Marvin in 1971.
|Born||February 19, 1924
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||August 29, 1987 (aged 63)
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart failure|
|Resting place||Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, U.S.|
|Home town||Hartford, Connecticut|
|Spouse||Betty Ebeling (1951–67; divorced)
Pamela Feeley (1970–87; his death)
|Partner||Michelle Triola (1965-1970)|
Early lifeMarvin was born in New York City. He was 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 (née Davidge), a fashion writer and beauty consultant. He was named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was his first cousin, four times removed. His father was a direct descendant of Matthew Marvin, Sr., who emigrated from Great Bentley, Essex, England in 1635 and helped found Hartford, Connecticut.
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 Everglades." He attended St. Leo College Preparatory School in St. Leo, Florida after being expelled from several other schools for bad behavior.
Marvin left school to join the United States Marine Corps, serving in the 4th Marine Division. He was wounded in action during the WWII Battle of Saipan, in the assault on Mount Tapochau, during which most of his company ("I" Company, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division) were killed. Marvin's wound (in the buttocks) was from machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve. He was awarded the Purple Heart and was given a medical discharge with the rank of Private First Class. Contrary to rumors, Marvin did not serve with producer and actor Bob Keeshan during World War II.
CareerAfter 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 Broadway productions.
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.
During the mid-1950s, Marvin gradually began playing more important roles. He starred in Attack, (1956) had a good supporting role in the Western Seven Men from Now (1956) and starred in The Missouri Traveler (1958) but it took over one hundred episodes as Chicago 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 tough police lieutenant. Marvin received the role after guest-starring in a memorable Dragnet episode as a serial killer.
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).
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 and the only time Ronald Reagan played a villain, rendering an extremely convincing performance in his last movie role before entering politics.
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 Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival.
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. 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 Toshirō Mifune. 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 in order 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:
- "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'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: The Next Mission (1985; a sequel with Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Jaeckel picking up where they'd left off despite being 18 years older); his final appearance was in The Delta Force (1986) with Chuck Norris.
Personal lifeA father of four, 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 Mexicali. He and Ebeling had a son, Christopher (b. 1952), and three daughters: Courtenay (b. 1954), Cynthia (b. 1956) and Claudia (b. 1958).
He was married to Pamela Feeley (who had been his girlfriend in Woodstock, New York a quarter century earlier) from October 18, 1970 until his death.
 and would make regular trips to Cairns, Australia to engage in marlin fishing. In 1975 Marvin and Pamela moved to Tucson, 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.
DeathMarvin was a heavy smoker from an early age. In December 1986, Marvin underwent intestinal surgery after suffering abdominal pains while at his ranch outside Tucson. 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 two weeks because of "a run-down condition related to the flu." He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery where his headstone reads "Lee Marvin, PFC US Marine Corps, World War II".
Community property case
- See also Marvin v. Marvin
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.
This case was used as fodder for a mock debate skit on Saturday Night Live called "Point Counterpoint".