One of the myriad of things that separated Lee Marvin from the current crop of action stars was his theatrical background. It isn’t widely known but Marvin had extensive experience on stage from 1947 to 1951 and stated that his first real goal as a professional actor was to make it to Broadway. Following his debut at Woodstock’s Maverick Theatre, he trod the boards in summer stock productions up and down the Eastern seaboard in the late 40s as this Playbill below attests….
WATKINSGLENThe experience hardened him to the rigors of an actor’s life as he explained years later (Lee Marvin Point Blank, p. 65). It also resulted in his acceptance into the American Theater Wing on the G.I. Bill in which he steeped himself in the classics and learned the practical hands-on experience of becoming a working actor. At  the ATW, as shown below, Marvin (far right) cavorts with fellow actors in Shakespearean garb….

ATWYears later that training stayed with him and he surprised many in his later years with his knowledge of The Bard’s work (Lee Marvin Point Blank, pp. 233-234).  The ATW did lead to more work and he soon after was able to join Actor’s Equity….



He toured in such plays as Murder in The Cathedral, The Hasty Heart and A Streetcar Named Desire (not as Stanley Kowalski as one might assume but as Blanche Dubois’s lumbering suitor, Mitch). Below is a very rarely seen color image of Lee on stage from an unknown WWII drama…
ONSTAGEThe work continued and the goal was finally attained in 1950…..

It wasn’t the lead, it wasn’t the main villain, it wasn’t even an important role but the barely speaking role of a Marine in Her Majesty’s Service who escorted Billy Budd to and from his trials and tribulations. In fact, the cast list was 2 pages long with Marvin mentioned on the 2nd page….

castThe goal achieved, Hollywood beckoned and he never looked back. He would on occasion speak of doing more stage work and did do some at the La Jolla Playhouse in the late 50s. He never found the perfect project he was looking for and other than the American Film Theater’s version of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh in 1973, legitimate theater’s loss was cinema’s gain.



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Actor Jeff Bridges, best known as ‘The Dude’ in the 1998 film The Big Lebowski, worked with Lee Marvin early in his career, when they costarred in the American Film Theater’s 1973 production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. For a young actor still not sure of himself, working with the likes of Marvin, Fredric March, and Robert Ryan in a classic piece of American theatre, the concept is both understandably a blessing and a daunting gauntlet!
Bridges graciously granted me an interview for my book Lee Marvin: Point Blank. He could not have been more gracious (despite his VERY busy schedule) in taking the time to do a phone interview with yours truly from the backseat of his car going from the set to his hotel room that evening. Not included in the book is the following statement Bridges gave me that was his overall apprasial of Marvin’s work:


“I remember that TV show he did, M Squad and movies, like The Big Red One. That was a good one. I also liked Cat Ballou, Point Blank, Monte Walsh and of course, The Dirty Dozen. He could do those films like no one else, the whole military thing. There was no one like Lee Marvin. There are other actors who are just as fine but no one did what he did, especially the way he did it.”
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