Lee Marvin

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Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin as Major John Reisman in The Dirty Dozen.
Birth name Lee Marvin
Born February 19, 1924
Flag of United StatesNew York, New York, USA
Died August 29, 1987 aged 63
Tucson, Arizona, USA
Years active 1950 - 1986
Spouse(s) Betty Ebeling (February 1951 - January 5, 1967) (divorced)
Pamela Feeley (October 18, 1970 - August 29, 1987) (his death)
Notable roles Chino in
The Wild One (1953)

Liberty Valance in
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Academy Awards
Best Actor:
1965 Cat Ballou
Emmy Awards
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
1961 Alcoa Premiere, "People Need People"

Lee Marvin (born on February 19, 1924August 29, 1987) was an Academy Award-winning American film actor. Known for his gravelly voice, Marvin was originally limited to playing mostly villains and war veterans in supporting parts, but later (after winning an Oscar) he appeared in more varied and sympathetic roles.


[edit] Early Life and World War II

Born in New York City, the son of advertising executive Lamont Waltman Marvin and his wife Courtenay Washington Davidge,[1] a fashion writer, Lee Marvin (his birth name, contrary to some sources) attended St. Leo Preparatory College in Saint Leo, Florida (now known as Saint Leo University) after being thrown out of several schools for bad behavior. He left school to join the U.S. 4th Marine Division, serving as a sniper. Marvin was wounded in action during the WWII battle of Saipan, eight months prior to the battle of Iwo Jima. Most of his platoon were killed during the battle. This had a significant effect on Marvin for the rest of his life.[1] He was sent home with a medical discharge and a rank of PFC.

While working as a plumber's assistant, repairing a toilet at a local community theater in upstate New York, Marvin was asked to replace an actor who had fallen ill during rehearsals. He then established an amateur off-Broadway acting career in New York City and was an understudy in Broadway productions before moving to Hollywood in 1950.

[edit] Popular actor

Marvin and Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat
Marvin and Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat

Marvin quickly became a popular figure in supporting roles, and from the beginning was cast in various Western films and WWII or Korean combat films. A decorated WWII combat veteran, Marvin was a natural in war dramas, where he frequently assisted the director and other actors in realistically portraying infantry movement, arranging costumes, and even adjusting war surplus military prop firearms. His debut was in You're in the Navy Now (1951), and in 1952 he appeared in several films, including Don Siegel's Duel at Silver Creek, Hangman's Knot, and the war drama Eight Iron Men. He was featured as the vicious boyfriend of Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat (1953). Marvin had a small but memorable role in The Wild One (1953) opposite Marlon Brando, followed by Seminole (1953), Gun Fury (1953). He was again praised for his role as the small-town hood Hector in the film Bad Day at Black Rock with Spencer Tracy (1954).

During the mid-1950s, Marvin gradually began playing more substantial roles. He starred in Attack! (1956), and The Missouri Traveler (1958) but it took over a hundred episodes as Chicago police lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the successful 1957-60 television series M Squad to give him name recognition. He had prominent roles with John Wayne in The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Donovan's Reef (1963). Marvin also guest-starred in Combat! "The Bridge at Chalons" (Episode 34, Season 2, Mission 1), and The Twilight Zone episodes #72 The Grave (1961), in which he played a fearless gunman investigating the haunted grave of a man who swore to get revenge on him, and #122 Steel (1963), in which he played a former boxer who gets into the ring with a boxing robot.

Aided by director Don Siegel, Marvin appeared in the groundbreaking The Killers (1964) playing an organised, no-nonsense, efficient, businesslike professional assassin whose character was copied to a great degree by Samuel L. Jackson in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. This film was also the first time Marvin received top billing in a film.

Lee Marvin won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor for his comedic performance in the offbeat western Cat Ballou. Following roles in The Professionals (1966) and the hugely successful The Dirty Dozen (1967), Marvin was given complete control over his next film. In Point Blank, an influential film with director John Boorman, he portrayed a hard-nosed criminal bent on revenge. In that film Marvin, who had selected Boorman himself for the director's slot, had a central role in the film's development, plot line, and staging. In 1968, Marvin also appeared in another Boorman film, the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Hell in the Pacific, co-starring famed Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. He had a hit song with "Wand'rin' Star" from the western musical Paint Your Wagon (1969).

[edit] Later life

Lee Marvin in a scene from the 1973 film Emperor of the North Pole.
Lee Marvin in a scene from the 1973 film Emperor of the North Pole.

Marvin had a much greater variety of roles in the 1970s and 1980s, with fewer 'bad-guy' roles than in earlier years. His 1970s films included Monte Walsh (1970), Prime Cut (1972), Pocket Money (1972), Emperor of the North Pole (1973), The Iceman Cometh (1973) as Hickey, The Spikes Gang (1974), The Klansman (1974), Shout at the Devil (1976), The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976), and Avalanche Express (1978).

Marvin's last big role was given to him by Samuel Fuller for The Big Red One (1980). His remaining films were Death Hunt (1981), Gorky Park (1983), Dog Day (1984), The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (1985), with his final appearance being in The Delta Force (1986). He provided monologue for "The Dead Flag Blues" by Godspeed You Black Emperor! which was released in 1996, which was originally recorded as part of a film about jail by Efrim Menuck. [2]

A father of four, Marvin was married twice:

  1. Betty Ebeling (February 1951 - January 5, 1967) (divorced).
  2. Pamela Feeley (October 18, 1970 - August 29, 1987) (his death).

[edit] Marvin v. Marvin

In 1971, Marvin was sued by long-time girlfriend Michelle Triola (who called herself Michelle Marvin at the time). Though the couple never married, she sought financial compensation similar to that available to spouses under California's alimony and community property laws. The result was the landmark "palimony" case, Marvin v. Marvin 18 Cal. 3d 660 (1976)[3]

On the cover of Esquire Magazine
On the cover of Esquire Magazine

The Supreme Court of California held that Ms. Triola could proceed with her suit, as it did state a cause of action and the trial court erred in granting judgment to Mr. Marvin on the pleadings.

The case was thus remanded for trial in the Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles. On April 18, 1979, Judge Arthur K. Marshall ordered Marvin to pay $104,000 to Ms. Triola for "rehabilitation purposes" but denied her community property claim for one-half of the $3.6 million which Marvin had earned during their six years of cohabitation. In August 1981, however, the California Court of Appeal reversed this decision, declaring that Ms. Triola was entitled to no money whatsoever. As such, that the co-habitant in an unmarried cohabitative relationship had no community property claim, but merely a contract claim. Without evidence of any contract between Mr. Marvin and Ms. Triola for Mr. Marvin to provide her support after the end of their relationship, Ms. Triola could not recover any money.[4][5]

Marvin died in 1987 of a heart attack in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 63, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

[edit] Trivia

  • In the film Eight Iron Men, Marvin, a WWII combat veteran, was frequently called upon to service the German MG34 machine gun that plays a central part in the picture. According to the director, only Marvin could get the gun to fire dependably.
  • Lee Marvin's character in The Dirty Dozen (Major John Reisman) was based on U.S. Marine John Miara, of Malden, Massachusetts. The two became friends while serving in the Marine Corps.
  • An internet rumor circulated in recent years purports that Marvin appeared on "The Tonight Show" and told host Johnny Carson that he had served in the Marine Corps fighting alongside Bob Keeshan (alias Captain Kangaroo) at the Battle of Iwo Jima. There is no truth whatsoever to this tale. Marvin never told the story, never served on Iwo Jima (having been invalided out after the battle of Saipan months earlier), and Keeshan never saw combat in any form, having enlisted just before the end of the war. [2]
  • A book regarding the films of Lee Marvin, Lee Marvin: His Films and Career was written by Robert J. Lentz in 1999. This book details Marvin's many film and television appearances, but omits details of his personal life.
  • Two characters in Jarmusch's film Dead Man are named "Lee" and "Marvin."
  • When visiting co-star Vivien Leigh at her home in London, England with his girlfriend at the time, Michelle Triola, he tore up a deck of antique playing cards that they were playing with. Much to Triola's surprise, Leigh was not at all disturbed by Marvin's boorish behavior but seemed enchanted by him.[7]
  • The trial court victory of Michelle Triola supposedly led to a Hollywood slang term, "Marvinized." As noted above, however, Triola lost on appeal and never received any money from Marvin.
  • Made "Top 10 stars of the year", 5 times. 1967-1971
  • Lee Marvin was a regular on again/off again resident of Woodstock, NY throughout the 1970s. He frequented Katz's Deli, a delicatessen located on Tinker Street.
  • When filming a movie in Las Vegas in 1966, he and others complained that Vegas Vic's "howdy partner" was too loud. The voice box was removed.[8]

[edit] Footnotes

In response to the above trivia that Lee Marvin never told the story of being on Iwo Jima on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, lately there have been re-runs on late night television showing the exact interview.

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Rex Harrison
for My Fair Lady
Academy Award for Best Actor
for Cat Ballou
Succeeded by
Paul Scofield
for A Man for All Seasons