Lee Marvin was the kind man you’d want at your side should ever you get in a barroom brawl. There was something about Lee Marvin that you could trust—an integrity that meant he’d be there trading fists until the very last varmint was out cold. Sure he was tough, but there was also a great sensitivity to Marvin—he had an intuitive understanding to other’s needs and a knowledge on how best to help them.
When John Boorman was directing the closing scenes for Point Blank on Alcatraz, Marvin recognized the young director was out of his depth and needed a little time to get his head around how he was going to direct the scenes. To give him time, Marvin played drunk—singing and roaring. The production manager took Marvin away and fed him black coffee. As soon as Boorman had his thoughts together, Marvin was ready to shoot the scene.
Lee Marvin was born in 1924 into a middle class family his father was an ad executive, his mother a fashion writer. Lee once claimed his family could trace their lineage back to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. He was educated at a Christian socialist boarding school, which shaped his politics as a lifelong liberal and Democrat.
As a youth, he hopped trains criss-crossing America. In the Second World War, he enlisted in the US Marines serving as a sniper with the 4th Marine Division fighting in the Pacific. During the Battle of Saipan most of his platoon was wiped out. Marvin was badly wounded—shot on the foot, leg, and buttocks—a deeply traumatic event that left him feeling guilty to have survived when so many of his comrades had died. He later said he felt he was “a coward,” which was the exact opposite of what he had been. Later, when he was an established star, he joked in one TV interview that being a young soldier in battle had taught him how to act.
In movies Marvin’s tough, granite, impassive looks made everyone else look like they were acting. He was a genuinely brilliant actor, who brought subtly to gesture and movement, and purpose to the simplest of lines few actors could match.
John Boorman and Lee Marvin during filming of ‘Point Blank’ 1967.
John Boorman had his big break through Lee Marvin. Fifty years ago when Marvin was the King of Hollywood—after beating Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton to best actor Oscar for Cat Ballou—he gave Boorman his full and unmitigated support as the director of Point Blank. Boorman was a novice who had made only one (flop) movie, but Marvin liked and trusted him. It was a major risk for Marvin, but he saw something in Boorman that was worth standing up for. Point Blank once again confirmed Marvin as top of the tree and started Boorman off on his long cinematic career.
More Marvin after the jump…