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Lee Marvin (February 19, 1924 – August 29, 1987) was an American film actor. Known for his gravelly voice, white hair and 6' 2" stature, Marvin at first did supporting roles, mostly villains, soldiers and other hardboiled characters, but after winning an Academy Award for Best Actor for his dual roles in Cat Ballou, he landed more heroic and sympathetic leading roles.

Early life

Marvin was born in New York Citymarker, the 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 Davidge, a fashion writer and beauty consultant. His father was a direct descendant of Matthew Marvin, Sr., who emigrated from Great Bentleymarker, Essex, Englandmarker in 1635 and helped found Hartford, Connecticutmarker.

Marvin studied violin when he was young. As a teenager, Marvin "spent weekends and spare time hunting deer, puma, wild turkey and bobwhite in the wilds of the then-uncharted Evergladesmarker." He attended St. Leo Preparatory College in St. Leo, Floridamarker after being expelled from several schools for bad behavior.

Marvin left school to join the United States Marine Corps, serving as a Scout Sniper in the 4th Marine Division. He was wounded in action during the WWII Battle of Saipan, during which most of his platoon were killed. Marvin's wound (in the buttocks) was from machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve. He was awarded the Purple Heart medal and was given a medical discharge with the rank of Private First Class. Contrary to rumors, Marvin did not serve with Bob Keeshan during World War II.


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 served as an understudy in Broadwaymarker productions.

In 1950, Marvin moved to Hollywoodmarker. 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 even adjusting war surplus military prop 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 small but memorable role as smartalecky sailor Meatball in The Caine Mutiny. He was again praised for his role as Hector the small town hood in Bad Day at Black Rockmarker (1955) with Spencer Tracy.

During the mid-1950s, Marvin gradually began playing more substantial roles. He starred in Attack (1956), and The Missouri Traveler (1958) but it took over one hundred episodes as Chicagomarker cop Frank Ballinger in the successful 1957-1960 television series M Squad to actually give him name recognition. One critic described the show as "a hyped-up, violent Dragnet... with a hard-as-nails Marvin" playing a police lieutenant.

In the 1960s, Marvin was given prominent co-starring roles such as The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962; Marvin played Liberty Valance) and Donovan's Reef (1963), all with John Wayne. Marvin also guest-starred in Combat! "The Bridge at Chalons" (Episode 34, Season 2, Mission 1), and The Twilight Zone "The Grave" (1961, episode #72), in which he played a fearless gunman investigating the haunted grave of a man who swore to get revenge on him, and "Steel" (1963, episode #122 ), in which he played a former boxer who gets into the ring with a boxing robot.

Thanks to director Don Siegel, Marvin appeared in the groundbreaking The Killers (1964) playing an organized, no-nonsense, efficient, businesslike professional assassin whose character was copied to a great degree by Samuel L. Jackson in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. The Killers was also the first movie in which Marvin received top billing and the only time Ronald Reagan played a villain.

Marvin won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor for his comic role in the offbeat western Cat Ballou starring Jane Fonda. Following roles in The Professionals (1966) and the hugely successful The Dirty Dozen (1967), Marvin was given complete control over his next film. In Point Blank, an influential film with director John Boorman, he portrayed a hard-nosed criminal bent on revenge. In that film 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 Hell in the Pacific, co-starring famed Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune. He had a hit song with "Wand'rin' Star" from the western musical Paint Your Wagon (1969). By this time he was getting paid a million dollars per film, $200,000 less than Paul Newman was making at the time; he was also ambivalent about the business, even with its financial rewards:
"You spend the first forty years of your life trying to get in this fucking 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), Prime Cut (1972), Pocket Money (1972), Emperor of the North Pole (1973), The Iceman Cometh (1973) as Hickey, The Spikes Gang (1974), The Klansman (1974), Shout at the Devil (1976), The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976), and Avalanche Express (1978). 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?".

Marvin's last big role was in Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One (1980). His remaining films were Death Hunt (1981), Gorky Park (1983), Dog Day (1984), The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (1985), with his final appearance being in The Delta Force (1986).

Personal life

A father of six, 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 Mexicalimarker. He then married Pamela Feeley (who had been his girlfriend in Woodstock, New York a quarter century earlier) on October 18, 1970 and remained her husband until his death. During the 1970s, Marvin resided off and on in Woodstock, New Yorkmarker, caring for his dying father, and would make regular trips to Cairnsmarker, Australia to engage in marlin fishing. In 1975 Marvin and Pamela moved to Tucsonmarker, where he lived until his death.

Marvin was a liberal Democrat who opposed the Vietnam War and declared his support for the gay rights movement in a January 1969 interview with Playboy magazine. He publicly endorsed John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.

In December 1986, Marvin underwent intestinal surgery after suffering abdominal pains while at his ranch outside of Tucsonmarker. Doctors said then that there was an inflammation of the colon, but that no malignancy was found. He died of a heart attack on August 29, 1987 after being hospitalized for more than a fortnight because of "a run-down condition related to the flu." He is interred at Arlington National Cemeterymarker where his headstone reads "Lee Marvin, PFC US Marine Corps, World War II".

  • Children with Betty Ebeling: Christopher (b.1952), Courtenay (b.1954), Cynthia (b.1956), Claudia (b.1958)

Community property case

In 1971, Marvin was sued by his live-in girlfriend, Michelle Triola, who legally changed her surname to 'Marvin'. Though 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. She claimed the second abortion left her unable to bear children. The result was the landmark "palimony" case, Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660 (1976). 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 non-marital 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 non-marital 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 there was no such contract, and thus nullified the award she had been made. Michelle Triola died of lung cancer on October 30, 2009.

Partial filmography

Television appearances

Marvin's appearances on television includedM Squad,Climax!,Dragnet (as murder suspect Henry Ellsworth Ross),General Electric Theater,The Investigators,The Barbara Stanwyck Show,Route 66,The Untouchables,The Dick Powell Show,Combat!,The Twilight Zone,Kraft Suspense Theatre,andDr. Kildare, as well aswesterns such as Wagon Train,Bonanza, andThe Virginian.

See also


  1. Lee Marvin's ancestors from a collection of celebrity family trees at
  2. Zec, Donald. Marvin: The Story of Lee Marvin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980, ISBN 0-312-51780-7, pp. 20-25
  3. Zec, Donald. Marvin: The Story of Lee Marvin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980, ISBN 0-312-51780-7, p. 217
  4. Flick, A.J., Marvin in Love, Classic Movies, 1997.
  5. Want to see a marlin? from The Cairns Post website
  6. Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 C3d 660 from
  7. Unmarried Cohabitant's Right to Support and Property from

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