Lee fell in love with the movies at an early age; he claimed that the second movie he ever saw was in 1931, "All Quiet on the Western Front"; he identified with the tough-but-fair German sergeant. As far as school went, Lee didn't connect with formal education at all. In the 1930s, there was no way to diagnose his ADD and dyslexia, and as one would expect, he hated school. Although he was a slow reader, he did like literature and history, but he saw nothing else in school that was remotely relevant, so truancy was common in the many public and private schools in which he was enrolled.
Lee Marvin decided to join the Marines in the summer of 1942 (he was 17 when Pearl Harbor was attacked), and finished boot camp in four weeks (it usually took thirteen weeks, but Marines were badly needed in the Pacific). His regiment was sent to the Pacific later in that summer; during his almost two years in the Marines, he saw many horrors of war; he had to kill half-a-dozen Japanese soldiers in a foxhole in order to save the lives of fellow Marines. At Iwo Jima, Lee was shot in the upper-left buttock, but was VERY lucky he wasn't killed or paralyzed; he was very much bothered why he lived and many other Marines died.
The only other actor at the Maverick Theater at that time that went on to stardom was James Doohan ("Scotty" from Star Trek), and they became fairly close friends. It was Doohan that convinced Lee Marvin to move to LA instead of pursuing roles on Broadway in NYC; he told Lee that there were roles waiting for an actor like him in Hollywood.
Lee also worked in television, even though he hated that medium; he compared working in television to wearing a straitjacket. Ironically, television allowed Lee to showcase the full array of his talents (he was a very good comic actor). Mishkin convinced Lee that TV was the stepping-stone to breaking through to stardom in the movies (he was frustrated that many contemporaries, like Marlon Brando, Ernest Borgnine, and Charles Bronson had broken through). He suffered from a common frustration of character-actors - everyone recognized him, but no one could remember his name . . . television was designed to remedy that situation.
Lee Marvin was the lead in "M-Squad", which became a hit, and Lee became a TV star (the show was a mix of Columbo and Dragnet). Although he despised working in television, he would constantly return to the small-screen when movie roles were scarce before he hit the big-time. Lee benefited tremendously from the shift in Hollywood to more character-driven fare in the 1960s - he was never out of work for long.
At the age of 40, Lee Marvin got a break of which most actors would not have benefited; he was prematurely aged - his hair was steely gray, his face was all craggly-and-such. It was a turning point for Lee - he was at the forefront of a new kind of leading role: the "Leading Heavy." In "The Killers" (one of the first made-for-TV movies, but released in theaters due to the feeling it was too violent for TV after JFK's assassination), Lee Marvin finally became the film star he had envisioned.
Lee channeled the angst and violence of the mid-to-late-1960s better than any other actor. Starting in 1965, Lee was in huge demand for interviews, which he never really liked, but saw them as an opportunity to do some more acting. In an upset of sorts, Lee Marvin won Best Actor at the 1966 Oscars, and gave a very brief, memorable, and misunderstood acceptance speech (after all, at the Oscar's, one is expected to thank a very long list of people).
linked up with director John Boorman ("Excalibur") for "Point Blank." That movie wasn't embraced for many years, but it has become a cult favorite (Mel Gibson re-made the movie in 1999 with "Payback").
The movie industry changed again in 1975 - "Jaws" brought the blockbuster to the forefront in Hollywood, and that was bad news for Lee Marvin. Character-driven movies were now shelved in favor of blockbusters, and all of a sudden, Lee Marvin had difficulty finding worthwhile scripts and receptive audiences. Lee actually took two years off after "Spike's Gang" (1974) and "The Klansman" (also 1974, and generally considered to be his worst performance in his worst movie).
Lee tried to resurrect what was all of a sudden a stalled acting career, and he agreed to star in "The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday" (1976), which was a widely derided as a "Cat Ballou" wannabee. To make matters worse, Lee starred in "Shout at the Devil" (1976), which was an "African Queen" imitation . . . Lee took three more years off from Hollywood. In 1979, he starred in "Avalanche Express", which was viewed as an outdated Cold War spy thriller. It seemed to be official: the kind of movies that Lee Marvin preferred to make were no longer in fashion, not with movie-goers expecting blockbusters like Star Wars (1977) and "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980).
Lee Marvin died on 29 August, 1987 in Tuscon, Arizona at the age of 63. Smoking 4-5 packs of cigarettes a day plus drinking heavily for decades caused a "perfect storm" of health problems. He was prescribed heavy doses of steroids, which taxed his cardiovascular system to the point where he died of a heart attack. His cremated remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery on 7 October, 1987; his gravesite is located near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, as well as some three-and-four star generals.
Two decorated World War II veterans that are buried at Arlington National Cemetery became Hollywood superstars: Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in our history, and Lee Marvin, who was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Cross. While Audie Murphy was by far the greater war hero, Lee Marvin channeled his experiences from WW II and became one of the greatest actors of his generation, showcasing a range that few actors today can match. If you have never seen "Cat Ballou" or the "The Dirty Dozen", arrange some time to do so, and enjoy (and marvel at) Lee Marvin's screen presence.