Lee Marvin was American Film and Television star. He portrayed some of the best ‘bad guys’ and the most rugged heroes on the screen for two decades. In spite of being from a well to do family, he never enjoyed protected life and rebelled against it. This rebellion nature, physical build, personality and white hair supported his characters of mean, bad or tough guys. A decorated WWII hero’s screen journey started with supporting roles and went on to win an ‘Oscar’ and ‘Golden Globe Award’ for best acting in a lead role. He appeared in about 70 films during 1951 to 1986. He is best known for his roles in the movies like ‘Cat Ballou’, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, ‘Hell in the Pacific’ and TV series ‘M Squad’. This veteran actor died of heart attack at the age of 63 in Tucson, Arizona.
Childhood & Early Life
Marvin was born on 19th February 1924 in New York City in a well to do family. His father, Lamont Waltman Marvin was an advertising executive and the head of New York and New England Apple Institute. Marvin’s mother, Courtenay Washington was a fashion writer and beauty consultant.
He was sent to several boarding schools, and was expelled from many of them for misbehavior.
In 1942, he dropped out of a prep school in Florida and got enlisted in the Marines before WWII. He was commissioned in the South Pacific and was involved in the assault on Mount Tapochau in which most of his unit was killed. He got injured below his spine and nearly lost his life on Saipan. He earned a Purple Heart for his bravery. After this incident he was medically discharged from the military ranked ‘Private First Class’.
Then he moved back to Woodstock where he got employment with a local plumber. When he was doing repairs at the Maverick Theater, he was asked to step into a role of an ailing actor. Marvin made a lot out of this opportunity and never turned his head back. He made is stage debut with a small part in ‘Billy Budd’.
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Marvin landed with the first film role in 1951 in ‘You’re in Navy Now’. Apart from acting he could share his war time experience with the film director. This movie set his path towards Hollywood. After this role, he appeared in one more war time movie ‘Eight Iron Men’ in 1952.
He started his career in Hollywood with the widely acclaimed part of a psychopathic serial killer in an early episode of 'Dragnet’. This role type cast him as a ‘bad boy’.
His offbeat classic movie ‘The Wild One’ was released in 1952. His roles in ‘Seminole’ and ‘Gun Fury’ both released in 1953 were small ones but very well received. He also had a notable but small role in ‘The Caine Mutiny’.
It was his role as Hector in 1955’s 'Bad Day at Black Rock' that made him a star. The same year he portrayed a conflicted, brutal bank-robber in ‘Violent Saturday’.
In 1957, for first time he got an opportunity to come out of the image of ‘bad boy’ by portraying hard bitten honest detective in TV series ‘M Squad’. This stint went on for three years.
He had a supporting but very prominent role in 1961 film ‘The Comancheros',
In 1962-63, Marvin gave memorable performances in ‘The Man who Shot Liberty Valance’ and ‘Donovan’s Reef’.
He played a professional assassin in ‘The Killers’, which was released in 1964.
The year 1965 was a very special one for Marvin as he won an ‘Oscar’ for his role in ‘Cat Ballou’. The same year he appeared in Vivien Leigh’s last movie ‘Ship of Fools’.
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In 1966 he starred in ‘The Professionals’ and followed it with the hugely popular role in WWII epic movie ‘The Dirty Dozen’ in 1967. The same year, in 1967, he appeared in the movie ‘Point Blank’. In the movie Marvin not only acted but also contributed in developing the plot and staging.
1968 saw one of Marvin's best performances ‘Hell in the Pacific’. This film was critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful.
He acted in the most expensive musical film of that time ‘Paint Your Wagon’ in 1969. Though he had limited singing talent, he gave a super hit song in this musical.
1970-80s brought forward talented side of Marvin with few memorable roles like ‘Prime Cut’ , ‘Pocket Money’ (both released in 1972), ‘The Iceman Cometh’ released in 1973, ‘Shout at the Devil’ released in 1976 and 'Avalanche Express' released in 1978.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg had offered him a role of Quint in ‘Jaws’ but he turned it down.
After a brief break, Marvin returned to acting in 1980 with the role in ‘The Big Red One’ and ‘Death Hunt’
His last few films include ‘Gorky Park’ released in 1983 and ‘Dog Day’ released in 1984. He made his final appearance in ‘The Delta Force’ which was released in 1986.
Marvin left his mark on the acting world through his role in comedy western musical film ‘Cat Ballou’ released in 1965. The film’s plot revolves around a schoolteacher who hires a professional gunman to protect her father's ranch, and later to avenge his murder, but finds that the gunman is not what she expected. Marvin played dual role of gunman in this movie - a drunk gunfighter and his more professional gun slinging brother. For one of the characters, he had to wear prosthetic nose. Initially the film received mix reviews. However, slowly it gained speed at the box office and turned out to be a commercially successful movie. Marvin won an Oscar as ‘Best Actor’.
Tough guy Marvin gave another power packed performance once again in WWII movie ‘The Dirty Dozen’ released in 1967. The film was shot in the UK. He portrayed character of Major John Reisman who was assigned 12 worst war convicts to turn them into commandos to be sent on a suicide mission. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards. His performance was very well received by the critics. The movie was a huge commercial success. Eighteen years later, in 1985, a sequel of this film ‘The Dirty Dozen: the Next Mission’ was released.
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Awards & Achievements
The period 1965-70 was very fruitful for Marvin. He won numerous prestigious accolades during these years.
His film ‘Cat Ballou’ which was released in 1965 won ‘Silver Berlin Bear’ in ‘Berlin International Film Festival’, ‘BFATA award’ under ‘Best Foreign Actor’ category, ‘Golden Globe Award’ and ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Actor’.
He won ‘BFATA award’ in ‘Best Foreign Actor’ category for the first time in 1964 for his role in the film ‘The Killers’.
His performances in ‘The Professionals’ and ‘The Dirty Dozen’ won him ‘Laurel Awards’ for two consecutive years.
Personal Life & Legacy
Marvin first married Bettry Ebeling. Both separated after 16 years of married life in 1967. He had a son, Chris and three daughters, Courtenay, Cynthia and Claudia, with Bettry.
In 1970, Marvin returned to Woodstock to spend time with his ailing father. There he married his ex-girlfriend Pamela Feeley. After marriage, the couple moved to Tucson.
He also had a romantic relationship with Michelle Triola from 1965 to 1970. She sued him for half his fortune. This lawsuit gave birth to the term ‘palimony’ trial. Triola's claim was ultimately rejected.
At the age of 63, in 1987, Marvin died of heart attack in Tucson, Arizona.
In his young days, he loved to spend his weekends hunting and fishing in the wilds of Everglades.
He also studied the violin.