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Lee Marvin (February 19, 1924 – August 29, 1987) was an American film and television actor.[1]

Lee Marvin
Lee marvin 1971.JPG
Marvin in 1971
Born(1924-02-19)February 19, 1924
DiedAugust 29, 1987(1987-08-29) (aged 63)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
ResidenceTucson, Arizona, U.S.
EducationManumit School
St. Leo College Preparatory School
Years active1948–1986
Betty Ebeling
(m. 1951; div. 1967)

Pamela Feeley
(m. 1970)
Partner(s)Michelle Triola (1965–1970)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchSeal of the United States Marine Corps.svg United States Marine Corps
RankUSMC-E2.svg Private First Class
Unit24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division
Battles/warsWorld War II -Battle of Saipan
AwardsPurple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart Medal

Known for his distinctive voice and premature white hair, Marvin initially appeared in supporting roles, mostly villains, soldiers, and other hardboiled characters. A prominent television role was that of Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the NBC crime series M Squad (1957–1960).

One of Marvin's most notable film projects was Cat Ballou (1965), a comedy Western in which he played dual roles. For portraying both gunfighter Kid Shelleen and criminal Tim Strawn, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, along with a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, an NBR Award, and the Silver Bear for Best Actor.


Early lifeEdit

Marvin was born in New York City. He was the son of two working professionals, Lamont Waltman Marvin, an advertising executive and later the head of the New York and New England Apple Institute, and Courtenay Washington (née Davidge), a well respected fashion and beauty writer/editor.[2]

As with his elder brother, Robert, he was named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was his first cousin, four times removed.[citation needed] 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, a Catholic school in St. Leo, Florida, after being expelled from several other schools for bad behavior.[5]

Marvin took a break in his acting career in 1954 to spend his 30th birthday in the desert town of Night Vale.[6] He was unsure of how many years he spent there before he again resumed his career and linear time in 1955.

Military serviceEdit

World War IIEdit

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.[7] 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.[8] He was hit by machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve,[9] and then was hit again in the foot by a sniper.[10] 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 but had been demoted after causing trouble)[10] in 1945 at Philadelphia.[11]

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 careerEdit

Lee Marvin in "The Grave", a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone

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.[12]

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.[13] 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."[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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).[17]

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.[18]

Television series guest appearances he has made include The Untouchables in 1962 episode, "Element of Danger", as well as episodes in Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, 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).[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. John Boorman recounted his work with Lee Marvin on these two films and Marvin's influence on his career in the 1998 documentary Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait by John Boorman. 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 (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 lifeEdit

Marvin was a Democrat who opposed the Vietnam War. He publicly endorsed John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.[18]

Marriages, loves and childrenEdit

Lee married Betty Ebeling in February 1951 and together they had four children. Married 16 years, they divorced in 1967. Ebeling and he had a son, Christopher Lamont (1952–2013),[25] and three daughters: Courtenay Lee (b. 1954), Cynthia Louise (b. 1956), and Claudia Leslie (1958–2012).[26][27]

Marvin married Pamela Feeley in October 1970. She had four children with three previous husbands, they had no children together. They were married until his death.[28]

Community property caseEdit

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.[29] She claimed the second abortion left her unable to bear children.[29] The result was the landmark "palimony" case, Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660 (1976).[30]

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.[31][32] Michelle Triola died of lung cancer on October 30, 2009, having been with actor Dick Van Dyke since 1976.[33]

Later there was controversy after Marvin characterized the trial as a "circus", saying "everyone was lying, even I lied". There were official comments about possibly charging Marvin with perjury, but no charges were filed.[34]

This case was used as fodder for a mock debate skit on Saturday Night Live called "Point Counterpoint",[35] and on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as a skit with Carson as Adam, and Betty White as Eve.[36]


Grave of Lee Marvin at Arlington National Cemetery

In December 1986, Marvin was hospitalized for more than two weeks because of a 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 colectomy. Marvin died of a heart attack on August 29, 1987, aged 63.[37] He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.[38][39]


Year Title 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 & James Stewart.

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

Bonanza Peter Kane episode: The Crucible
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"
The Great Adventure Misok Bedrozian episode: Six Wagons to the Sea
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 Globe 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 Pole 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 (final film role)

Television appearancesEdit

See alsoEdit



  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. ^ a b "Lee Marvin's ancestors",; retrieved October 11, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger. "An interview with Lee Marvin." Chicago Sun-Times for Esquire, October 1970.
  4. ^ "Elk Hunting with Lee Marvin."[permanent dead link] Gun World, May 1964; retrieved October 11, 2013.
  5. ^ Zec 1980, pp. 20–25.
  6. ^!dc549
  7. ^ Wise and Rehill 1999, p. 43.
  8. ^ Zec 1980, p. 38.
  9. ^ Rafael, George (February 15, 2007). "The real thing: Marvin and Point Blank". The First Post. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Lee Marvin". Comet Over Hollywood.
  11. ^ "Captain Kangaroo Court", Snopes, May 24, 2009; retrieved August 13, 2015.
  12. ^ Epstein 2013, p. 67.
  13. ^ Epstein 2013, pp. 95–96.
  14. ^ "Film Noir of the Week: Violent Saturday (1955)". Retrieved 2016-04-09.
  15. ^ Epstein 2013, p. 112.
  16. ^ Epstein 2013, p. 79.
  17. ^ Epstein 2013, p. 124.
  18. ^ a b Epstein 2013, p. 135.
  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. ^ "Obituary: Christopher Marvin The Santa Barbara Independent".
  26. ^ Epstein 2013, p. 256.
  27. ^ "Obituary: Claudia Leslie Marvin". All-States Cremation. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  28. ^ Marvin 1997, p. 12.
  29. ^ a b 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.
  30. ^ "18 C3d 660: Marvin v. Marvin (1976)." Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  31. ^ Laskin, Jerry. "California 'Palimony' Law; An Overview." Goldman & Kagon Law Corporation. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  32. ^ "Unmarried Cohabitant's Right to Support and Property". The People's Law Library. 7 January 2001. Archived from the original on 22 September 2006. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  33. ^ " 'Palimony' figure Michelle Triola Marvin dies", Associated Press, October 30, 2009.
  34. ^ "Lee Marvin". Jango Radio.
  35. ^ "Point Counterpoint: Lee Marvin & Michelle Triola". NBC, March 17, 1979. Retrieved: October 11, 2013.
  36. ^ "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." on YouTube Carson Entertainment Group, February 9, 1979, retrieved October 11, 2013.
  37. ^ Hevesi, Dennis. "Lee Marvin, Movie Tough Guy, Dies", The New York Times, August 31, 1987; retrieved October 11, 2013.
  38. ^ "Lee Marvin to be buried at Arlington". UPI. 18 September 1987. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  39. ^ Associated Press (8 October 1987). "Lee Marvin Is Buried With Military Honors". LA Times. Retrieved 2 August 2018.


  • 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.

External linksEdit