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Lee Marvin was born on February 19th 1924 in New York City, the son of Lamont Waltman Marvin, an advertising executive, and his wife, Courtenay Washington Davidge, a fashion writer. He was named in honour of Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was his cousin, four times removed.
After being expelled from a number of schools, Marvin joined the United States Marine Corps, serving as a scout sniper in the 4th Marine Division. He was wounded in action during the WW2 Battle of Saipan, from machine gun fire which severed his sciatic nerve. He was awarded the Purple Heart, and given a medical discharge.
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. And so began a long and illustrious career.
After serving as a understudy in Broadway productions, Marvin moved to Hollywood in 1950. As a decorated combat veteran, Marvin was a natural choice for war films. His debut was in "You're In The Navy Now" (1951), and in 1952 he appeared in several films including "Duel At Silver Creek", "Hangman's Knot" and "Eight Iron Men". He played Gloria Grahame's vicious boyfriend in "The Big Heat" (1953), and a small but memorable role in "The Wild One", opposite Marlon Brando.
The Wild One (1953)
Several more minor roles followed in films such as "The Caine Mutiny" and "Bad Day At Black Rock" (1955) with Spencer Tracy. By the mid- 1950's, Marvin was starting to play more prominant parts, and he starred in "Attack" (1956), "Seven Men From Now" (1956) and "The Missouri Traveler" (1958). But it was the TV series "M Squad" (1957-1960) in which he played Chicago cop Frank Ballinger, which actually gave him name recognition.
In the 1960's, Marvin was given prominant supporting roles in "The Comancheros" (1961), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962) and "Donovan's Reef" (1963) all with John Wayne. For director Don Siegel, Marvin appeared in "The Killers" (1964) with Clu Gulager. This was the first film in which he received top billing.
In 1965 Marvin won "The Academy Award For Best Actor" for his comic role in "Cat Ballou" with Jane Fonda.
Cat Ballou (1965)
He followed that success with a string of hit films including "The Professionals" (1966) with Burt Lancaster, "The Dirty Dozen" (1967) And "Point Blank" (1968).
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Marvin was originally cast as Pike Bishop (later played by William Holden) in "The Wild Bunch", but fell out with Sam Peckinpah and pulled out to star in the western musical "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) with Clint Eastwood. Despite his limited singing ability, he had a hit with "Wand'rin' Star".
In the 1970's and 1980's, Marvin had a much greater variety of roles with fewer bad-guy parts than in earlier years. Films included "The Iceman Cometh (1973), "The Klansman" (1974), "Shout At The Devil" (1976), and "Avalanche Express" (1978) to name but a few. Marvins last films included "The Big Red One" (1980), "Gorky Park" (1983) and finally "The Delta Force" (1986) with Chuck Norris.
Apart from his own show "M Squad", Marvin made numerous appearances in shows such as "Dragnet", "Route 66", "The Twilight Zone", "Wagon Train", "The Virginian", and of course "Bonanza".
The Virginian episode "It Tolls For Thee" (1962)
In the Bonanza episode "The Crucible" (Season 3), Marvin played Peter Kane, a madman, who imprisons Adam, and forces him to work his mining claim. A very powerful story, it is believed to be Pernell Roberts favourite episode.
The Crucible (1962)
Bonanza episode "The Crucible"
A father of four, Marvin was married twice;
#1 Betty Ebeling 1951-1967. They had a son Christopher and three daughters, Courtenay, Cynthia and Claudia.
#2 Pamela Feeley 1970- until his death.
In December 1986, Marvin underwent intestinal surgery after suffering abdominal pains, while at his ranch outside Tucson, Arizona. He died of a heart attack on August 29th 1987 at the age of 63, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetary.