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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  1. What a heartfelt tribute to Chris Marvin, much appreciated. ‘Just finished an amazing three days reading Lee Marvin Point Blank and I was moved and somewhat upset that he didn’t live longer to tackle more great roles. I’m also beating myself up a bit: years ago, in the early eighties, I was cast in a small role in a Lindsey Wagner pilot that was shooting in Tucson. The driver picked me up to take me to my hotel and on the way mentioned that Lee Marvin lived in the area–and that they’d shot part of Pocket Money there. “Wow, really,” I said. “I’m probably the only guy I know who liked that movie.” The driver smiled. “You did? Well, I wrote the novel it’s taken from.” It was JPS Brown. Of course I should have pressed him about meeting Lee Marvin, but something told me not to. He might be bigger than life, I thought, and size me up as a scrappy actor who hadn’t even been in the service. Of course, after I read your section about how generous and supportive he was with William Hurt during Gorky Park, I had some regrets. A missed opportunity, for sure, but I still nave his films…and your truly amazing book. Like Chris, I’ll be buying a few of them for my actor friends for Christmas–all of whom still love and respect Lee’s work. I mean, who else could totally take a scene from Brando except Lee Marvin? all the best, Steve Nevil

  2. As an insurance claims adjuster, I met Lee Marvin and his son Chris at their home in Malibu Colony many hears ago. Around 1970 sometime I believe. The claim actually involved Christopher and at the time I did not know who he was until Lee answered the door. What a kick that was. He had shortly before made the picture Prime Cut with Gene Hackman in Calgary, Alberta with which I am familiar having lived there for a couple of years. I recall Chris was a spitting image of his dad at the time. They were both quite cordial and cooperative regarding the auto incident in which Chris had been involved.

    Larry Gray, Canada

  3. I knew Chris when he was a student at St. Monica’s High School in 1966. At the time, I was a Religious Brother of St. Patrick working as a Registrar at the school. Chris and I had talked many times. He was interested in knowing more about the Brothers. I told him he needed to get permission from his father in order to go on a planned retreat at the Brother’s Novitiate where he would be able to talk to the Brothers and to get more information on a religious vocation. His father refused to sign or even to talk with me about the retreat week-end where some other boys from the school who were interested would be attending. Chris, I remember, was upset that his fathetmr would not sign the permission slip. I gave wondered over the years how Chris was doing and what became of him. It was not until I did some digging on Facebook that I found that Chris had passed away from cancer. I wonder how Chris’ life might have been different if his father had signed that permission slip. We will never know. RIP Chris.

  4. My thoughts turned to Chris today. Don’t know why. Nothing particularly special has been going on today, other than a headache. But the headache is going away, and I’m thinking about Chris. He was one of my best friends during early adolescence. We discovered pot together, Led Zeppelin, girls and alcohol. And we had fun too. I accompanied him on a skiing trip once to Mammoth, California, when his mom broke her leg in like a million places on the slopes. We went to the hospital, and it was traumatizing, to say the least. His sisters were there too. They were absolutely darling girls.

    His mother Betty was devoted to Liberal causes and most of all she was devoted to Civil Rights. She held a fundraiser for the ACLU, and some alcohol enforcement group came and tried to bust it up, trying to say that Betty was selling alcohol to minors, which was a bit much even for them, and Betty blew them off in a fashion that made them slink off like the dogs they were. Chris and I tried to look tough, in case they got physical with her, but then about ten big giant ugly men surrounded us and made it a joke, as I don’t think we were even thirteen years old at the time. Anyway, I loved that our politics were identical from birth. That family was devoted to fairness, and the notion that everyone everywhere had value.

    When we thirteen or fourteen years old, Chris invited me to join his family on a trip to Italy. We spent the summer in a little rural town I can’t remember the name of, but it looked like something out of the Godfather. Carol O’Connor, the actor took a shine to us, and we spent the entire summer at a little outdoor cafe having incredibly interesting conversations while drinking ourselves into a stupor.

    Chris was a great kid. I will always remember him that way. I knew his dad well too. I’m so glad he didn’t have to see his son’s passing. I miss Chris the way I miss my youth.

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