Oscar Actors: Marvin, Lee–Background, Career, Awards

Lee Marvin Career Summary

Occup. Inheritance: No

Social Class:




Film Debut

TV Debut


Other Awards: No

Career Span: 1948-1986, 38 years

Career Output

Last Film: Delta Force, 1986; age 62

Politics: Democrat

Marriage: 3

Death: 1987; age 63

Born Lamont Waltman Marvin Jr. February 19, 1924, New York City, U.S.

Died August 29, 1987 (aged 63) in Tucson, Arizona

Education: Manumit School; St. Leo College Preparatory School

Career: 1948–1986; 38 years

Lamont Waltman Marvin Jr., better known as Lee Marvin, was known for his distinctive voice and premature white hair. Initially, he appeared in supporting roles, mostly villains, soldiers, and other hardboiled characters.

A prominent TV role was that of Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the crime series M Squad (1957–1960).

Marvin is best remembered for his lead roles as “tough guy” characters such as Charlie Strom in The Killers (1964), Rico Fardan in The Professionals (1966), Major John Reisman in The Dirty Dozen, Walker in Point Blank (both 1967), and the Sergeant in The Big Red One (1980).

In Cat Ballou (1965), a comedy Western, he played dual roles. For portraying both gunfighter Kid Shelleen and criminal Tim Strawn, he won the Best Actor Oscar, along with BAFTA Award, Golden Globe, NBR Award, and Silver Bear for Best Actor.

Marvin was born Lamont Waltman Marvin Jr. on February 19, 1924, in New York City. As with his elder brother Robert, 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 attended Manumit School, a Christian socialist boarding school in Pawling, New York, during the late 1930s, and later attended St. Leo College Preparatory School, a Catholic school in St. Leo, Florida after being expelled from other schools for bad behavior.

Marvin left school at 18 to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve on August 12, 1942. He served with the 4th Marine Division in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  While serving as a member of “I” Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, he was wounded in action on June 18, 1944, during the assault on Mount Tapochau in the Battle of Saipan. He was hit by machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve, and then was hit again in the foot by a sniper. After over a year of medical treatment in naval hospitals, Marvin was given a medical discharge with the rank of private first class. He previously held the rank of corporal, but had been demoted for troublemaking.

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. He caught the acting bug and got a job with the company at $7 a week. He moved to Greenwich Village and used the GI Bill to study at the American Theatre Wing.

He appeared on stage in a production of Uniform of Flesh, an adaptation of Billy Budd (1949).

Marvin began appearing on TV shows like Escape, The Big Story, and Treasury Men in Action. He made it to Broadway with a small role in a production of Uniform of Flesh, now titled Billy Budd in February 1951.

Marvin’s film debut was in Hathaway’s You’re in the Navy Now (1951), which marked the debuts of Charles Bronson and Jack Warden. This required some filming in Hollywood, and Marvin decided to stay there. He had a small part in Teresa (1951) directed by Fred Zinnemann.

As a combat veteran, Marvin was a natural in war dramas, where he assisted the director and actors in realistically portraying infantry movement, arranging costumes, and the use of firearms.

He guest starred on episodes of Fireside Theatre, Suspense and Rebound. Hathaway used him again on Diplomatic Courier (1952) and he could be seen in Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1952), directed by Edmund Goulding, We’re Not Married! (1952), also for Goulding, The Duel at Silver Creek (1952) directed by Don Siegel, and Hangman’s Knot (1952), directed by Roy Huggins.

He guest starred on Biff Baker, U.S.A. and Dragnet, and had a decent role in a feature with Eight Iron Men (1952), a war film produced by Stanley Kramer (Marvin’s role had been played on Broadway by Burt Lancaster).

He was a sergeant in Seminole (1953), a Western directed by Budd Boetticher, and was a corporal in The Glory Brigade (1953), a Korean War film. Marvin guest starred in The Doctor, The Revlon Mirror Theater , Suspense again and The Motorola Television Hour.

He was also in much demand for Westerns: The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953) with Randolph Scott, and Gun Fury (1953) with Rock Hudson.


Marvin received much acclaim for playing villains in two films: The Big Heat (1953) where he played Gloria Grahame’s vicious boyfriend, directed by Fritz Lang; and The Wild One (1953) opposite Marlon Brando (Marvin’s gang in the film was named “The Beetles”), produced by Kramer.

He continued in TV shows such as The Plymouth Playhouse and The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse. He had support roles in Gorilla at Large (1954) and had a notable small role as smart-aleck sailor Meatball in The Caine Mutiny (1954), produced by Kramer.[12] Marvin was in The Raid (1954), Center Stage, Medic and TV Reader’s Digest.

He had a good part as Hector, the small-town hood in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy. Also in 1955, he played a conflicted, brutal bank-robber in Violent Saturday. A latter-day critic wrote of the character, “Marvin brings a multi-faceted complexity to the role and gives a great example of the early promise that launched his long and successful career.”

Marvin played Robert Mitchum’s friend in Not as a Stranger (1955), a medical drama produced by Kramer. He had good supporting roles in A Life in the Balance (1955) (he was third billed), and Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) and appeared on TV in Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre and Studio One in Hollywood.  Marvin was in I Died a Thousand Times (1955) with Jack Palance, Shack Out on 101 (1955), Kraft Theatre, and Front Row Center.

Marvin was the villain in 7 Men from Now (1956) with Randolph Scott directed by Boetticher. He was second-billed to Palance in Attack (1956) directed by Robert Aldrich. Marvin had good roles in Pillars of the Sky (1956) with Jeff Chandler, The Rack (1956) with Paul Newman, Raintree County (1956) and The Missouri Traveler (1958). He also guest starred on Climax! (several times), Studio 57, The United States Steel Hour and Schlitz Playhouse.

Leading Man
Marvin finally got to be a leading man in 100 episodes as Chicago cop Frank Ballinger in the successful 1957–1960 TV series M Squad. When the series ended Marvin appeared on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Sunday Showcase, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Americans, Wagon Train, Checkmate, General Electric Theater, Alcoa Premiere, The Investigators, Route 66, Ben Casey, Bonanza, The Untouchables, The Virginian, The Twilight Zone (“The Grave”, “Steel”) and The Dick Powell Theatre.

Acting with John Wayne

Marvin returned to features with prominent role in The Comancheros (1961) starring John Wayne. He played in two more films with Wayne, both directed by John Ford: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Donovan’s Reef (1963). 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).

In 1962 Marvin appeared as Martin Kalig on the TV western The Virginian in the episode titled “It Tolls for Thee.” He continued to guest star on shows like Combat!, Dr. Kildare and The Great Adventure. He did The Case Against Paul Ryker for Kraft Suspense Theatre.

For director Don Siegel, Marvin appeared in The Killers (1964) playing an efficient professional assassin alongside Clu Gulager, for which he received top billing. He guest starred on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.

Marvin finally became a star for his comic role in the offbeat Western Cat Ballou starring Jane Fonda, a surprise hit for which Marvin won the 1965 Best Actor Oscar. (He also won the 1965 Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Fest.)

Playing alongside Vivien Leigh and Simone Signoret, Marvin won the 1966 National Board of Review Award for male actors for his role in Ship of Fools (1965) directed by Kramer.

Marvin next performed in the hit Western 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) after the Mexican Revolution.

He followed that film with Aldrich’s hugely successful WWII epic The Dirty Dozen (1967) in which top-billed Marvin again portrayed an intrepid commander of a colorful group (John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Jim Brown, and Donald Sutherland) performing an impossible mission. Robert Aldrich directed.

After the Oscar, Marvin was a huge star, given enormous control over his next film Point Blank, a film noir, portraying a hard-nosed criminal bent on revenge. Marvin, who had selected Boorman as director, had a central role in the film’s development, plot, and staging.

In 1968, Marvin appeared in another Boorman film, the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful WWII character study Hell in the Pacific, also starring famed Japanese actor Toshiro 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 to star in the Western musical Paint Your Wagon (1969), in which he was top-billed over a singing Clint Eastwood. Despite limited singing ability, he had a hit song with “Wand’rin’ Star.” By this time, he was getting paid $1 million per film, $200,000 less than top star Paul Newman was making at the time.

Marvin 1970s movies included Monte Walsh (1970), a Western with Palance and Jeanne Moreau; the violent Prime Cut (1972) with Gene Hackman; Pocket Money (1972) with Paul Newman, for Stuart Rosenberg; Emperor of the North (1973) opposite Ernest Borgnine for Aldrich; as Hickey in The Iceman Cometh (1973) with Fredric March and Robert Ryan, for John Frankenheimer; The Spikes Gang (1974) with Noah Beery Jr. for Richard Fleischer; The Klansman (1974) with Richard Burton; Shout at the Devil (1976), a World War I adventure with Roger Moore, directed by Peter Hunt; The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976), a comic Western with Oliver Reed; and Avalanche Express (1978), a Cold War thriller with Robert Shaw who died during production. None of these films were big box office hits.

Marvin was offered the role of Quint in Jaws (1975) but declined, stating “What would I tell my fishing friends who’d see me come off a hero against a dummy shark?”

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), a Canadian action movie with Charles Bronson, directed by Hunt; Gorky Park (1983) with William Hurt; and Dog Day (1984), shot in France.

For TV he did The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission (1985; a sequel with Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Jaeckel picking up where they had left off despite being 18 years older.

Last Film: 1986
His final appearance was in The Delta Force (1986) with Chuck Norris, playing a role turned down by Charles Bronson.

Marvin was a Democrat who opposed the Vietnam War. He publicly endorsed John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.


Marvin married Betty Ebeling in February 1951 and together they had four children, son Christopher Lamont (1952–2013), and three daughters: Courtenay Lee (b. 1954), Cynthia Louise (b. 1956), and Claudia Leslie (1958–2012). Married 16 years, they divorced in 1967. Marvin reunited with his high school sweetheart, Pamela Feeley, marrying in October 1970. She had four children with three previous marriages, they had no children together and remained married until his death in 1987