A generous biography of Oscar-winning actor Lee Marvin (1924–1987), best known for his roles in The Dirty Dozen and Point Blank.
Epstein, journalist and frequent writer on Hollywood, considers Marvin—who often played supporting roles as henchmen, soldiers and other characters in Westerns—through a prism of aggression. With ancestors that included Robert E. Lee, George Washington and Ross Marvin (a member of the Robert Peary Arctic expedition), the author proposes that Marvin inherited “the characteristic of the violence-prone male,” which manifested as a bristling spirit often besotted with problems, what is now known as PTSD and alcoholism—all of which Marvin channeled through villains who allowed him to go beyond the range of the acceptable in real life. Epstein recounts how tension at home and frequent expulsions from school eventually led Marvin to enlist as a Marine in World War II and to turn toward the stage, Hollywood and TV in the ensuing years. The author effectively chronicles the actor’s long path from breaking out of niche roles to wider acclaim. Though he does not refrain from including a handful of coarser anecdotes about the actor’s behavior, along with trials in his romantic life, Epstein balances such moments with commentary on Marvin’s kindness, talent and professionalism. Remarks from interviews conducted with Marvin’s longtime agent, Meyer Mishkin, and with Marvin’s first wife, Betty Marvin, especially illuminate the man who “etch[ed] interesting portraits of humanity’s dark side." Epstein’s admiration for his subject is clear yet never too heavy-handed.
A well-paced, thoughtful examination of a singular corpus of work that influenced film portrayals of violence in subsequent decades.