Theater Books from Other Realms: Dwayne Epstein’s New Biography of Lee Marvin


Lee Marvin—Point Blank

By Dwayne Epstein (Schaffner Press, 2013)


Dwayne Epstein’s unauthorized biography of Hollywood heavy Lee Marvin does a commendable job of myth-busting. Marvin’s time as a stage actor, before he began to get steady film work, was brief but meaningful. Not unlike James Dean, Lee Marvin did some small-time theater, then made his West Coast film debut, then ended up in New York, where his Broadway debut brought him back into motion pictures.


Marvin’s first theater show was one for the books, a romp through the corny temperance-themed melodrama Ten Nights in a Barroom, written in 1850s and, by the time Marvin got cast in a community theater performance of it at the Woodstock (New York) Town Hall in 1940s, had long since turned into a self-parodic occasion for mustache-twirling, fainting and other over-the-top theatrics.


His first professional gig was at Woodstock’s Maverick Theater, in a 1947 production of the 1929 drama Roadside by Lynn Riggs. (Rigg’s next play, Green Grow the Lilacs, was turned into the musical Oklahoma!). The story is that he landed a showy role simply because he was in the building as a plumber, fixing the theater’s toilet.


From Dwayne Epstein’s book:


Marvin told several interviewes that it was while he had his head in the Maverick commode that he heard his destiny beckon. As he recalled many times over the years, “The director needed a tall loudmouth to play a Texan. The actor who played the part was sick. I was standing in the wings after fixing the head, eyeing this reheaded actress. Later, the director looked at me and figured I was made for the part. The other actor took longer to recuperate than expected. By that time, I was in the business and I loved it.”

When told of this, [Lee’s father] Monte Marvin later commented, “Nothing could be further from the truth since the theater had no toilet, only a one-holer outside.”


Point Blank also covers Marvin’s participation in what’s considered one of the worst stage-to-screen musical adaptations of all time, Paint Your Wagon. Turns out that the experience was doubly awkward: doing Paint Your Wagon meant that Lee Marvin wasn’t able to accept an offer to be in the Sam Peckinpah classic The Wild Bunch.

Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin bio Point Blank is bolstered by a enriching and entertaining website, at