THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

The Lives of Robert Ryan, by author J.R. Jones, is one of many sources sought out by yours truly in my research effort of Killin’ Generals. In so doing, I came across this little tidbit concerning the making of The Iceman Cometh (1973)….

Lee Marvin (Hickey), Robert Ryan (Slade) and Tom Pedi (Rocky) watch as Fredric March takes his first walk outside in years among the new-fangled automobiles.


As he [Cheyney Ryan, p.272] later told author Dwayne Epstein, Marvin showed up one day at 8 AM with a case of beer and proceed to get hammered. “He got into a thing about what a big star he was,” Cheyney recalled. “It was really unpleasant…He said, “Your father’s not a big star anymore. I’m a big star. He used to be a big star and now I’m the big star.” This went on and on and on.” [Director John] Frankenheimer took Marvin aside later and read him the riot act about his drinking...
   Yes, Cheyney Ryan did tell me that, but he also told me that the next day Marvin apologized profusely and stayed sober as he worked with the cast whether he was needed or not. This important factor was left out by author Jones.

Marvin and Ryan, men of a certain age and time, in The Professionals.


In an earlier section of The Lives of Robert Ryan, author J.R. Jones recounts the tale of ‘Vegas Vic’ while filming Richard Brooks’ The Professionals (1966) in Nevada. Unfortunately he tells the version Woody Strode explained in his memoir, Goal Dust, which is vastly different than what Strode told me in person. I was also fortunate enough to interview fellow culprit and stunt double Tony Epper and his memory of that night is not only impeccable but utterly believable. Want to know what really happened? Read Lee Marvin Point Blank. Until then, in the immortal words of Robert Aldrich: “Onward!”

The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones.


– Dwayne Epstein

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JOHN LEWIS: A PERSONAL TRIBUTE

Legendary civil rights activist and Georgia congressman John Lewis succumbed to cancer at the age of 80 on Friday, July 17th. Much has been and will be written about the great man and as such, a blog dedicated to the musings of Lee Marvin may seem an odd choice to add to that cornucopia. However, I do have a personal reason to include my thoughts on the Lewis legacy.
As a disclaimer, I’d like to point out that Lee Marvin himself was certainly not known as a civil rights activist. He did believe in it, though, as my research into Lee Marvin Point Blank would discover. In fact, one of his closest friends was African-American athlete and actor, Woody Strode who considered Marvin to be like a brother. Marvin may not have gone to any demonstrations or marched with Dr. King like Burt Lancaster did. Marvin did, however, make sure Woody Strode got proper billing in The Professionals which counts for something.

Woody Strode and Lee Marvin relax between scenes on the set of THE PROFESSIONALS.

Now, what does any of this have to do with the passing of John Lewis? I’ll put it this way: I was personally very glad that despite his common use of racial epithets, Marvin believed in civil rights and equality. However, the life and work of John Lewis is in a category all by itself in that regard, and since this is my blog, I choose to honor the Lewis’s legacy.
I remember when Obama was president and massive protests by the Tea Party against the passage of Obamacare. As Lewis was walking the capitol steps to cast his vote, a protester spat on him! I was beyond angry seeing that live on the news. The individual who did that had no idea what Lewis had gone through in his life but I had an inkling.
A few years back my sister gave me a book entitled The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century, subtitled A Social Justice Hall of Fame. The work was compiled by Peter Dreier and it is impressive. Below is the chapter on Lewis and I highly encourage its reading. It tells the importance of Lewis’s contribution to America better than I ever could. The anecdote used as a framing device to begin and conclude the chapter speaks volumes. Wonder if the woman who spat on him ever read it. Kind of doubt it.
Rest in Peace Congressman Lewis. Your legacy is secure.
– Dwayne Epstein

Opening of John Lewis chapter.

Mid-section pages on John Lewis.

Conclusion of John Lewis chapter.

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BURT LANCASTER: THE NIGHT WE MET

Burt Lancaster is one of three individuals I consider my all-time favorite movie actors, a holy trinity, if you will. The other two — James Cagney and Steve McQueen — I never had the good fortune to meet. However, one memorable night in the 1980s, I spent at least a half an hour talking with Lancaster one-on-one in the alcove of the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica. Seriously.

The facade of the Nuart Theater where I first me Burt Lancaster.

Long before I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was living a very strange existence. By day, I was a janitor at Kaiser Permanente in Downey, and by night, I went to movie premieres via the freelance writing I did for our local newspaper. My friends and I also haunted all the great revival theaters on the L.A. scene, depending on the scheduled programs. I distinctly remember reading the program of the Nuart one day while at work and seeing an upcoming screening for a Lancaster double feature of The Professionals & The Scalphunters, two of his best! In a small box at the bottom of the listing were the words: “Mr. Lancaster will appear between films, schedule permitting.” Since he had been in the news recently due to major bypass surgery, I thought the chance of his appearances were slim to none. Even so, I knew I’d regret not taking the chance if he did somehow show up since surgery aside, he rarely did such events even in good health. Besides, they’re great films to see on the big screen.
My best friend and his fiancee’ were students at CalArts so we arranged to meet that night at the theater along with some of his classmates. On the outside chance Lancaster showed up, I brought along my original poster to Birdman of Alcatraz for him to sign if he was willing. No pressure.
Well, my friends arrived, the movie started, and since I knew it inside and out, I went with my gut that if he showed up, it would be around this time. I ambled outside, and waited outside the lobby with its colorful sunburst mosaic along with a few other fans. In no time at all a sleek jet black Jaguar cut thru traffic, then pulled to the curb and out popped the man. Dressed in a black suit with a turtleneck and sporting a salt & pepper goatee, he whirled around with that Lancaster smile and asked, “How’s that for a New York driver?” Among the gathered, not a word was said as the movie geeks stared at the bona fide movie star in stony silence. I’m a movie fan but deny my geek-dom, as I had a pretty non-movie related social life.
So, I broke into applause and said “Very nice. Very nice indeed.” He smiled back at me, walked up, shook my hand and thus began our conversation as he signed my poster.

The poster I framed after Burt Lancaster signed it.

Check out the blurry image in the top right corner.

The interior of the Nuart is festooned with retro movie posters and a small couch in an alcove under a giant poster of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which is where our conversation continued. I’m embarrassed to admit that much of the memory of our talk has vanished into time, other than a few highlights, such as telling him about going to see him and Kirk Douglas in their play in San Francisco (that adventure can be read here).

Burt Lancaster as he looked around the time I met him.

I do remember that I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually talking to Burt Lancaster. In fact, at one point I said as much and he responded, “Listen son, we’re having a nice conversation. Don’t ruin it….” He then threw his head back and did that famous Lancaster laugh. I had to tell him, “You do you really good!” To which he knowingly stated, “Oh no. Frank Gorshin does me MUCH better!”
It wasn’t long before someone came over and told him it was time to speak. We said our goodbyes and I joined my friends inside. When my buddy asked where the hell I was, I told him, “I’ll tell you later.”
The house lights then went up and the man was introduced to thunderous applause. He spoke briefly and then took questions. What was extremely cool was that the audience consisted of true Lancaster fans. Someone asked about Nick Cravat and there was a smattering of applause. Lancaster smiled and asked the audience, “You know Nick?” Then the place went nuts. He laughed heartily and said, “Well, I’ll tell him you said hello!”
And so it went. A truly magically night of movie memories. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t do such things more often as he clearly enjoyed himself at the event. Years later, when I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I thought about that night many times, thinking how perfect it would have been had I asked about The Professionals and working on that particular classic. Such was not to be of course, but, I did talk to costars Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Lancaster’s career-long stunt double Tony Epper, producer Phil Parslow and more. Each went on the record with exclusive tales about Burt, Lee, director Richard Brooks and more, all of which can be found only in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank.

From the many photos in LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK that I was able to caption.

Until then, all the best, and if you ever get the chance to meet your idols, by all means do it. You won’t be disappointed. At least I wasn’t.
– Dwayne Epstein.

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