Born in New York in 1924, Lee Marvin--like his brother Robert--was named after Robert E. Lee. Their mother, Courtenay, was an ancestor of the famous Confederate general. Author Epstein speculates that Lee Marvin suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder as a youth as well as dyslexia. The young Marvin displayed a rebellious nature at home--he and his mother never got along--and in school. Later in life, he boasted of being expelled from fifteen schools.
|He eventually played authority figures|
in war films like The Dirty Dozen.
Following the end of the war, Marvin contemplated working as a forest ranger and car salesman before becoming a plumber's apprentice. However, Marvin's career took a different path when he became involved in a Red Cross benefit called "Ten Nights in a Barroom" in Woodstock, New York, in 1946. That eventually led to a summer stock gig with the Maverick Theater in 1947. Epstein notes that acting provided an "outlet to express his inner demons that had been frustrating him since the war." Marvin used his G.I. bill money to attend the American Theater Wing, which led to small parts. However, he later said that Broadway "was a damn bore...the New York stage is a hustle." When colleague James Doohan (Star Trek's Scotty) recommended Marvin move to the West Coast, Marvin took the advice.
|As the no-nonsense hero of M Squad.|
As Epstein skilfully traces Marvin's rise to big-screen stardom in the 1960s, he paints a picture of a man struggling with personal relationships and alcoholism. Toward the end of his 16-year marriage to the former Betty Ebeling, Marvin started a relationship with actress Michelle Triola. Although they broke up in 1970, she sued Marvin in what became a landmark palimony case in the state of California. Marvin, meanwhile, married Pamela Feeley, a former girlfriend from his summer stock days. They remained together until his death in 1986.
With Lee Marvin: Point Blank, author Dwayne Epstein has written an engrossing, well-researched biography of an unlikely Hollywood star. He praises Marvin's best films (The Professionals, Point Blank), but also provides honest assessments of the bad ones (The Klansmen). I don't buy his contention that "the roots of physical aggression were genetically set in place long before (Marvin's) very existence." Indeed, Epstein does a fine job of explaining the events that shaped Marvin's persona on and off the screen--and that's no easy feat. The 303-page book features candid black and white photos, an index, footnotes, an in-depth bibliography, and a list of roles that Marvin turned down (e.g., Patton). It's a must for Lee Marvin fans and is also recommended for any film buffs interested in American cinema in the 1950s-70s.
Independent Publishers Group provided the Cafe with a review copy of this book.