signing at Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

When Betty Marvin called me recently to tell me that her son Christopher Lamont Marvin had succumbed to cancer peacefully in his sleep, I was not surprised as I knew he was sick, but the news devastated me. The emotional effect of his passing took me completely by surprise. No matter what I tried to do for the rest of the day to take my mind off the news, a funk hung over me I couldn’t shake. If my mind wandered briefly, I still felt bad, wondered why, and a millisecond later, I reminded myself why.

It is a known rule in journalism that you should never make personal friends with your sources, as it can effect the work, but in the case of Betty and Christopher Marvin, I crossed the line and became good friends with them both, never thinking the emotional ties would be so strong. It was easy with Betty, as she is one of the warmest and most naturally open and honest people I’ve ever met.

Christopher was another story. He only granted me the interview for my book because his mother told him to do it. At a going away party for his mom’s around-the-world trip, Betty told Christopher, “You go in that room over there with the door closed and you talk to him.” Reluctantly, he agreed and although naturally reticent at first, he quickly warmed up to me and I to him. Friendship eventually followed.

That’s how it started, way back in 1995. Over the ensuing years we would maintain contact periodically, whenever I needed his help or feedback. Although I never met his father, I felt as if I had through him. Christopher was, in many ways, the living spirit of his father, just in talking with him: his voice, his gestures, his love of ironic metaphors. That said, make no mistake, he was very much is own man. I doubt (but don’t know for sure) that his father ever made 4:00 in the morning phone calls after coming home from a gig. Christopher would do that on occassion, explaining he was too keyed up to sleep and wanted to shoot the breeze. At first, these calls annoyed, but once I was fully awake, we usually had some pretty intriguing conversations, none of which ever went in the book.

There is one exception to that and it was done of course with his permission. After discovering the Bastard Sons of Lee (BSOL), he asked me for their contact info.  Their founder was then called and of course Christopher surprised the hell out of him with a 4 am phone call  that DID go into the pages of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

I know through the years Christopher wrestled with his feelings about his father but he never let on. He always spoke of him to me in the warmest and highest regard. When I asked if he’d be willing to write something for the book, he told me he’d think about it first. A week later he came through with a poignant and touching piece that made a natural afterword to the book.

The last time I saw him was after the book came out and he graciously came out for a book signing I did in Santa Barbara. Sadly, there was a rather poor turnout, which is a shame, since any Lee Marvin fans would have been able to meet not only Christopher, but his mother and his sister Cynthia, as well. At the end of the evening, I asked the bookstore owner how’d we do sales-wise, fearing the answer. She told me not many sold that night (3 to be precise) but about 15 were sold since the book was delivered. When I then asked were they sold piecemeal or all at once, she responded, “Oh, all at once. They were bought by Christopher. He got them as gifts for his friends up north.”

The last few years of his life he left his beloved Northern California small town of Cotati. He spent them living with his mother and helping her with daily chores, walking his dog, Liberty, scouring the beach for glass, and working on his mosaic artwork. It is an ironic twist that once he got his life to a place of sanity and calm, the cancer diagnosis threw everything back into turmoil.

I never did get to talk him again once his mother told me he was sick but I had to honor his wishes and keep his privacy. That phone call recently from his mother still haunts me.

I don’t know if Christopher left this life satisfied with what he accomplished but I kind of doubt it. I remember asking him once if he was bothered by the fact that his father only left him $12,000 in his will. I’ll always remember his response: “Hey, $12, 000 is still a lot of money. But…it would have been nice if he left me and my sisters a little more. Not for myself, but I always thought it would be cool to open a music school for handicapped children.” It would’ve sounded corny coming from anybody else but from Christopher, for all of his hard-edge and cynicism, it sounded genuine and heartfelt. I believed him.

For that reason, he might have been heartened by the fact that a benefit was held in his honor the weekend he died. His mother said hundreds of people showed up, including all the members of the 14 different bands he had played in as a drummer. They successfully raised enough money to have a park bench installed in his honor that will read, ‘The Mayor of Cotati, Christopher Marvin.’ It’s not a music school for handicapped children but it’s a decent reminder of the legacy he left behind: Comfort for the many who knew and loved him and a view to enjoy on a sunny day. Sometimes, that’s the best legacy of all.

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