Skip to main content
Original Issue

Fitness Takes a Beating on Television

Next week the 'Dick Powell Theater' asks the question: Can Underdog Ricardo Montalban (supine with barbell below) find happiness matching muscle with the villainous Lee Marvin (standing)?

Are you really an un-American lout if you're physically pffft? Well, for goodness' sake, of course you're not. And the proof of that can be seen next week on NBC's Dick Powell Theater (Tuesday, April 2, 9:30 p.m., E.S.T.) which, a lot of people think, is one of the best hour-long dramatic shows on television. In fact, after watching this athletic adventure, a TV rarity, slothful people everywhere who take a dim view of pushups, wheat germ, 50-mile hikes and certain utterances from the New Frontier will take heart. The way the play states the case for them, this out-of-shape hero (Ricardo Montalban), at 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds, gets the goat of the physiquey heavy (Lee Marvin), at 6 feet 3 and 190 pounds. He gets away with it in two splendid, dirty-dealing, karate-style fights that culminate with Marvin, a no-account dumbbell-parlor proprietor, being chucked over a cliff to his just deserts. Whereupon the puffing Montalban dusts off his hands, smiles at his wife and goes back in the house to finish his breakfast. Naturally, Bruce Geller, the play's author, has more to say than blessed are the weak sisters. "I want to show," he explains, "that there's a little bit of evil, a little lust for killing, in all of us. Also, sponsors go for this sort of thing."

For the sake of the plot—and, presumably, the sponsors—Lee Marvin has allowed his little lust for killing to get out of hand. Eighteen years ago, we learn, he served under Captain Montalban in a Marine raider outfit and enjoyed every murderous minute of it. So nowadays, after he's shut down his gymnasium for the day, he goes around murdering private citizens. His beef, he tells Montalban, is that criminals, for the price of a smart lawyer (Montalban has become a smart lawyer since the war, you understand), can wind up sitting pretty when they ought to wind up sitting in the chair. For example, the play opens with Marvin throttling a girl in a junkyard. The girl is innocent, it seems, but her father allowed a child to suffocate in an abandoned icebox, and his mouthpiece got him off with a fine of a mere $500. Junkyard Girl is Marvin's fifth tit-for-tat victim. But, as Marvin eventually finds out, smart lawyers can hurt killers as well as help them.

The name of Geller's play is Epilogue, and it was produced by Four Star Television, one of the major film makers in the country. Epilogue, or Four Star Production 5177, was filmed in and around Los Angeles in late February. Counting the cast of six, the extras and the filming crew, the number of people involved was about 75. It took six days to shoot, the total cost to Four Star was close to $140,000 and it will run on the air for 46 minutes and 40 seconds. Like most commercial movies, the play was filmed in a chronological disarray of scenes that took cutting room technicians another two weeks to reassemble in proper sequence.

The call sheet for Monday, Feb. 18 said that Lee Marvin and Ricardo Montalban had appointments with the makeup man at 6:30 a.m. They didn't mind the hour since they were being paid about $1,000 a day. Also required, the call sheet noted, would be two stunt men (who resemble the leads), two stand-ins and eight male extras. The day's shooting would take place at Club Del Mar, a social and health club on the beach in Santa Monica near Hollywood. Club Del Mar is 37 years old, looks every day of that and does not have the most luxurious gym. That, however, was the point. "We looked at three other places before we chose it," said Bruce Geller. "Vic Tanny's, for instance, was too shiny, too glossy. I conceive of Marvin—in this role, I mean—as a fairly scroungy individual, if you follow."

But Del Mar's sodden atmosphere was considerably brightened by Production 5177. The producers had contracted to use the basement locker room, the steam bath areas, the exercise room and the swimming pool for two days, and by 8 o'clock Monday the place was overrun with assorted sizes of klieg lights, microphone booms, sound recorders, camera equipment, electrical cables, wardrobe racks, trunks and crates and people, most of whom were drinking paper-cup coffee. In Del Mar's "shave-groom room" (men's room to noninitiates), Lee Marvin was having his hair cut by Makeup Artist Burris Grimwood ("Hell's bells, Lee, I'm no barber; why didn't you think of this Saturday?"), while Ricardo Montalban, seated in a corner, was reading Variety behind a mask of orange makeup. Montalban wore a natty Continental suit, and Marvin had on sneakers, slacks and a T shirt. Marvin's costume, from neckline to rubber soles, was powder blue (a color which prints tattletale gray on black-and-white film) and "Ocean-spray Health Club," a name cleared by the Four Star legal department, had been stenciled across his shirtfront by the costumers. Coming and going on earnest but seemingly disorganized missions were the grips (carpenters), the gaffers (lighting technicians), the electricians, the sound men and the propmen. Geller and Bernie Kowalski, the director, were upstairs in the Del Mar dining room finishing a breakfast of coffee and English muffins.

Suddenly a harsh, arresting voice cut through the technological babble. "All right, everybody, let's get going and let's have it quiet!" shouted Eddie Denault, the first assistant director, whose job is to oversee the crew, to supervise walk-throughs by the stand-ins and to assure, generally, that forward movement is kept to a maximum. Everybody had it quiet! "Lee, baby," said Denault, changing register, "we're starting off with scene nine." "Marvelous," said Marvin. Scene nine is a spooky, dim-lighted shot of Marvin walking through his gym at night. While Marvin pulled on a blue zipper jacket, Bernie Kowalski came into the shave-groom room and said something to the cameraman, George Diskant, who nodded "O.K." and passed an order to the camera operator, Pinky Arnett. (In the stratified Hollywood hierarchy, the cameraman, per se, never touches the camera.) Matty McCullen, the first propman, handed Marvin a folded newspaper. A Page One story is headlined: JUNKYARD MURDER: GIRL FOUND IN CAR TRUNK. A story on Page Three, with pictures, is headlined: STEPHEN BAIRD TO REPRESENT SAM FRESNO: TOP COUNSEL FOR ACCUSED KILLER. The picture of Top Counsel is an ancient glamour portrait of Lawyer Montalban. The picture of Accused Killer is a head shot of Jack Briggs, a member of the Four Star prop department, which printed the paper. Following Kowalski's directions, Marvin walked through the scene, slapping the paper on his thigh and whistling a catchy tune. "O.K., let's shoot it," said Kowalski. "Roll...and action, please...and cut, print, fine. Thank you, Lee." "Pleasure's all mine," said Marvin, flopping into a folding chair.

The next series of scenes—29 through 35—is a reunion between Captain Montalban and Pfc. Marvin, who have not seen one another since their jungle warfare days. Waiting for his entrance cue, Montalban, like a golfer addressing a tricky lie, waggled his fingers, shook his shoulders and made low animal noises with his mouth. "Mary Martin sent me to her voice coach," he whispered while crewmen adjusted lights and wrestled other equipment into position. "Never, never clear your throat, he told me. Instead, I learned to make sounds like this one: Mmmmmmm-mmmmmmmm-mmmooooommmm. It's like a car that won't start. My kids think I am nuts." "And action, please," said Bernie Kowalski softly, from around the corner. With a farewell waggle, Montalban moved off, feigning confusion and saying, "Finn?" (Marvin's name in Epilogue). "Once again, please," said Kowalski, and Montalban retreated, collecting himself. "Finn!" said Montalban. "That's better, Rick," said Kowalski. "Try it just once more, please." "Finn?!" said Montalban. "Perfect," said Kowalski, well pleased. "Cut and print it."

Light standards were lowered, the brakes on the camera dolly were released and everything was moved and set up in another corner for Marvin to make his entrance. The script informs us: "Up close we can see the man is in magnificent condition." Since "magnificent" is one of Geller's favorite words, it is better for accuracy to say Marvin is in pretty good condition, although he never goes near a gymnasium. ("With four kids and a wife who disapproves of drinking, who needs a gym?" he asks, reasonably.) "Hello, Captain," said Marvin as the camera turned noiselessly and everybody froze in watchful silence. Montalban smiled and put out his hand. "Cut," said Kowalski, hurrying over to Montalban. "Rick, don't be too friendly," he said. "He's your old comrade, but we already know you never liked the guy. Do it again, and this time try to receive his warmth without giving any in return. All right, gentlemen. Roll, please." "Take two," said an assistant camera operator, flatly, snapping his clapboard in front of the lens.

Marvin (cheerfully): I wasn't sure you'd remember me, Captain.

Montalban (receiving, not giving, warmth): Oh, I remember you, all right. I just wasn't sure I'd remember you. Eighteen years....

Kowalski (patiently): Cut.

Montalban: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. My fault. "Recognize you." That's the word. "Recognize you." Mmmmmmmmmmooooommmmmmmmmmm.

A young extra in swimming trunks, who must walk through the scene, took advantage of the interruption. He was so nervous he had bitten his nails until one had commenced to bleed, and he dabbed at it thoughtfully with Merthiolate he had found in the Del Mar's massage room.

Eventually the reunion scene was filmed to Kowalski's satisfaction. This, however, was only an overall, or master, view of the meeting. So that the cutting room might have choice and flexibility when cementing the scenes together later, the same scene was reshot from four different angles, each operation involving considerable shifting of the film-making apparatus. Altogether, the master and "coverage cuts" for the reunion, which lasts brief seconds in the play, took about two hours to film.

The setting was the same, but time then skipped ahead some 35 scenes. It is night now and Montalban has returned to the gym, sore as Old Ned because Marvin has just dynamited a car containing his client, Sam Fresno, and because, plainly, any hopes Lawyer Montalban had of getting a fee out of Fresno went up in smoke with him. The script called for the first of the two fights to begin now, and the two stunt men, Bill Catching for Marvin and Buzz Henry for Montalban, began to block out the moves they would make and the kicks and punches they would throw. When sufficiently rehearsed, they would fight one another, then take on the actors one at a time, then let Marvin and Montalban go through the whole sequence alone. Splicers in the cutting room would take care of the rest.

"Just look at that," said Montalban in wonder as he watched the stunt men bounce each other off the walls. A 42-year-old boulevardier type, he is normally cast in merrier roles than this "Let the cowboys do it, if they like," he said. "I'm not a fighter. I'm not even a lover any more." A trickle of makeup blood oozed down from one of his nostrils, while a mean-looking bruise glowed on the opposite cheek. He cast an appraising eye at his double, who was being kicked in the head with uncanny realism by Catching. "I wish I had his hair," Montalban said.

"Now, after he gives you a left into your Adam's apple, you come up with your right knee," Catching said pleasantly to Marvin. "Fantastic," said Marvin. Once under way, the fight (in the various combinations of manpower) had howled and crunched and battered its way from the locker room and up to the door of the shower room when Denault called the lunch break. Kowalski said, "I think that was beautiful." Marvin said: "You better. This bruise on my shin isn't greasepaint, Bernie baby."

Immediately after lunch Burris Grimwood freshened the makeup wounds, sprayed perspiration on Marvin's and Montalban's foreheads and wilted Montalban's clean shirt collar with more water. Continuing to work out details of the fight as they went, Kowalski and the stunt men huddled together and talked, then showed Montalban how he was to pick up a breakaway towel table and lunge at Marvin. The scene went fine, except that the balsa-wood tabletop failed to break away, and a leg fell off it instead. "Spoilsport," said Marvin, holding his throbbing hand and talking to the table that now lay on the floor, smiling. The special effects man, Bob Gray, came up looking chagrined. He tacked the leg back on, then scored the underside of the table top with a pocket knife, scoring the tip of his finger in the process. Set to go again, Montalban lifted the table in front of his face and Marvin broke through it easily, then drew back his fist and threw a punch at Montalban's nose through the hole he had made. Kowalski was delighted. "I think we're stuck with another hit," said Sam Freedle, the script supervisor.

The special effects man was back then with a Band-Aid and a smoke box—an electric heater over whose coils a mist of mineral oil is sprayed. The idea was for the actors to carry the fight inside a shower stall, where Montalban would pretend to turn on the hot water and poach his antagonist. "Action, please," said Kowalski and, as the two men began to grapple and shout, Montalban twisted the faucet and steam boiled up from the harmless smoke box. Not waiting for Kowalski's signal, both men suddenly popped out from under the water. By mistake Montalban had turned on the hot. "Cool," said Lee Marvin.

By 4:30 the shower was finished and the actors had changed into duplicate dry clothes. Because that's the way these things are done, the scene had backed up four pages to the beginning of the fight. In it, Montalban comes into the darkened locker room and pokes around while Marvin, hidden in the shadows, throws insults and Indian clubs his way. Blam! "Captain, you're one step and 18 years too slow." A few cautious steps farther on, Montalban glances into a mirror—Yipe! here comes another one. For this segment Propman McCullen threw the club, but the mirror, like the tabletop, failed to break. "Oh, here," said Bruce Geller. "I'll do it." The film rolled, Geller missed the mirror by two feet and nobody said a word. McCullen took over again, and third time was charm.

Such is the perversity of film making that the problem arising next was the reverse of the mirror's tenacity. Marvin is supposed to shove a locker over on Montalban, who is spared a squashing only by a strategically placed bench. A Del Mar bench was scraped into position. It crumpled and collapsed under the first test fall of the heavy metal locker, while Montalban, who fought bulls in his Mexican youth, looked on, growing sick-to his stomach. A second Del Mar bench was drawn up. A leg was missing. Then a third. Creak, crack, splinter. "What are these things? Breakaways?" said Lee Marvin. "To hell with it," said Eddie Denault. "You prop guys can build your own bench tonight and we'll shoot it tomorrow. Let's go home." "That suits me 100%," said Montalban, color returning. "After all, this is television. You give your best but you don't give your life."

Tuesday's shooting, with a few exceptions (for exteriors, conjunctive exits and entrances and the like) would be confined to a continuation of the fight. Like an aggravated, slow-motion sauna bath, it would progress from yesterday's scalding shower into the chill of the swimming pool. Before getting to that, Kowalski wanted to shoot a brief scene in which Marvin lets Montalban "take the tour" of Club Del Mar. For decoration and atmosphere, a handful of trim-looking girls and as many paunchy, executive-type male extras had been called. "Are we supposed to get wet?" said a girl in a bathing suit. "Well, you don't have to get wet, but you have to get in the pool," said Mike Moder, the second assistant director. The girl glared and Moder laughed. Moder then picked up an inflated ball, a prop for a water basketball game, and began to take stylish shots at a net floating in the pool. Bruce Geller came up and joined him and lost a dollar bet in short order. (Geller went to Yale to write short stories, Moder went to Loyola University in Los Angeles to play basketball on a four-year scholarship.) "Fantastic," said Marvin. "Both of them are back in high school and Four Star's paying the tuition." Moder quit shooting the ball in a few minutes and came over to Marvin. "You'll have to move, Lee, we're getting set to roll." "I can't move, baby," said Marvin. "It's my turn to throw some baskets." Moder glared and Marvin laughed.

With the atmosphere established, Bill Catching began to make preparations for a leap that would carry him into the pool from a balcony 15 feet up and six feet back from the water's edge. "I've never been hurt," said Catching, dusting powdered resin on the balcony guard rail, "unless you count the time a girl knocked me out with a balsa-wood club. She was supposed to swing hard, but she checked and...." "Bill? Are you ready?" shouted Kowalski from across the pool where the camera had been set up. "I guess," said Bill, and he was gone on the sound of Kowalski's "Action, please." "I think I'll try that after lunch," said Marvin. "People have the idea everything is faked in these things. Besides, today is my birthday [his 39th]. I might as well celebrate." Later, fortified by lunch, he did jump and was applauded by the crew.

Fortified by nothing beyond successive cups of coffee and bowls of Dunhill's "My Mixture" pipe tobacco (No. A11010), Bruce Geller left the gym at lunchtime for the Republic Pictures lot, where Four Star leases space. He wanted to see prints (called dailies) of Monday's shooting, and after he had parked beside a stretch of curb with his name painted on it he went into a small projection room. There he was joined by Bernie Burton, the film's supervising editor, and Sam Beately, the cutter. When the dailies had been shown, Burton told Geller the fight scenes were running a little dark and to think about it. Beately said, "I think that's as good a fight as I've seen in a long time." Considering it hadn't been a long time since Beately was chief cutter on that epic of the Normandy invasion, The Longest Day, all present exchanged looks and pressed their lips in approving moues.

Geller said thank you, excused himself and rushed back to the Del Mar. He found Kowalski and Denault talking beside the pool, and went up to them. "How were they?" Kowalski said. "Magnificent! Fantastic!" said Geller. "Were any of the wheels there?" Denault said. Geller said something, and all three smiled. In the water, Marvin smiled, too, only nastily and at Montalban, who had just released him from a full nelson in a rehearsal of an upcoming scene. "Go home, Captain," Marvin sneered, and swam off. "Isn't that great?" he said, paddling to the side. "One second I'm a dead duck, the next I lazy off like Esther Williams. It's eerie." "Why the devil don't they ever tell a guy what's going on around this place?" said a sour-looking man who had just learned the pool was closed to Del Mar members like himself. They finished the day pushing the locker over upon the cringing Montalban. Four Star's bench didn't even quiver. "Thank the good Lord that's over," said Montalban. "See you," Marvin said, leaving for a PTA meeting.

Wednesday dawned cold and clear, but by 8 had changed to cold and foggy. The crew by then had assembled on the lawn of a private house in a well-to-do section called Mandeville Canyon. The house was formerly the home of the late Dick Powell and his wife, June Allyson, and through the indulgence of its present owners, Dr. and Mrs. Frederick Worden, is occasionally used by Four Star for well-to-do exteriors. The Wordens are paid $250 a day to help them get over the trampled grass.

Waiting for the fog to lift, Marvin sat on the tailgate of an equipment truck reading the Hollywood Reporter. Hank Grant's "On the Air" column said that Lee Marvin was still steaming because yesterday it took him an hour to drive from his beach house in Malibu to the Four Star studio at Republic, only to be chauffeured back to Club Del Mar, five minutes from his home. The facts are that Marvin was yawning, not steaming, he lives in a canyon, not on the beach, in Santa Monica, not Malibu, and he drove himself to Club Del Mar in about 10 minutes. "What do you suppose they were drinking last night?" Marvin said.

Since the fog, like everyone else, was just hanging around, Kowalski decided at 9 to go it alone under huge arc lamps. But no sooner than he had said "roll, please" for the day's first scene (Montalban finds dynamite wired to his car the morning after the gym fight) than an airplane droned noisily overhead. "Cut!" said Kowalski, nettled. "That's probably a Revue air force fighter," he said, making an inside joke about one of Four Star's biggest competitors, Revue Productions, Inc. Because of more planes and the lighting problems created by the shifting fog, a few pages of slow-moving action (Montalban with his wife and son after the great cliff scene) took most of the morning. But everyone's spirits seemed to lift when the second of the two fights began.

During the night, Marvin has come to the Montalban/Worden house, wired the dynamite, cut the phone cord and made off with all the kitchen knives. Upon discovering this state of affairs, Montalban, old Marine jungle fighter that he is, grabs a marshmallow-toasting fork and goes out a bathroom window looking for the troublemaker. (The bathroom window is really a window in the Worden's bar. The toasting fork idea came to Geller in an inspirational flash at home: " 'What would I use if all my knives had been stolen?' I asked myself, and looked around until I found something.") Rick found Lee, up to his old tricks, up on the roof and still making slighting remarks: "Why, shame on you, Captain. What are you doing outside when your family's inside?"

With help from the stunt men, Montalban soon showed Marvin what he was doing outside. Once Marvin had leaped off the roof (it was really Catching who jumped, but Lee Marvin fans are hereby assured that he was going to do it himself until Kowalski said nothing doing), Montalban wrestled and karated with him most of the afternoon. ("Hey, we don't allow fighting here," shrilled the Wordens' 3-year-old daughter when she came home from nursery school and saw with astonishment what was going on out by her swing.) Shortly before sundown the fight, in its final, gasping stages, had reached the precipice of the short cliff in the Worden's front yard. At which point Marvin and Montalban discreetly stood aside while Henry got set to flip Catching over his back and the brink. "What if I hit the tripod?" Catching shouted to the cameramen at the foot of the cliff. "Don't worry about it," said one. "It won't break." "I'm not worried about it, baby," said Catching. A close-up shot made moments after the stunt caught Montalban panting as he looked down upon Marvin, whose bloody head rested against a fiberglass boulder. Montalban was out of breath because he had jumped up and down about 20 times.

The rest of Epilogue was finished on the Republic lot on the huge, barnlike stages, before a false-front house (Sam Fresno's) and on a back lot for the junkyard murder. Work began Thursday morning, for example, in a three-walled dining room. In a breakfast scene that dawdled along until 11, Montalban and his family (Patricia Breslin and Bobby Crawford) were obliged to pick over plates of gaggingly cold scrambled eggs and hashed browns bought at the studio commissary at 8 o'clock. That, too, is show business.

"Is Rick playing the good guy or the bad guy?" said Jackie Drake, Pat Breslin's stand-in, who had interrupted a chess game with the camera dolly operator so that lights could be set overhead for the next scene (in the living room). Pat Breslin, relaxing meanwhile in an easy chair, looked up to see a visiting actor friend. "Is this a good show?" he said. "I think so," she said. "Do you ever read those little pamphlets that come in the telephone bills?" said one extra to another, time on their hands. "I was his captain. I made him!" Montalban read aloud from his script. "Wait a minute," he said, looking up as Bruce Geller passed. "I can't say that, can I? Maybe I should say "I made him what he is." Geller, a writer tampered with, shrugged.

The scene shifted, considerably later, to the kitchen. "Rick," said Bernie Kowalski, "remember you have just discovered that this man is in your house. I think you want to show urgency but it's coming across more like panic." "Oh, I see, I see," said Montalban. "Yes, you are right." Geller's script says Montalban must also show 18 years evaporating from his frame at this critical moment, and that his voice must be "low but hard." After two rehearsals, Kowalski felt he and Montalban together had mastered all this, and they shot it. But somehow, the way it comes off, the Montalban family resembles girl scouts on night patrol as it goes hand in hand to the safety of the hall bathroom. "It looked terrible," Montalban said afterward, and it did, but the crew was already shifting its equipment. "Anybody want to play a little football?" said Mike Moder, the athlete, twirling a prop he'd spotted in Bobby Crawford's bedroom.

At 9 a.m. Friday John Wayne was on the set, being filmed as the "host" of another Dick Powell Theater production, while the Epilogue cast stood by. "Thank "you for allowing me to spend this hour with you," Wayne said with solemn sincerity. "Good night." "Good night, Duke," said Marvin, and Wayne went out into the morning sunshine. Friday was also George Washington's and George Diskant's birthday. A 2-by-4-foot cake was brought onto a police station set after lunch for the cameraman. "Why no cake for the star on his birthday?" said Lee Marvin, 75% in fun. Otherwise, except for a fine performance that morning by Sondra Kerr, a dancer and the junkyard murder victim, the day dragged by tediously and would run late into the night to film the junkyard exterior scenes over by the Republic incinerator.

Perhaps, after another long day Monday of protracted, sometimes murky philosophical discussions between Marvin and Montalban about life, death and the law, Lee Marvin spoke for everyone as he and Montalban rehearsed a final scene. In it, Montalban is lifting an 85-pound barbell borrowed from the Dei Mar gym (equipped with balsa-wood inserts to make it look heavier) while Marvin leans over him, chatting about Marine days. As the light dims and we dissolve toward the nearest exit, we hear Marvin reciting his lines: "Had enough, Steve?"

Montalban (straining): Of exercise or old times?

Marvin (ad libbing): Of this whole bit, baby, this whole wild bit.





First of the two tights in the play begins in the locker room of the Club Del Mar. Marvin comes out of the shadows (top) and attacks Montalban. Getting the worst of it, Montalban runs into the shower room (center), maneuvers Marvin into a stall and turns on the hot water.



The fight concludes when Marvin dives into swimming pool from a balcony (top, with Montalban's double throwing a punch) and gets entangled in Montalban's full nelson (center). Second fight takes place outdoors, winds up as a stunt man tosses his partner over a low cliff.