DUBBED ‘The Merchant of Menace’ or ‘The Best Loved Sadist in the World’, after his memorably nasty portrayals of villainy in films like Bad Day at Black Rock (1954), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Killers (1964), Lee Marvin was born in 1924 in New York. He served with the US Marines during World War Two and was decorated with a Purple Heart for a wound in his backside which also gave him a disability pension of 40 dollars a month.
With a voice ‘like rain water gushing down a rusty pipe’, according to actress Jean Seberg who starred with him in Paint Your Wagon (1969) he became an off-Broadway actor. His screen debut came in 1950 with USS Teakettle. His successful Fifties TV series M Squad brought him larger film roles and, in 1965, he won an Oscar for his performance as the drunken gunfighter in Cat Ballou.
Despite his ability to project a more romantic image, as demonstrated in such movies as Ship of Fools (1965) and Paint Your Wagon, Marvin remained an archetypal screen heavy.
He claimed that his image as a hellraiser (off-screen and on) was a fake. ‘My aggressiveness,’ he said, ‘was a cover-up for my lack of confidence, despite the rough and tough image that all those super-hero roles have given to the outside world.
‘I took 25 years to create a bad-man image and that’s what made me — you’re not a success until you’ve created an image for yourself. People like to think I punch the Pope, hate my parents and slit the carotid arteries of cripples. . . that’s okay. That way they feel they know me.’