Book Review – Lee Marvin: Point Blank
Reviewed by Karen Mitchell
We are all very familiar with the steely-eyed stare, the violence, the crusty character that comes to mind when we think of Lee Marvin. What is behind this exterior? Was this all there was to him? Point Blank takes the reader behind the scenes and explores the man behind the stare. This is a well-researched story of a complex man and iconic actor, and provides an inside look better than any other Marvin biography has done. A compilation of interviews with over 100 people, the book took author Dwayne Epstein 20 years to write. And though at times it appears disjointed to the reader, overall it provides us with insight into the complex man that Lee Marvin was.
It doesn’t seem another biography with this much information and the many personal narratives can be written in the future because so many of those interviewed are no longer with us. It’s wonderful to read the first-hand accounts from those who worked with Marvin, from his family, and from his own letters and words. The picture we are left with is one of a far from perfect man, one who battled with the serious problems of depression, untreated Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), and alcoholism; and an actor who took his craft very seriously.
Marvin’s battlefield actions in World War II would likely lead to many of the ways he dealt with others and with life in his years afterwards. We learn that Marvin’s company was the first Marine company that landed on the Marshall Islands; his company fought the battles on Kwajalein; we read letters from 1944 that he wrote to his parents and his brother; his first-hand account of getting shot by a sniper on Saipan that ended his battlefield action. All told, he had taken part in 21 invasions. His bloody action in World War II left an obvious mark on Marvin, and it is likely he suffered from untreated PTSD based upon the many battles he was in and sights he saw.
If you’re already a fan of Lee Marvin, this book will make you want to watch his movies again, and watch those that you somehow missed. If you’re not familiar with his movies, this is easily resolved because Epstein includes a list of all of Mr. Marvin’s movies in the book. He also complied lists of those roles he turned down (including the George C. Scott role of Patton, and making Paint Your Wagon instead of The Wild Bunch, the Robert Shaw role in Jaws) and those for which he would have been perfect but were made after his death.
There are too many anecdotal stories to quote, but one that shows the reader a glimpse of the real man is the story told by his first wife, Betty, after the birth of their son Christopher in November, 1952. “He cried when I had a baby, when he’d see the baby,” recalled Betty. “Someone asked me once in an interview, ‘Is Lee really that tough?’ I said, ‘Tough? He’s a bowl of mashed potatoes.’ I remember Dr. Mishell, the OB/GYN, had by then become a family friend because he was so much in our lives. Lee was there talking, and Dan came in. . .Dan Mishell, the obstetrician. He was talking to Lee about fishing together and then started taking out my stitches, which is really nothing. Lee looked at this and went right into the bathroom and closed the door. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘If I watch it, I’m gonna throw up. I can’t watch that.’” This from the battle-hardened Marine.
One thing that was wonderful to read was the Afterward by Christopher Marvin, Marvin’s only son. In this, Marvin is seen as an affectionate, loving father. Through the many personal accounts, letters, and rare photographs, we learn the complexities of the man Lee Marvin was. Christopher Marvin aptly sums up his father: “He was independent, kind, funny, generous, and could spot a phony a mile away.” The reader will also come away with knowing the depths of the son, father, husband, war hero, and actor that Lee Marvin was. Far from perfect, so much more than a hard-living, hard-drinking man, he was a man to respect.
– Lee Marvin: Point Blank was written by Dwayne Epstein and was released by Schaffner Press on February 19, 2013.
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