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Interview with Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin said, yes sir, this was a brand new experience. He had made a lot of tours to promote movies - but this was the first tour he'd made sober.

"You get a new perspective on things," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I can take it or leave it alone. It's just that I don't take it when I'm leaving it alone." He stared glumly at the carpet in his Ambassador East suite. Then he stared glumly into a half-empty cup of cold coffee. After a while, his glum stare panned slowly to the left, coming to rest on two enormous built-in bookcases. All of the shelves were bare.

"How do you like these palatial living quarters?" he said. "Over there you will observe the empty bookshelves filled with non-existent reading materials. So this is how National General treats you . . ."

His voice seemed to evoke other days, other rooms, an era when there would have been books on the shelves . . . or at the very least, no shelves. He had come to Chicago to publicize a movie named "Pocket Money," in which he co-stars with Paul Newman. It opens at the Chicago Wednesday and marks the first time they have appeared together in a movie.

"We play a couple of guys involved in cattle and horse buying and selling," he explained. "Like used car dealers or something. Only cattle. You kick the bull and blow the horn. Or pull the horn. Or something. Whatever you do when you buy a used bull."

The inevitable question: What was it, uh, like to work with Newman?

"Hmmm. I dunno."

This was the first time the two of you had . . .

"Yeah. I dunno. I don't have a hell of a lot to talk to him about. I did the picture because he was right, and I was right, and, hell, we were both right. The picture is about how our cattle dealings lead to our eventual demise. But there's a lot of humor along the way."

Did Paul Newman seem to be smart? Dumb?

"I dunno. He's an executive, he had a lot on his mind. He was acting in this picture, he was editing a picture he had directed - he had a lot on his mind."

Marvin stretched out his legs and crossed his feet. "You know. He had a lot on his mind. Like that time during the Kennedy period. This actress on a picture I was on, she got the word. Jack was in town. So she went over and a couple of hours later she came back, and everybody wanted to know, what was Jack like? And she said, 'Oh, I dunno. It seemed like he had a lot on his mind."'

A small silence fell. After a time, Marvin spoke again.

"It's not the actress you're thinking of," he said. Silence.

"I saw Newman before I went out on this tour," Marvin said. "The movie was made by his company, you know. So I go on the tour. 'Jeez,' he says, 'I'm so glad you're going out, Lee. I'd go myself, but . . .'


Marvin stood up and looked out the window. Far below on Goethe Street, the Near North jet set was warming up for Saturday night. A car equipped with a loudspeaker was parked in front of the hotel, and an amplified voice could be heard thundering: "We are right behind you, Stanley Shapiro! Stanley Shapiro! We are right beh-i-i-i-nd you!"

"Well I'll be goddamned," Marvin said. "They got him. He better come out with his hands up. Stanley, this is the sheriff speaking . . ."

Marvin walked over to the door connecting his living room with the bedroom. He held onto the doorsill with one hand and swung back and forth on one foot.

"Why don't they have notches on the door," he said, "so a guy could hang on with some degree of confidence while he's swinging in the doorway and asking out loud when the action starts?"

Paul Wasserman, Marvin's publicity agent, came into the room just then and announced that it was not going to be possible for Marvin to dine that night at the Cape Cod Room of the Drake.

"Why not?" Marvin said.

"They aren't taking any more reservations," Wasserman said. "They're full."

"Did you, ah . . . did you mention the name Lee Marvin?" Marvin asked.

"Yes, I did," Wasserman said. "When I mentioned your name, they said they were still not taking any reservations."

"They must have really been full," Marvin said.

"I think that shows a certain amount of integrity on their part, "Wasserman said. "Even for Lee Marvin, if they're full, they're full."

"That's what we need more of in this world," Marvin said. "Integrity. I'm hungry, and you tell me integrity. Christ, if I didn't eat at all tonight, we could make an honest man out of every maitre 'd in town."

He stood looking out the window again. "So here I am in Chicago," he said. "Wearing my old military pants from some B movie, and my wingtip shoes. I put on my wingtips to come East, and everybody's wearing boots. There's just no keeping up. The vibes. You got to catch up with the vibes, the good vibes, the bad vibes. Vibes. Vibrations. Vibes are supposedly a discovery of recent years. Cut to Beethoven with a block of wood in his mouth."

He sat down again. "So here he is," he said, "the new Lee Marvin. What was wrong with the old Lee Marvin? We don't know. See 'Pocket Money' and figure out for yourself. And hear Carole King sing your favorite song, 'Pocket Money,' on the sound track. An 87-piece string orchestra does the rest."

"Carole King is my client also," Paul Wasserman said. "Your client?" Marvin said. "By what marvelous coincidence did she record the title song?"

"I had nothing to do with it," Wasserman said,

"Nothing to do with it, I'll bet," Marvin said. "This is after you made her some rash promises over a rather long sofa . . ."

"She's happily married," Wasserman said.

"You mean Hollywood has changed?" Marvin said.

The Saturday night revelers far below broke their silence. "We're right behind you, Stanley Shapiro," their loud-speaker roared.

Lee Marvin sighed. "Smart, I'm not," he said. "Older, I'm getting."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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