One of my favorite actors, gravel-voiced meat-eatin' tough guy Lee Marvin, died 21 years ago today. So it's time for me to post one of the weirder pieces of "celebrity journalism" I've ever stumbled across: Marvin's beautifully written, ambivalent first-person account of hunting -- and then sparing -- a magnificent elk bull.
About a year ago, I found a May 1964 issue of Gun World magazine lying on a counter at a shooting range. The mag reeked of mildew; someone had obviously found it in a box or attic, then dumped it at the range.
What caught my eye was the cover: "Elk Hunting with Lee Marvin." Marvin apparently wrote the essay inside.
I actually believe he penned this piece without help, BTW. In the documentary "Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait," friend and director John Boorman reveals that Marvin was a terrific writer and painter. Midway through the doc, Boorman even asks director Jim Jarmusch to read a passage from Marvin's autobiography -- in which the actor and former Marine talks about getting shot in the ass in the Pacific theater during WWII, only to be filled with guilt as he eats ice cream in sickbay while his friends get shot to hell onshore.
"Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait" is on YouTube. Here's the whole thing -- it's a must-watch for fans:
You can also download "Elk Hunting with Lee Marvin" right here (PDF, 3.2 MB) or read the whole thing after the jump.
I personally don't hunt, but found this piece fascinating for a number of reasons. First, it's a throwback to a time when actors didn't fall into tidy political categories. Marvin seems to have been one of those Hemingway lefties who drank and sport-fished and got in fistfights and dabbled in multimedia. It's also a throwback to a time when leading men lived long, vivid, and sometimes traumatic lives before they ever stepped in front of a camera -- which of course made them infinitely more interesting to watch than the pretty-boy milk-sops that pass for action heroes today.
Here's Marvin, from the piece, writing discreetly but powerfully about his WWII experiences and how they kept him away from firearms for years:
That, I think, is one of the reasons I had decided to take up serious hunting again, after a layoff of nearly twenty years; as a release; an escape from every day pressures; or perhaps a chance to simply commune with the basics. Call it what you will.
As a teenager, I had gone to school in Florida and had spent weekends and spare time hunting deer, puma, wild turkey and bobwhite in the wilds of the then uncharted Everglades. In those days and that area, the shotgun was the universal all-purpose gun, shooting everything from 00 buckshot to bird sizes, selecting your shot to match your game.
Then, when World War II came along, I had enlisted in the Marine Corps. It wasn't long before I had gotten my fill of serious shooting with the game, this time, shooting back. As a result, when I was discharged, there was a period when firearms held no particular charm for me. After all, I had virtually slept with a rifle at my side for months on end. The Corps had insisted that, like all Marines, I was married to this bit of precision machinery, and perhaps I had begun to take it seriously.
Then, before I could go through that post-war cooling period that a lot of us needed, I got into this acting business and attempting to shape a career began to eat up what otherwise would have been recreation time....
Try to imagine any modern leading man writing this earnestly or well today about the very real experiences that Marvin brought to bear onscreen in countless Westerns, thrillers, and war pictures. The full story after the jump.