"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Hall of Fame Hard Guy

Day two of the NFL playoffs this afternoon.  I enjoyed both games yesterday.  Tough guys, football players, huh?

Well, here’s a real tough guy for you, one of the hardest men ever to grace the silver screen. From a Johnny Carson interview on The Tonight Show:

Carson: Lee, I’ll bet a lot of people are unaware that you were a Marine in the initial landing at Iwo Jima and that during the course of that action, you earned the Navy Cross and were severely wounded.

Marvin: Yeah, yeah … I got shot square in the ass and they gave me the Cross for securing a hot spot about halfway up Mount Suribachi. The bad thing about getting shot up on a mountain is guys getting shot hauling you down. But Johnny, at Iwo, I served under the bravest man I ever knew. We both got the Cross the same day, but what he did for his Cross made mine look cheap in comparison. The dumb bastard actually stood up on Red Beach and directed his troops to move forward and get the hell off the beach. That Sergeant and I have been life long friends.When they brought me off Suribachi we passed him and he lit a smoke and passed it to me lying on my belly on the litter. “Where’d they get you Lee?” he asked. “Well Bob, they shot me in the ass and if you make it home before me, tell Mom to sell the outhouse. Johnny, I’m not lying, Sergeant Keeshan was the bravest man I ever knew!” You now know him as Bob Keeshan. You and the world know him as “Captain Kangaroo”.”


Thanks to the wunnerful Internet, here is Roger Ebert’s 1970 Esquire profile:

“I need a beer,” Marvin said. “Who’s gonna get me a beer? I’mgonna get me a beer? I feellike a beer. Hell, I need a beer. Where are my glasses?” He peered around him. “Ever read this book? I got it for Christmas or some goddamn thing. A history of the West. Look here. All these cowboys are wearing chaps. Workingmen, see. Look here Bronco Billy dressed up in the East’s conception of the Western hero. See. From a dime novel. That’s how authentic a Western we made when we made ‘Monte Walsh.’ Where’s that beer? That author, he knows what it was reallylike. Get me a beer.”

“Finish your coffee,” Michelle said.

“I said get me a beer.”

Marvin paged through the book of Western lore, stopping to inspect an occasional page. When he stopped, he would pause for a moment and then whistle, moving on. Then silence. Only the pages turning. Now and again, a whistle.

“Where’s that fucking beer, baby?” He dropped the book on the rug. “Look, if I want to develop an image, I’ll do it my own fucking way.”

Michelle went into the kitchen to get a beer.

Dig this, from John Boorman:

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1 The Mick536   ~  Jan 4, 2009 1:41 pm

How about the "Grave." Its a Twilight Zone. Watched on SciCi NYDay. He wasn't afraid there either. But Cat is my favorite. His DUI on horseback will never be topped.

2 NeilR   ~  Jan 4, 2009 1:50 pm

Neither Marvin nor Keeshan received a Navy Cross which is the second highest decoration for bravery in the US armed services. Frankly, I have no idea whether Marvin was pulling Carson's leg here, but as a veteran I would find it despicable, if he was trying to lie about it. (I suspect it was probably mischief at Carson's expense.) In fact a former Chief of Naval Operations Jeremy Boorda committed suicide after the press found out that he had claimed a V device for the Bronze Star he'd received. While Marvin was a combat veteran (Purple Heart recipient), IIRC Keeshan never saw action.

3 NeilR   ~  Jan 4, 2009 2:12 pm

There are a lot of Hall of Fame hard guys among the former Yankee players and greats. LTC Jerry Coleman served in TWO wars as a Marine aviator and he was among the lucky ones as close air support missions would claim some of the most well known combat pilots in World War II. How about MAJ Ralph Houk? He was a cavalry officer (89th Cav Recon Squadron) who received a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart in four major campaigns including the Battle of the Bulge. The casualty rate among cav unit junior officers was extremely high in the European Theater of Operation in WWII (even higher than infantry platoon leaders). The Major probably would be the first to claim that he was among the lucky ones.

4 The Mick536   ~  Jan 4, 2009 2:51 pm

Sgt Bauer served 32 months in the Pacific Theatre, was hit by scrapnel, a hit he thought ended his career. The army gave him a purlple heart and two bronze stars. You get the purple for getting hit; what do you have to do to receive the bronze star?

Let's not forget Joe serenading the troops and The Mick avoiding duty. When I went to the stadium as a kid, the fans booed number 7 for not going into the service. I cried. Joe's mother made him go. Marilyn went to see the troops. I don't know whether Joe went with him.

5 The Mick536   ~  Jan 4, 2009 2:57 pm

OOPs. Tony Kubek spent 1962 in the service.

Just an aside, how many HRs would Willie have hit if he hadn't been in the service?

6 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 4, 2009 3:04 pm

Or Ted Williams for that matter.

7 NeilR   ~  Jan 4, 2009 4:20 pm

"The Mick536 writes:

Sgt Bauer served 32 months in the Pacific Theatre, was hit by scrapnel, a hit he thought ended his career. The army gave him a purlple heart and two bronze stars. You get the purple for getting hit; what do you have to do to receive the bronze star?"

There's a great passage in Golenbock's _Dynasty_ when Hirohito greeted the visiting Yankee team that had won the WS. Hirohito supposedly asked if any Yankees had ever been to Japan before. Hank gruffly replied that he had been to Okinawa. To have survived 11 campaigns as a Marine was some accomplishment (I don't think he was at Guadalcanal or Tarawa but to he lived through Iwo Jima and Okinawa which is pretty remarkable in retrospect).

As for bronze star qualification, it varies. V device notes outstanding conduct during combat. You can get a bronze star for meritorious service in noncombat situations. Award inflations happen in every war (some veterans claim this about Vietnam) but the Marine Corps generally has a higher standard than other services. (In fact even a Bronze Star recommendation has to go through a review board). I haven't seen Bauer's citations but with 11 campaign ribbons I strongly suspect he earned them the hard way.

BTW, Bauer's reply makes me think of Speedbird 206:

An exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747, call sign Speedbird 206":

Speedbird 206: "Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of active runway."

Ground: "Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven."

The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.

Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"

Speedbird 206: "Stand by, Ground, I'm looking up our gate location now."

Ground (with quite arrogant Teutonic impatience): "Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?"

Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes, twice in 1944 -- but I didn't land."

8 Will B.   ~  Jan 4, 2009 4:58 pm

Regarding the Carson bit:


9 joejoejoe   ~  Jan 4, 2009 7:31 pm

Marvin got a purple heart at Saipan, not a Navy Cross at Iwo Jima. Keeshan served but not in action in WWII and not alongside Marvin. People are unclear about the origin of the story. Tonight Show producer Peter Lassally is quoted in the book 'Truth and Rumors' as not remembering Lee Marvin telling that story, that it was people embellishing it after the fact.


10 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 4, 2009 10:20 pm

This is an infamous urban legend that has been debunked (check snopes.com for more details). Marvin was a veteran of the Pacific theater and did receive a Purple Heart, but his exchange with Johnny Carson has been embellished to include the mention of Captain Kangaroo, who while a Marine did not see combat.

11 matt b   ~  Jan 5, 2009 1:11 am

Marvin is at his best in Point Blank. It's an amazing film and an amazing performance. He's great in an oddball Michael Ritchie flick, "Prime Cut" with Gene Hackman and Sissy Spacek.

12 Toxic   ~  Jan 5, 2009 9:36 am

"You're a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man!"

He is top notch in Point Blank, so much so I'd almost forgive Boorman his rather aptly named son for such a cracking film.

13 matt b   ~  Jan 5, 2009 10:02 am

[10] I don't follow on your Boorman comment. Please explain.

When talking Lee Marvin, let's not forget Sam Fuller's great "The Big Red One."

14 Toxic   ~  Jan 6, 2009 7:53 am

It's a hangover from a bad Christmas present, not all of us get gastronomic mystery tours of NY - a book by Boorman's son, who in the parlance of over here is a "right Charley". And the fact the list of his achievements is basically appearing in daddy's films and riding around at our expense with his mate Ewan who only keeps him around to appear like the talented one, you know like girls that go round with fat birds in tow.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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