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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TV westerns made good use of Lee Marvin through out the 1950s and 60s. Readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank are very familar with his work in the medium, especially one particular live TV show from 1953 with Eddie Albert. Interviewing Albert for the book was a research highlight and as readers know, the anecdote concerning the show’s airing is classic live television at its best…or worst! After much searching, I finally found a picture from that half hour episode of the short-lived ABC series entitled “The Plymouth Playhouse.”

Lee Marvin & Eddie Albert in 1953's live TV western drama, "Outlaw's Reckoning" with costar Vicki Cummings.

Lee Marvin & Eddie Albert in 1953’s live TV western drama, “Outlaw’s Reckoning” with costar Vicki Cummings.

Marvin appeared in many TV productions with western themes, both live and filmed, such as the GE Theatre episodes, “The Doctors of Pawnee Kill” with Kevin McCarthy (1957), “Mr Death and The Redheaded Woman” with Eva Marie Saint (1954); U.S. Steel Hour’s “Shadow of Evil” with Jack Cassidy & Shirley Jones (1957);  Climax’s “The Time of the Hanging” with William Shatner; and the unknown, stained image seen below……

When they anthology show faded from TV in the 60s, and Marvin’s career hit a ceiling of success until Cat Ballou, he still made appearances on such shows as Wagon Train (one of his best!) and the last great anthology show, a western-themed episode of The Twilight Zone.  One of the longest running westerns on TV was Bonanza for which Marvin appeared as a villainous (natch!) miner who terrorized series regular Pernell Roberts in the episode titled “The Crucible”….

Lee Marvin as the deranged miner who terrorizes Pernell Roberts in the 1962 episode of Bonanza entitled The Crucible.

Lee Marvin as the sadistic miner who terrorizes Pernell Roberts in the 1962 episode of Bonanza entitled The Crucible.

One particular 1962 episode of the popular series The Virginian — in which ex-con Marvin kidnaps series regular Lee J. Cobb — was hastily intercut with another episode starring Charles Bronson and released theatrically in 1976 as The Meanest Men in The West to cash in on both veteran actor’s late life success. Marvin’s episode had been titled “It Tolls For Thee.” The story goes that when the director called out “LEE!” to come to the set, Marvin, who had been teasing Cobb during the production, watched as the older actor rose from his chair. Marvin asked him how he knows they’re calling for Cobb. Cobb smiled back, “Easy,” replied Cobb, “I’m the one with the talent.”

Lee Marvin as Kalig, the ex-con who kidnaps Judge Garth (Lee J.Cobb) fo sending him up the river in 1962's The Virginian.

Lee Marvin as Kalig, the ex-con who kidnaps Judge Garth (Lee J.Cobb) for sending him up the river in 1962’s The Virginian.

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Film & TV director Buzz Kulik, worked with Lee Marvin a few times and was gracious enough to grant me a phone inter view for Lee Marvin Point Blank. Most of what he told me went in the book. However, This little tidbit didn’t make the cut but is worth retelling…
Director Buzz Kulik: There is one story that stands out. I had worked with him on live TV. I liked him and thought he was a wonderful actor. He had a tough time with booze, though. Drunk, he could be belligerent. He couldn’t hold his liquor that well. Because of his past experience with it, I had heard he was difficult. So, what I did was talk to the head of security at the studio. I told him to tell the guards at the gate, “If he leaves at lunch, gets out on to Lankershim, hits the bars, gets into a fight, I want to know about it, right away. Tell me if he leaves.” I talked to Lee. I said, “I don’t want you to go off the lot for lunch. When we break for lunch, you could have lunch with me or whomever, but don’t leave the lot.” He said “Okay.” About five or seven days into shooting I called a lunch break. The hour goes by and Lee doesn’t come back. I wait a half hour, and he still didn’t show up. I yelled at security. I called all the gates. I said, “Look, all I asked is that you tell me if he leaves.” Nobody saw him leave. He finally showed up, bombed. Do you remember the old show, “Wagon Train?” Well, they filmed at Universal. When we broke for lunch, Lee wandered over there, sat with some of the old timers, and they must have had some booze in their dressing room because when he got back, he was all tanked up. He was very apologetic. I made him apologize to the cast and crew. What we wound up doing was shooting a different scene that day. I shot the scenes where he was at the defense table and all he had to do was listen. If you watch those scenes now, I think you can see him kind of hanging down. [laughs] He was a wild man.


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