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I Once Met... Lee Marvin

Regulars | June 2018

My meeting with Lee Marvin lasted six heat-filled weeks during the summer of 1973. I went wandering with the Cat Ballou and Point Blank star as he shot and caroused his way through another violent film: The Spikes Gang, a Western that was released in 1974. 

The Oscar-winner was front-page news as his former lover Michele Triola was suing him for palimony. So he’d hightailed it to Europe with his wife, Pam, and her daughter, Kerry, to escape the American press. 

We met a week later through a close friend, film director John Boorman, in the Wicklow Mountains, where I and other Trinity College Dublin students with thespian leanings and zero money were working as extras on the film Zardoz

I was soon recruited by Lee as a ‘companion’ for Pam and big sister/tutor to Kerry – while Lee filmed The Spikes Gang. I would give Kerry some lessons, so Lee and Pam could get time alone. Lee was an utter gentleman to me; he treated me like a daughter. 

My initiation into fame world was fast. Landing in Madrid, I leapt from my seat to hear Lee say gently, ‘Sit down, kiddo.’ It was then that I spotted the sleek, black limousine purring on the tarmac. We were to stay at the Ritz, but a sanguine Lee explained that a Hollywood starlet had recently ‘trashed her suite’.

That afternoon, by another hotel pool, Pam filled me in. Lee was Pam’s fourth husband; she was his second wife. All her ex-husbands were ‘on the rebound from Lee’, her high-school sweetheart, who left their home town in New York state to enlist in the US Marines.

Sometimes Lee had nightmares; sometimes Pam. It was casually explained as ‘We had a bad night’. But the booze, smokes and memories of the Second World War, where Lee was wounded and won a Purple Heart, sure didn’t help.

Everywhere – in restaurants, galleries and museums – we were serenaded by Lee croaking his 1970 hit, Wand’rin’ Star. Soon we were sick of it, though Lee always showed good grace. It had topped the charts for weeks and, to Lee’s delight, kept the Beatles’ Let it Be at number two: ‘I got a goddamned telegram from them which impressed my kids more than my Oscar!’

One evening I was in a lift with Richard Chamberlain, aka Dr Kildare. I dashed to Lee. 

‘Richard Chamberlain’s downstairs…Can you introduce me? pleeeeze?’

‘Course, kiddo, but it won’t do you much good: he’s a faggot!’ 

I met Pam (who died in April) again twenty years later. Lee had died in 1987, aged 63. Pam was researching her book Lee: A Romance. And that was exactly what their relationship was.

Lucy O’Sullivan

This story was from June 2018 issue. Subscribe Now