Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 19 February 1924. Education: Attended a number of schools, including Public School 165, New York, Lakewood High School, Florida, and St. Leo's Preparatory School, Dade City, Florida. Family: Married 1) Betty Edeling, 1952 (divorced 1965), four children; 2) Pamela Freely, 1970. Career: Quit school to join the U.S. Marine Corps; wounded, 1944, and hospitalized for 13 months; worked at odd jobs, then became a plumber's apprentice, Woodstock; 1947—stage debut in Roadside at Maverick Theatre, Woodstock; then studied at the American Theatre Wing, New York; 1950—film debut in You're in the Navy Now; 1951—stage role in Broadway success Billy Budd; 1957–60—in TV series M-Squad; 1979—involved in landmark legal case concerning "palimony." Awards: Best Actor Academy Award and Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Cat Ballou, 1965; Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for The Killers and Cat Ballou, 1965. Died: Of a heart attack in Tucson, Arizona, 29 August 1987.
Films as Actor:
You're in the Navy Now (Hathaway); Down among the Sheltering Palms (Goulding) (as Snively); Diplomatic Courier (Hathaway) (as an M.P.); The Duel at Silver Creek (Siegel) (as Tinhorn Burgess)
We're Not Married (Goulding) (as Pinky); Hangman's Knot (Huggins) (as Ralph Bainter); Seminole (Boetticher) (as Sergeant Magruder); The Glory Brigade (Webb) (as Corporal Bowman); Eight Iron Men (Dmytryk) (as Mooney)
Gun Fury (Walsh) (as Blinky); The Stranger Wore a Gun (De Toth) (as Dan Kurth); The Wild One (Benedek) (as Chino); The Big Heat (Fritz Lang) (as Vince Stone); The Caine Mutiny (Dmytryk) (as Meatball); Gorilla at Large (Jones)
The Raid (Fregonese) (as Lt. Keating); A Life in the Balance (Horner) (as the killer); Bad Day at Black Rock (Sturges) (as Hector David); Not as a Stranger (Kramer) (as Brundage)
Violent Saturday (Fleischer) (as Dill); I Died a Thousand Times (Heisler) (as Babe Kossuk); Pete Kelly's Blues (Webb) (as Al Gannaway); Shack Out on 101 (Dein); Pillars of the Sky (Marshall) (as Sgt. Lloyd Carractart); Seven Men from Now (Boetticher) (as Big Masters); The Rack (Laven) (as Captain John Miller)
Attack! (Aldrich) (as Colonel Bartlett); Raintree County (Dmytryk) (as Orville "Flash" Perkins)
The Missouri Traveler (Hopper) (as Tobias Brown)
The Comancheros (Curtiz) (as Tully Crow); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford) (as Liberty Valance)
Donovan's Reef (Ford) (as Boots Gilhooley)
Sergeant Ryker (Kulik—for TV) (title role); The Killers (Siegel) (as Charlie)
Ship of Fools (Kramer) (as Bill Tenny)
The Professionals (Brooks) (as Fardan); Cat Ballou (Silverstein) (as Tim Strawn/Kid Shelleen)
The Dirty Dozen (Aldrich) (as Major Reisman)
Point Blank (Boorman) (as Walker)
Hell in the Pacific (Boorman) (as the American); Tonight Let's All Make Love in London (Whitehead) (as himself); Paint Your Wagon (Logan) (as Ben Rumson)
Monte Walsh (Fraker) (title role)
Pocket Money (Rosenberg) (as Leonard); Prime Cut (Ritchie) (as Nick Devlin)
The Emperor of the North Pole (Emperor of the North) (Aldrich) (as A Number 1)
The Iceman Cometh (Frankenheimer) (as Hickey); The Spikes Gang (Fleischer) (as Harry Spikes)
The Klansman (Young) (as the sheriff)
Shout at the Devil (Hunt) (as Flynn O'Flynn)
The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (Big Sam) (Taylor) (as Sam Longwood)
Avalanche Express (Robson) (as Colonel Harry Wargrave); The Big Red One (Fuller) (as Sgt. Possum)
Death Hunt (Hunt) (as Sgt. Edgar Millen)
Gorky Park (Apted) (as Jack Osborne)
Canicule (Dog Day) (Boisset) (as Jimmy Cobb)
The Dirty Dozen—The Next Mission (McLaglen—for TV)
The Delta Force (Golan) (as Col. Nick Alexander)
By MARVIN: articles—
Interview, in Playboy (Chicago), January 1969.
Interview with Bruno Villien and J. S. Sabria, in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1984.
Interview with Allan Hunter, in Films and Filming (London), April 1984.
On MARVIN: books—
Zec, Donald, Marvin: The Story of Lee Marvin, London, 1979.
Marvin, Pamela, Lee: A Romance, New York, 1999.
Lentz, Robert J., Lee Marvin: His Films & Career, Jefferson, 1999.
On MARVIN: articles—
Ciné Revue (Paris), 5 February 1981 and 15 September 1983.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 2 September 1987.
Obituary, in Films and Filming (London), November 1987.
Film Dope (Nottingham), January 1989.
Boorman, John, and Michel Cieutat, "Lee Marvin," in Positif (Paris), May 1995.
Epstein, Dwayne, "Lee Marvin: The Man Behind the Muscle," in Outré (Evanston), no. 6, 1996.
* * *
Lee Marvin was one of the greatest practitioners of minimalist American screen acting. He made a memorable appearance in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat, playing a sadistic gangster who scorches Gloria Grahame's face with a pot of hot coffee, making Jimmy Cagney's grapefruit assault on Mae Clarke look like a mere chilly caress. This early, shocking role displayed a vicious side to Marvin's screen personality which continued to simmer just under the surface, and occasionally to erupt, throughout his career.
Marvin is primarily known for his aggressive action roles, many directed by such stalwarts of the American cinema as John Ford, Don Siegel, Robert Aldrich, and Sam Fuller. His screen persona can be described as cold, but with the capacity for sudden, brutal heat. His pale hair, icy blue-gray eyes, and stony face, in later films craggy but no less cruel, added force to his screen image. Like other minimalist actors (Bronson, Eastwood, Norris), Marvin's characters are most frequently verbally terse and emotionally recondite. His roles are often the embodiment of an exaggerated "macho" ideal: tough men seemingly devoid of feelings or vulnerability, figures often impenetrable and remote to movie audiences.
He has played villains, as well as heroes, in war films (Hell in the Pacific, The Big Red One), in Westerns (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Professionals), and in gangster films (The Killers, Prime Cut). Often in these genre films, Marvin is less a full-bodied character than a one-dimensional force projecting the director's attitude towards violence, revenge, authority, or heroism. In Point Blank he gives a shuddering performance as a man betrayed by his gangster cohorts. As the frozen center of this jumpy, cold, modernist film, Marvin portrays a character so emotionally dead that not even murderous revenge can bring him back to life.
Most critics agree that Marvin's other great performances are in The Dirty Dozen, as a hard-nosed major unable to conceal his basic decency and fairness, and Cat Ballou, a comic tour de force for which he won his only Academy Award. He received excellent notices for his performance as Hickey in the film of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh; critic Stanley Kaufmann thought it better than Jason Robard's stage version. More recently, a small but effective performance in Gorky Park (where he gently closes a woman's eyes before he blows her away) showed he had lost none of his chilly power.
Marvin's screen and television career prospered in the 1950s. His TV series M-Squad was a big hit from 1957–60. The success of M-Squad boosted his stock with film producers, and in the 1960s Marvin's career hit its stride. He did his best work and achieved his greatest popularity during this period. His career faltered in the 1970s when a younger generation of actors emerged; moviegoers went to see "the new Eastwood film" as they had gone to see his movies a decade earlier. Aside from the powerful screen presence he brought to the movies, Lee Marvin's career can also be seen as a bridge, the cinematic link between the tough guys of the 1930s and 1940s (Cagney, Bogart) and the minimalist heroes of the 1970s and 1980s.