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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Lee Marvin as Ira Hayes in the dramatic TV special, “The American.”

Ironically, Lee Marvin never portrayed a Marine in any of the films he made but he did on TV, twice, and within a year of each other. Both times he gave what was arguably his best performances as tormented members of the USMC.
On the short-lived anthology show “Breck’s Sunday Night Showcase” he played real-life Pima Indian and WWII hero Ira Hayes in the episode entitled, “The American,” directed by John Frankenheimer as shown above. Marvin’s performance was poignant, subdued and powerful. Later the same year (1960), Tony Curtis played Hayes in the film The Outsider which Frankenheimer hated.
The following year Marvin played a psychologically disturbed Marine entering into a facility to join an experimental group therapy project in a special entitled, “People Need People.” The show was based on fact, with Arthur Kennedy playing real-life doctor Harry Willner, whom Marvin would later befriend and do an amazing thing with as described in Lee Marvin Point Blank.



The TV epsiode had an impressive ensemble, including James Gregory, Kier Dullea, Paul Sand, Jocelyn Brando, Marion Ross and  Bert Remsen. The show’s on-air host, Fred Astaire, was reportedly so shaken by Marvin’s performance, it took him all day to shoot his introduction in what normally would have taken no more than an hour. Marvin received his only Emmy nomination for his performance.

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Of all the the members of his family who did their part for the war effort, none did more than Lee Marvin himself. Dropping out of high school in Florida and enlisting in the Marines on August 12, 1942, the rare images below that he sent home, depict the raw recruit practicing his bayonet stance and his Marine salute on Parris Island as he he himself states in Lee Marvin: Point Blank.

As training dragged on, his enthusiasm may have waned to the reality of life in the service, but his anxiousness to get in the fight never did as shown below…

When basic training was complete, he received advanced training that allowed the teenager to proudly showed of his class A uniform and well-earned sharpshooter medals he wrote about in Lee Marvin: Point Blank

Anxious to ship out, an extremely rare, and badly developed, photo below by a buddy, captures a candid smile from the rough-hewn Marine…

Shortly before he was to ship out, Marvin received a surprise visit from his father, which he writes about rather poignantly (and is remembered bittersweetly by his first wife)…

Once overseas and in the midst of the Marines Pacific island-hopping campaign, Marvin sported a mustache and a much more mature look in his eye than can only come from witnessing the horros of real war.

A rare moment of respite is shown below between skirmishes with the Japanese on such islands as Tarawa, Kweijalean, and Eniwetok, before the bloody battle of Saipan in June, 1942 which would almost take his life. Of the harrowing experience, he would simply tell his parents, “I have had my fill of war.” The bullet that nearly killed him resulted in a 13-month convolesence whilte the rest of his outfit was decimated on Iwo Jima, Pvt. Lee Marvin was given an honorable discharge in July, 1945.

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