For me, what sets Lee Marvin apart is his authenticity. He didn’t just play tough guys, he was one, serving in the US Marine Corps during WW II, surviving the Battle of Saipan, segueing into an acting career after working as a plumber in a community theatre.
A successful Hollywood actor, he was the roughest of diamonds in an industry that prides itself on polish. He struggled with inner demons both on- and off-screen, his career uneven, his life messy. He died, old before his time, at age 63.
The breadth and depth of Marvin’s appeal is demonstrated by the calibre of writers who answered the call when Crime Factory Publications went soliciting for short fiction inspired by his life. The result is LEE, a collection of 17 stories set between 1944 and 1987, which like the actor himself, stagger from the serious to satirical, the honourable to the hard-core. The smell of sweat, smoke and booze wafts from every page. And while themes of violence, addiction and abjection dominate, the collection also contains moments of hilarity and genuine pathos.
As with previous Crime Factory anthologies (and yes, I had a short story in one once, so sue me), the quality of the offerings is impressive.
‘The Man Who Shot The Duke’ by Heath Lowrance describes a fantastical melding of Marvin the actor with Marvin the Marine when violence erupts on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1961. A terrific story — but spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film.
‘A Sort of Intellectual’ by Jenna Bass is for me the most poignant in the collection, one that inspires me to see the film it references, Ship of Fools, directed by Stanley Kramer and released in 1965 (the story is set in 1964).
‘Just Swell’ by Cameron Ashley, set in 1966 the night Marvin won the Best Actor Oscar (for Cat Ballou) is one of several stories that made me laugh out loud.
‘The Gun Hunter’ by Eric Beetner is a debauched tale of props, cocks and guns, loosely linked to the set of 1967’s Point Blank, and featuring killer lines like: ‘He leads me into an alley I’d never be caught dead in, but I’m pretty sure several dozen other people had.’
‘Gone Fishing’ by Andrew Nette imagines one of Marvin’s regular visits to Cairns to fish for marlin, with a denouement that acts as a perfect metaphor for Lee’s disappointment at the reception of Hell in the Pacific, a film ‘he’d poured his heart and soul into’.
‘Down Mexico Way’ by Luke Preston depicts Marvin knocking back a role on ‘monster movie’ pitched to him by a kid called Joey. ‘It’s a piece of shit, kid. trust me, I know what they look like, we’re shooting one now.’ The movie Marvin is shooting is Pocket Money (1972). The one he passes up on is Jaws. True story, cleverly told.
‘The Wild Coast’ by Roger Smith imagines Marvin’s discomfort on the set of Shout At The Devil in 1976, filming in a ‘bullshit puppet country…run by a tin pot dictator’. Marvin, a liberal Democrat, who ‘even spoke out in support of gay rights in Playboy magazine for Chrissakes’, channels his loathing towards ‘limey pantywaist’ co-star Roger Moore and the ‘Boer bruiser’ appointed as his stunt double. Revenge never tasted so good.
I’ve kept my comments to seven out of 17 stories. I could say good things about all 17, but then I’d sound like one of those parents at a kids’ party who insists every kid wins a prize. The sort of behaviour guaranteed to earn me the scorn of someone like Lee Marvin.
So what if I live with one of the editors at Crime Factory? — I offer you my opinions on a take it or leave it basis.
And in my opinion, this anthology rocks hard.