Lee Marvin was an actor that was known for lending a hard-edged authenticity to his film and television roles. Much of the actor’s edge came from his time in the United States Marines, which predated his time in Hollywood. When Lee passed away in 1987, he was buried alongside his fellow war heroes and given a gravestone that made no mention of his career as an actor. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Lee Marvin’s gravestone only tells half the story.
Lee Marvin Was Related to Robert E. Lee
Lee Marvin was born on February 19, 1924, in New York City. His father was a successful advertising executive, while his mother was a writer that worked in the world of fashion. Some might be alarmed to learn that the actor was named after the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In fact, it has been alleged that the actor was closely related to Robert E. Lee by blood. Despite this link to the Confederacy, it seems that Lee actually attended a socialist boarding school as a young adult. In addition, the actor was an outspoken supporter of John F. Kennedy during his adult years.
During his youth, Lee Marvin spent his free time doing things that helped build up his character. He studied violin from a young age at the insistence of his parents, and became interested in hunting during his teenage years. As a teenager, Lee could often be found going on hunting excursions during the weekends. After attending the aforementioned socialist boarding school, which was located in Upstate New York, Lee was kicked out of a variety of college preparatory schools for bad behavior. Eventually, the future star decided that getting an education wasn’t for him.
Just as Lee Marvin was making the decision to abandon his schooling, World War II was coming up on the horizon. In the summer of 1942, the future star enlisted in the United States Marines. During his time in service, Lee saw active combat in the Battle of Saipan. The battle infamously left many soldiers wounded, but Lee thankfully survived. However, he didn’t survive unscathed. Lee received machine-gun fire to the buttocks. As a result of the injury, the future actor was given a Purple Heart Medal.
How Lee Marvin Became an Actor
After World War II came to an end, Lee Marvin returned to Upstate New York. There, he began working as a plumber’s assistant at a community theater. It was during this time period that destiny would come calling in an unlikely way. One day, an actor fell ill not longer before a performance was supposed to occur. A replacement was needed pronto, and Lee physically fit the bill. Lee was unsure of whether or not he was right for the part, but he ended up taking the risk. What resulted was a successful career in the world of acting!
After his first performance, Lee Marvin continued acting in Off-Broadway productions throughout the state of New York. Eventually, the actor managed to work his way to Broadway. Lee made his Broadway debut performing in a production by the name of Billy Budd. Though it was only a small role, bigger things were soon to come for the burgeoning celebrity! As Lee’s star began to rise, the actor eventually decided to make the move out to Hollywood. The actor arrived in California in 1950, and it wasn’t long before he was making a name for himself on television and in films.
As Lee Marvin began acting in Hollywood, he found that he had the ability to occupy a fairly specific niche. There weren’t many people in the entertainment industry that had combat experience, which put Lee at a decided advantage over may of his contemporaries. Lee’s combat experience not only lead to him getting a lot of tough-guy roles, but it also led to the actor being utilized for consultation purposes during a lot of the productions that he acted in. When directors wanted to know whether or not their actors were holding their guns right, they turned to Lee. Lee made his film debut in 1951’s You’re in the Navy Now. In 1953, he starred in the Fritz Lang-directed film The Big Head. That same year, Lee also costarred with Marlon Brandon in the film The Wild One.
Though Lee Marvin certainly appeared in a variety of notable film projects over the course of the 1950s, it would be a television role later in the decade that would cement the actor’s status as a star to look out for. That role, of course, would be the role of Chicago policeman Frank Ballinger on the television series M Squad. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Lee Marvin Won John Wayne’s Respect
After becoming a major star on television as a result of his work on M Squad, Lee Marvin was ready to return to the big screen with renewed vigor. M Squad ran from 1957 to 1960, and Lee went on to receive some pretty solid roles in films over the course of the 1960s. Lee’s hard-edged authenticity won him the respect of Western legend John Wayne. Starting with 1961’s The Comancheros, Lee appeared alongside John in a variety of pictures. One of those pictures was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which was released the very next year. The film starred Lee Marvin as the titular villain. Not only did the acclaimed performance give Lee the chance to share the screen alongside John Wayne yet again, but it also allowed him to share the screen with the equally legendary James Stewart.
In 1964, Lee Marvin was given his first lead role in a feature film. The Killers was the first film that the actor received top billing in, and he made further progress in his acting career from there. In 1965, Lee won the Academy Award for Best Actor as a result of his work alongside Jane Fond in the comedic Western film Cat Ballou. While Cat Ballou isn’t often talked about nowadays, 1967’s The Dirty Dozen certainly is. The Dirty Dozen is arguably the most iconic film of Lee Marvin’s career. The World War II film starred Lee as a commander of a group of soldiers, with some of the actor portraying said soldiers including John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, and Donald Sutherland.
The Dirty Dozen arguably represented the peak of Lee Marvin’s success, and the actor’s later career was largely made up of lesser roles and missed opportunities. One such missed opportunity came just after the success of The Dirty Dozen. Lee was all set to play the role of Pike Bishop in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch before he and the notoriously stubborn director had a falling out. Instead, Lee decided to take a role in the 1969 Western musical Paint Your Wagon. The film also starred Clint Eastwood. The film is notable for the fact that it gave Lee Marvin a successful song! Lee’s performance of the song “Wand’rin Star” became a radio hit.
Lee Turned Down the Role of Quint in Jaws
Another missed opportunity for Lee Marvin came when he turned down the role of Quint in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the novel Jaws. According to the late Lee Marvin, the reason he turned down the role was because he had a lot of fishermen friends, and he feared that they would make fun of him if they saw him up on the big screen trying to play heroic with a giant, fake shark. Lee was actually a pretty serious fisherman himself over the course of his lifetime, though he never made the practice anything more than a hobby. Still, he had respect for the professionals, and he didn’t feel that he was the right choice to play Quint.
The character of Quint ended up being played to universal acclaim by the actor Robert Shaw, who Lee Marvin would go on to costar alongside in 1978’s Avalanche Express. The last big role that Lee Marvin took during his lifetime was in another iconic war film. This time, it was 1980’s Samuel Fuller-directed The Big Red One. Following The Big Red One, Lee performed in a few more minor film roles before passing away later in the 1980s. Some of the other films that the actor appeared in during the decade include Death Hunt and Delta Force. Death Hunt was released in 1981, and it saw Lee Marvin grace the screen alongside his old Dirty Dozen costar Charles Bronson. Delta Force was released in 1986 and featured Chuck Norris in the lead role.
Lee Marvin’s Posthumous Legacy
Lee Marvin was married twice over the course of his lifetime. His first wife was a woman by the name of Betty Ebeling, and they were married from 1951 to 1967. Over the course of their marriage, the two had four children. Lee’s second wife was a woman by the name of Pamela Feeley. They were married from 1970 until Lee’s death, but they never had any children. Lee ended up passing away in 1987, after suffering from some serious health issues over the course of the preceding year. The health issues started in late 1986, when Lee had to undergo intestinal surgery as a result of abdominal pains that he was experiencing. When the actor passed away, he was buried alongside war heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. His gravestone declared him a war veteran, but made no mention of his acting career.
One more interesting tale about Lee Marvin is the fact that he was sued by a live-in girlfriend who claimed that she deserved alimony after their separation. This woman alleged that Lee forced her to undergo multiple abortions, and that one of the abortions resulted in her being unable to carry children. The trial occurred over the course of the 1970s, and was widely mocked in the media. In the end, Lee came out on top. However, he later admitted that he lied in court.
Though Lee Marvin was an accomplished Hollywood star, he wanted to be remembered only for his time in the United States Marines. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Lee Marvin was sued by his live-in girlfriend during the 1970s, and that the actor was awarded a Purple Heart after seeing combat in World War II? Comment down below!