In Lee Marvin: Point Blank, author Dwayne Epstein puts together a convincing portrait of the enigmatic actor that New York Times film critic Vincent Canby once called "The Master of Menace." Epstein augments Marvin's insightful letters and colorful quotes with anecdotes from family, friends, and especially former wife Betty Ebeling Marvin. The result is a lively biography of a dedicated, hard-drinking actor whose detached, violent "heroes" came alive vividly in films such as The Dirty Dozen, The Killers (1964), and Point Blank.
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.
For a young man who often defied authority, it's ironic that Marvin not only enlisted in the armed services in 1942, but chose the Marines. However, as Epstein points out, "it was a time of extreme patriotism" following Pearl Harbor; Marvin's brother and father, a World War I veteran, also enlisted. Undoubtedly, his years as a Marine shaped the rest of Marvin's life. Excerpts from his early letters show a young man at conflict. He proudly discusses his test scores and marksmanship, but also writes "sometimes I wonder what I joined up for." Marvin participated in many bloody battles following his deployment to the Pacific in 1944. When a wound ended his military career in 1945, Marvin "could not shake off the intense feeling he was experiencing: anger, frustration and worst of all, survivor guilt as the war stubbornly wore on."
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.
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