Marvin in Love
An interview with Pamela Marvin, from our Classic Movies special correspondent. This article was written in 1997 and has not been updated since then.
By A.J. FLICK
Tucson, Arizona (Special to Classic Movies) – Lee Marvin’s “wand’rin’ star” took him far away from his native New York, but true love brought him back home.
“Can you imagine?” Pamela Marvin said in her sprawling home in Tucson, Arizona. “It’s so amazing that it worked. Twenty-some odd years had gone by without so much as holding hands.”
Pamela Marvin details her life with Lee Marvin, who died in 1987 in Tucson, in Lee: A Romance ($27.95, Faber and Faber).
The two were sweethearts when Lee was 21 and fresh out of the Marine Corps and World War II. Pamela, six years his junior, was still in high school in their hometown of Woodstock, N.Y.
They drifted apart when Lee set off to pursue his dream of acting.
Then, after both had left marriages to others, they rediscovered their youthful passion for each other.
“Oh, it was certainly lovely, I must say,” Pamela Marvin said of their marriage on Oct. 18, 1970. “Because, in a way, it was totally unexpected. And yet in another way, subliminally, it was always something I rather planned on.”
The reunion was years in the making, however. From the late 1940s until Lee Marvin’s mother died in the early 1960s, the two barely saw each other. Then, over the ensuing years, they’d run into each other in Woodstock.
Pamela once interviewed the rising star on a radio show she hosted.
Then, in 1970, Pamela visited California, where Lee lived. He called her and they went out to dinner, followed by a tour of his Malibu home and his awards, such as a gold record for “Wand’rin’ Star” and an Oscar for “Cat Ballou.”
“We didn’t even hold hands,” Pamela said, smiling. “Nothing. He was just telling me everything he’d done, showing me everything.”
“In such a nice, wonderful way. So proudly,” she said, nodding.
Later that year, Lee returned to Woodstock to be with his dying father.
Then, when Lee was in New York City promoting the movie Monte Walsh (filmed at Old Tucson Studios) with his co-star and on-set paramour Jeanne Moreau, his relationship with Pamela solidified.
“One time he called and said, ‘Don’t go anywhere tonight. You be home. You be there.’ So I said, ‘OK, all right.’
“He came up in a limousine and said, ‘OK, let’s go. We’re getting married. I’ve come to get ya.'”
And though each were at different points in their lives when they married, their differences couldn’t keep them apart.
“He was at the height of his career and I was struggling along with four kids,” Pamela said. “And here he comes, my knight on his white charger. It was wonderful. Cinderella in a way.”
Lee took pains to keep her in his life. He wasn’t about to lose her again.
“He was really good about how he introduced me to the whole world,” she said.
First, he shuttered Pamela, her children and his children away in Malibu without any outsiders. Then he introduced her to his friends. Then the Hollywood scene. Then he brought her to TV appearances.
“He really did it very nicely, slowly,” Pamela said.
In 1971, he started work on a movie called Pocket Money, co-starring Paul Newman, in southern Arizona.
It was the beginning of Pamela’s travels to movie locations and marked her first foray into Arizona. Lee had been in Arizona before, for movies, and loved it. Pamela fell in love with Arizona — and Tucson in particular — as well.
In 1975, the Marvins moved to Tucson. While on location in Africa on a movie, they heard about and bought a house in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains that was designed by famed architect Josias Joesler.
“Lee was very, very fond of Tucson,” she said. “He loved it even in the summer!”
Pamela said she wrote the book to show who Lee Marvin was away from the cameras.
“He was a complex person of so many different talents. I thought it would be nice to have people know the real person.”
The book includes stories about Lee Marvin’s legendary bawdy humor, as well as the most controversial time in his life. Pamela Marvin does not gloss over the infamous 1979 trial when Lee’s former live-in lover, Michelle Triola, sued him.
“If you’re going to write about something, you’ve got to include everything that happened,” Pamela said.
Triola’s lawyer, Marvin Mitchelson, said his client had the same rights as a spouse even though Triola and Lee Marvin never married. Mitchelson called it “palimony.”
Lee Marvin was cleared of any responsibility toward Triola’s support. However, most people only remember the sensational aspects of the case and not the facts. With her book, Pamela Marvin wants to set the record straight.
Pamela Marvin and Michelle Triola have never met. But even though Triola caused her anguish, Pamela Marvin holds no bitterness toward her.
“I feel no better or worse toward her than I did before,” Pamela stated.
Lee Marvin wasn’t bitter, either.
“He was just glad for it all to be over. I won’t say the words he did, but he said he was glad that (pause) was over with,” Pamela said, smiling.
Due to publishing constraints, Pamela Marvin had to limit her book to 425 pages, although she had written 1,200. But she’s already compiling the “leftovers” into a book focusing on Lee Marvin’s films.
In many ways, Lee Marvin was a homebody, his widow says.
“He liked things to be right,” Pamela Marvin said.
“I know he’d be a little bit appalled with some of the falling out of things that he did. But I’m getting it all together. Slowly,” she added with a chuckle.
“He did have great artistic sense in ways other than being an actor. He could visualize how something could look before he started a project. He was really a perfectionist in many ways.”
Lee Marvin enjoyed scouring the local dump and hardware stores, Pamela said.
Lee was a fix-it man around the house. He transformed a bookshelf into a scenic nook. He ordered custom-designed ironwork inside and out.
“He took it back to what he felt the original Joesler would have wanted it to be,” said Pamela “Over the years, things were changed here and there. Different flowers were planted all over the place.
“He said, ‘This is desert. The plants should be indigenous.'”
The biggest change was the addition of a mixed-media room, which housed a big-screen TV, VCR, etc., and two giant fish.
After they married in 1970, Lee quickly introduced Pam to fishing. They were fishing in Hawaii when Pam caught what turned out to be a world-record blue marlin.
“He was a little happy,” she said, laughing, “but also a little, ‘Hmmm. I teach her fishing and SHE gets the record.'”
But when they fished off Australia, Lee caught a bigger marlin.
“He always thought, ‘Geez, We don’t have a wall big enough for these fish.'”
So castings of Pamela’s world-record marlin and Lee’s thousand-pound marlin are hung on opposite walls of the media room, along with huge hooks that they used to catch the big fish and other memorabilia from their travels.
Below Pamela’s fish is a couch. Folded and draped over the back are the American and Australia flags. In between sits a tattered, floppy hat made of sail cloth.
Lee Marvin’s fishing hat.
The Lee Marvin File
(From Lee: A Romance by Pamela Marvin)
Born: Feb. 19, 1924, in New York City
Died: Aug. 29, 1987, in Tucson
Buried: Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
First public acting role: Ten Nights in a Barroom
“Breakthrough” role: In People Need People in 1961 on ABC, in which he played a homicidal and suicidal war veteran. It won him an Emmy.
Lee Marvin’s films: (available for purchase)
You’re in the Navy Now (1951, also called U.S.S. Teakettle)
Hong Kong (1951, bit part)
We’re Not Married (1952)
Diplomatic Courier (1952)
Duel at Silver Creek (1952)
Hangman’s Knot (1952)
Eight Iron Men (1952)
The Glory Brigade (1953)
Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953)
The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953)
The Big Heat (1953)
Gun Fury (1953)
The Wild One (1954)
Gorilla at Large (1954)
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
The Raid (1954)
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Violent Saturday (1955)
Not as a Stranger (1955)
A Life in the Balance (1955)
Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955)
I Died a Thousand Times (1955)
Shack Out on 101 (1955)
Seven Men From Now (1956)
Pillars of the Sky (1956)
The Rack (1956)
Raintree Country (1957)
The Missouri Traveler (1958)
The American (made for TV, 1960)
The Comancheros (1961)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Donovan’s Reef (1963)
The Killers (1964)
Cat Ballou, for which he won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, (1965)
Ship of Fools (1965)
The Professionals (1966)
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Point Blank (1967)
Sergeant Ryker (made for TV in 1963, released theatrically in 1968)
Hell in the Pacific (1968)
Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Monte Walsh (1970)
Pocket Money (1972)
Prime Cut (1972)
Emperor of the North Pole (1973)
The Iceman Cometh (1973)
The Spikes Gang (1974)
The Klansman (1974, also called The Burning Cross)
Shout at the Devil (1976)
The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976)
Avalanche Express (1979)
The Big Red One (1980)
Death Hunt (1983)
Gorky Park (1983)
Dog Day (1984)
The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (made for TV, 1985)
Delta Force (1986)
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