Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin

Marvin in 1971.
Born (1924-02-19)February 19, 1924
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died August 29, 1987(1987-08-29) (aged 63)
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Residence Tucson, Arizona
Education Manumit School
St. Leo College Preparatory School
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950–1986
Spouse(s) Betty Ebeling (m. 1951; div. 1967)
Pamela Feeley (m. 1970–87)
Partner(s) Michelle Triola (1965–1970)
Children Christopher

Military career

Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1942–1945
Rank Private First Class
Unit 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division

World War II

-Battle of Saipan
Awards Purple Heart Medal

Lee Marvin (February 19, 1924 – August 29, 1987) was an American film and television actor.[1] Known for his distinctive voice and prematurely white hair, Marvin initially appeared in supporting roles, mostly villains, soldiers, and other hardboiled characters. From 1957 to 1960, he starred as Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the NBC crime series, M Squad.

In 1966, he won several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, and Best Actor BAFTA and the Best Actor Golden Globe, for his dual roles in Cat Ballou.

Early life

Marvin was born in New York City. He was son of Lamont Waltman Marvin, an advertising executive and the head of the New York and New England Apple Institute, and his wife Courtenay Washington (née Davidge), a fashion writer and beauty consultant.[2] As with his older brother, Robert, he was named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was his first cousin, four times removed. His father was a direct descendant of Matthew Marvin, Sr., who emigrated from Great Bentley, Essex, England, in 1635, and helped found Hartford, Connecticut.[2]

Marvin studied violin when he was young.[3] As a teenager, Marvin "spent weekends and spare time hunting deer, puma, wild turkey, and bobwhite in the wilds of the then-uncharted Everglades."[4]

He attended Manumit School, a Christian socialist boarding school in Pawling, New York, during the late 1930s, and later attended St. Leo College Preparatory School in St. Leo, Florida, after being expelled from several other schools for bad behavior.[5]

Military service

World War II

Marvin left school at 18 to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on August 12, 1942. He served with the 4th Marine Division in the Pacific Theater during World War II.[6] While serving as a member of "I" Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, he was wounded in action on June 18, 1944, during the assault on Mount Tapochau in the Battle of Saipan, during which most of his company were casualties.[7] He was shot by machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve,[8] and then was hit again in the foot by a sniper.[9] After over a year of medical treatment in naval hospitals, Marvin was given a medical discharge with the rank of private first class (he had been a corporal years earlier)[9] in 1945 at Philadelphia.[10]

Contrary to rumors, Marvin did not serve on Iwo Jima, receive a Navy Cross, or serve with actor, producer, and former Marine Bob Keeshan (later best known as Captain Kangaroo) during World War II.[10]

Marvin's military awards include: the Purple Heart Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal, Combat Action Ribbon.

Acting career

After the war, while working as a plumber's assistant at a local community theatre in upstate New York, Marvin was asked to replace an actor who had fallen ill during rehearsals. He then began an amateur off-Broadway acting career in New York City and eventually made it to Broadway with a small role in the original production of Billy Budd.[11]

In 1950, Marvin moved to Hollywood. He found work in supporting roles, and from the beginning was cast in various war films. As a decorated combat veteran, Marvin was a natural in war dramas, where he frequently assisted the director and other actors in realistically portraying infantry movement, arranging costumes, and the use of firearms. His debut was in You're in the Navy Now (1951), and in 1952, he appeared in several films, including Don Siegel's Duel at Silver Creek, Hangman's Knot, and the war drama Eight Iron Men. He played Gloria Grahame's vicious boyfriend in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953). Marvin had a small but memorable role in The Wild One (1953) opposite Marlon Brando (Marvin's gang in the film was called "The Beetles"), followed by Seminole (1953) and Gun Fury (1953). He also had a notable small role as smart-aleck sailor Meatball in The Caine Mutiny. He had a substantially more important part as Hector, the small-town hood in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy.[12] Also in 1955, he played a conflicted, brutal bank-robber in Violent Saturday. A latter-day critic wrote of the character, "Marvin brings a multi-faceted complexity to the role and gives a great example of the early promise that launched his long and successful career."[13]

During the mid-1950s, Marvin gradually began playing more important roles. He starred in Attack, (1956) and had a supporting role in the Western Seven Men from Now (1956). He also starred in The Missouri Traveler (1958), but over 100 episodes as Chicago cop Frank Ballinger in the successful 1957–1960 television series M Squad were needed to actually give him name recognition.[14] One critic described the show as "a hyped-up, violent Dragnet... with a hard-as-nails Marvin" playing a tough police lieutenant. Marvin received the role after guest-starring in a memorable Dragnet episode as a serial killer.[15]

Marvin in Attack

In the 1960s, Marvin was given prominent supporting roles in such films as The Comancheros (1961), John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Donovan's Reef (1963), all starring John Wayne, with Marvin's roles getting larger with each film. As the vicious Liberty Valance, Marvin played his first title role and held his own with two of the screen's biggest stars (Wayne and James Stewart).[16]

For director Don Siegel, Marvin appeared in The Killers (1964) playing an efficient professional assassin alongside Clu Gulager. The Killers was also the first film in which Marvin received top billing.[17]

Television series guest appearances he has made include Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, both a couple of episodes, Bonanza, and a couple of Bob Hope television specials.

Playing alongside Vivien Leigh and Simone Signoret, Marvin won the 1966 National Board of Review Award for male actors for his role in Ship of Fools (1965).[18][N 1] Marvin won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor for his comic role in the offbeat Western Cat Ballou starring Jane Fonda. He also won the 1965 Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival.[22]

Marvin in 1959 from the set of M Squad

Marvin next performed in the hit Western The Professionals (1966), in which he played the leader of a small band of skilled mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode) rescuing a kidnap victim (Claudia Cardinale) shortly after the Mexican Revolution. He followed that film with the hugely successful World War II epic The Dirty Dozen (1967) in which top-billed Marvin again portrayed an intrepid commander of a colorful group (future stars John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Jim Brown, and Donald Sutherland) performing an almost impossible mission. In the wake of these two films and after having received an Oscar, Marvin was a huge star, given enormous control over his next film Point Blank.

In Point Blank, an influential film for director John Boorman, he portrayed a hard-nosed criminal bent on revenge. Marvin, who had selected Boorman himself for the director's slot, had a central role in the film's development, plot line, and staging. In 1968, Marvin also appeared in another Boorman film, the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful World War II character study Hell in the Pacific, also starring famed Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Marvin was originally cast as Pike Bishop (later played by William Holden) in The Wild Bunch (1969), but fell out with director Sam Peckinpah and pulled out to star in the Western musical Paint Your Wagon (1969), in which he was top-billed over a singing Clint Eastwood. Despite his limited singing ability, he had a hit song with "Wand'rin' Star". By this time, he was getting paid a million dollars per film, $200,000 less than top star Paul Newman was making at the time, yet he was ambivalent about the film business, even with its financial rewards:[3]

"You spend the first forty years of your life trying to get in this business, and the next forty years trying to get out. And then when you're making the bread, who needs it?"

Marvin had a much greater variety of roles in the 1970s and 1980s, with fewer 'bad-guy' roles than in earlier years. His 1970s films included Monte Walsh (1970) with Jeanne Moreau, the violent Prime Cut (1972) with Gene Hackman, Pocket Money (1972) with Paul Newman, Emperor of the North Pole (1973) opposite Ernest Borgnine, as Hickey in The Iceman Cometh (1973) with Fredric March and Robert Ryan, The Spikes Gang (1974) with Noah Beery, Jr., The Klansman (1974) with Richard Burton, Shout at the Devil (1976) with Roger Moore, The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976) with Oliver Reed, and Avalanche Express (1978) with Robert Shaw. Marvin was offered the role of Quint in Jaws (1975) but declined, stating "What would I tell my fishing friends who'd see me come off a hero against a dummy shark?".[23]

Marvin's last big role was in Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One (1980), a war film based on Fuller's own war experiences. His remaining films were Death Hunt (1981) with Charles Bronson, Gorky Park (1983), Dog Day (1984), and The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission (1985; a sequel with Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Jaeckel picking up where they had left off despite being 18 years older); his final appearance was in The Delta Force (1986) with Chuck Norris.[24]

Personal life

During the 1970s, Marvin resided off and on in Woodstock, caring for his dying father,[25] and as a keen fisherman, he used to make regular trips to Australia to engage in fishing for marlin at Cairns and great white shark at Port Fairy.[26] In 1975, Marvin and his second wife Pamela moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he lived until his death.

Marvin was a Democrat who opposed the Vietnam War. He publicly endorsed John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.[17]

Marriages and children

A father of four, Marvin was married twice. His first marriage to Betty Ebeling began in February 1951 and ended in divorce on January 5, 1967; during this time, his hobbies included sport fishing off the Baja California coast and duck hunting along the Mexican border near Mexicali.[4] Ebeling and he had a son, Christopher (1952–2013),[27] and three daughters: Courtenay (b. 1954), Cynthia (b. 1956), and Claudia (1958-2012).[28][29]

Marvin was married to Pamela Feeley from October 18, 1970, until his death.[30]

Gravestone, Arlington National Cemetery

Community property case

See also Marvin v. Marvin

In 1971, Marvin was sued by Michelle Triola, his live-in girlfriend from 1965 to 1970, who legally changed her surname to "Marvin".[3] Although the couple never married, she sought financial compensation similar to that available to spouses under California's alimony and community property laws. Triola claimed Marvin made her pregnant three times and paid for two abortions, while one pregnancy ended in miscarriage.[31] She claimed the second abortion left her unable to bear children.[31] The result was the landmark "palimony" case, Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660 (1976).[32]

In 1979, Marvin was ordered to pay $104,000 to Triola for "rehabilitation purposes", but the court denied her community property claim for one-half of the $3.6 million which Marvin had earned during their six years of cohabitation – distinguishing nonmarital relationship contracts from marriage, with community property rights only attaching to the latter by operation of law. Rights equivalent to community property only apply in nonmarital relationship contracts when the parties expressly, whether orally or in writing, contract for such rights to operate between them. In August 1981, the California Court of Appeal found that no such contract existed between them and nullified the award she had received.[33][34] Michelle Triola died of lung cancer on October 30, 2009.[35]

This case was used as fodder for a mock debate skit on Saturday Night Live called "Point Counterpoint",[36] and on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as a skit with Carson as Adam, and Betty White as Eve.[37]


In December 1986, Marvin was hospitalized for more than two weeks because of condition related to coccidioidomycosis. He went into respiratory distress and was administered steroids to help his breathing. He had major intestinal ruptures as a result, and underwent a colostomy. Marvin died of a heart attack on August 29, 1987.[38] He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, where his headstone reads "Lee Marvin, PFC, US Marine Corps, World War II".[39]

Selected filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1951 You're in the Navy Now Radio Man Uncredited film debut
Teresa G.I. Uncredited
1952 Diplomatic Courier MP at Trieste Uncredited
We're Not Married! "Pinky" Uncredited
The Duel at Silver Creek Tinhorn Burgess
Hangman's Knot Rolph Bainter
Eight Iron Men Sgt. Joe Mooney
1953 Down Among the Sheltering Palms Pvt. Snively Uncredited
Seminole Sgt. Magruder
The Glory Brigade Cpl. Bowman
The Stranger Wore a Gun Dan Kurth
The Big Heat Vince Stone
Gun Fury Blinky
The Wild One Chino
1954 Gorilla at Large Shaughnessy, Policeman
The Caine Mutiny "Meatball"
The Raid Lt. Keating
1955 Bad Day at Black Rock Hector David
Violent Saturday Dill, Bank Robber
Not as a Stranger Brundage
A Life in the Balance The Killer
Pete Kelly's Blues Al Gannaway
I Died a Thousand Times Babe Kossuck
Shack Out on 101 Slob / Mr. Gregory
1956 Seven Men from Now Bill Masters Made by Batjac Productions, John Wayne's company.
Attack Lt. Col. Clyde Bartlett
Pillars of the Sky Sergeant Lloyd Carracart
The Rack Capt. John R. Miller
1957 Raintree County Orville "Flash" Perkins Nominated — Laurel Award for Best Male Supporting Performance
1958 The Missouri Traveler Tobias Brown
1960 Wagon Train Jose Morales episode: The Jose Morales Story
1961 The Comancheros Tully Crow With John Wayne.

Nominated — Laurel Award for Best Male Supporting Performance

Wagon Train Jud Benedict episode: The Christopher Hale Story
The Twilight Zone Conny Miller episode: The Grave
1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Liberty Valance With John Wayne & Jimmy Stewart.

Bronze Wrangler for Best Theatrical Motion Picture
Nominated — Laurel Award for Best Action Performance

1963 Donovan's Reef Thomas Aloysius "Boats" Gilhooley With John Wayne.
Sergeant Ryker Sgt. Paul Ryker Kraft Suspense Theatre
The Twilight Zone Sam "Steel" Kelly episode: Steel
Bonanza Peter Kane episode: The Crucible
1964 The Killers Charlie Strom BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (also for Cat Ballou)
Nominated — Laurel Award for Best Action Performance
1965 Cat Ballou Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn Academy Award for Best Actor
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (also for The Killers)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Laurel Award for Best Male Comedy Performance
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (also for Ship of Fools)
Silver Bear for Best Actor
Nominated — New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Ship of Fools Bill Tenny National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (also for Cat Ballou)
1966 The Professionals Henry "Rico" Fardan Laurel Award for Best Action Performance
1967 The Dirty Dozen Major John Reisman Laurel Award for Best Action Performance
Point Blank Walker
1968 Hell in the Pacific American Pilot
1969 Paint Your Wagon Ben Rumson Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1970 Monte Walsh Monte Walsh Fotogramas de Plata Award for Best Foreign Performer
Nominated — Laurel Award for Best Action Performance
The 27th Annual Golden Globes Awards Himself (Himself - Nominee: Best Actor in a Motion Picture-Comedy / Musical) TV special Documentary
Cinema Himself episode: Lee Marvin
1972 Pocket Money Leonard
Prime Cut Nick Devlin
1973 Emperor of the North A No. 1
The Iceman Cometh Hickey
AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to John Ford Himself TV special Documentary
1974 The Spikes Gang Harry Spikes
The Klansman Sheriff Track Bascomb
1976 Shout at the Devil Col. Flynn O'Flynn
The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday Sam Longwood
1979 Avalanche Express Col. Harry Wargrave
1980 The Big Red One The Sergeant
1981 Death Hunt Millen
1983 Gorky Park Jack Osborne
1984 Dog Day Jimmy Cobb
1985 The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission Maj. John Reisman
1986 The Delta Force Col. Nick Alexander (Last appearance)

Television appearances

Marvin's appearances on television included Suspense (1 episode, 1950), Rebound, M Squad, Climax!, Biff Baker, U.S.A., Dragnet, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Ford Show Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, General Electric Theater, The Americans, The Investigators, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Route 66, The Untouchables, Checkmate, The Dick Powell Show, Combat!, The Twilight Zone, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, Bonanza, The Virginian and The Muppet Show.

See also



  1. The film proved to be Leigh's last film and her anguished portrayal of a desperate older woman was punctuated by her real-life "battle with demons".[19] Leigh's performance was tinged by paranoia and resulted in outbursts that marred her relationship with other actors, although both Simone Signoret and Marvin were sympathetic and understanding.[20] In one unusual instance, she hit Marvin so hard with a spiked shoe, it marked his face.[21]


  1. Obituary Variety, September 2, 1987.
  2. 1 2 "Lee Marvin's ancestors." freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Ebert, Roger. "An interview with Lee Marvin." Chicago Sun-Times for Esquire, October 1970.
  4. 1 2 "Elk Hunting with Lee Marvin." Gun World, May 1964; retrieved October 11, 2013.
  5. Zec 1980, pp. 20–25.
  6. Wise and Rehill 1999, p. 43.
  7. Zec 1980, p. 38.
  8. "The real thing: Marvin and Point Blank." The First Post, February 15, 2007; retrieved October 11, 2013.
  9. 1 2 "Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Lee Marvin". Comet Over Hollywood.
  10. 1 2 "Captain Kangaroo Court", Snopes, May 24, 2009; retrieved August 13, 2015.
  11. Epstein 2013, p. 67.
  12. Epstein 2013, pp. 95–96.
  13. "Film Noir of the Week: Violent Saturday (1955)". www.noiroftheweek.com. Retrieved 2016-04-09.
  14. Epstein 2013, p. 112.
  15. Epstein 2013, p. 79.
  16. Epstein 2013, p. 124.
  17. 1 2 Epstein 2013, p. 135.
  18. "Awards: Ship of Fools (1965)." IMDb. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  19. Bean 2013, p. 155.
  20. David 1995, p. 46.
  21. Walker 1987, p. 281.
  22. "Berlinale 1965: Prize Winners". Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  23. Zec 1980, p. 217.
  24. Epstein 2013, p. 202.
  25. Flick, A.J. "Marvin in Love". Classic Movies, 1997. Retrieved: October 12, 2013.
  26. "Want to see a marlin?". The Cairns Post. March 7, 2008. Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  27. "Obituary: Christopher Marvin The Santa Barbara Independent".
  28. Epstein 2013, p. 256.
  29. "Obituary: Claudia Leslie Marvin", All-States Cremation; retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  30. Marvin 1997, p. 12.
  31. 1 2 Woo, Elaine. "Michelle Triola Marvin dies at 75; her legal fight with ex-lover Lee Marvin added 'palimony' to the language", Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2009. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  32. "18 C3d 660: Marvin v. Marvin (1976)." online.ceb.com. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  33. Laskin, Jerry. "California 'Palimony' Law; An Overview." Goldman & Kagon Law Corporation. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  34. "Unmarried Cohabitant's Right to Support and Property." peoples-law.org. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  35. " 'Palimony' figure Michelle Triola Marvin dies", Associated Press, October 30, 2009.
  36. "Point Counterpoint: Lee Marvin & Michelle Triola". NBC, March 17, 1979. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  37. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." on YouTube Carson Entertainment Group, February 9, 1979, retrieved October 11, 2013.
  38. Hevesi, Dennis. "Lee Marvin, Movie Tough Guy, Dies", The New York Times, August 31, 1987; retrieved October 11, 2013.
  39. "Lee Marvin." FindAGrave.com. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.


  • Bean, Kendra. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-76245-099-2.
  • David, Catherine. Simone Signoret. New York: Overlook Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-87951-581-2.
  • Epstein, Dwayne. Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Tucson, Arizona: Schaffner Press, Inc., 2013. ISBN 978-1-93618-240-4.
  • Marvin, Pamela. Lee: A Romance. London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1997. ISBN 978-0-571-19028-7.
  • Walker, Alexander. Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh. New York: Grove Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8021-3259-6.
  • Wise, James E. and Anne Collier Rehill. Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1-55750-949-9.
  • Zec, Donald. Marvin: The Story of Lee Marvin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980. ISBN 0-312-51780-7.
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