Imagine a world where you can’t rent movies or look up some info online.
In 1979, that was the world I was living in. And that’s where my tale begins…
It was early December in NYC. Which means it was that crisp, holiday time, and everyone was in a festive mood. My good friend, John, had some out-of-town guests, and because I was living in a rather spacious apartment, we volunteered my living room for the three guys’ crash pad.
After a day-and-a-half of running around town, we spent Sunday evening in. Just hanging around the living room, talking about whatever. The conversation turned to favorite movies, and John’s brother, Tom, mentioned that his was Cat Ballou. As we began to riff on the movie, we remembered that Lee Marvin played two roles: the drunk (Kid Shelleen), and… what was the name of the other character? He had a silver nose, and he was a bad guy! What was his name?
We couldn’t think of it, and so we moved on. But, for John and me, moving on was only temporary. For months after the three houseguests returned to Michigan, John and I continued to obsess over the unanswered trivia question. We’d quiz people at parties we’d attend. And, week after week, I’d peruse the TV listings in the paper to see if Cat Ballou might be that night’s late, late movie on network television.
I’d also check the movie listings in the Times and The New Yorker. There were lots of revival theatres back then, and it would have been fun to see the old western on the big screen. But… it never showed up.
Why were we so obsessed with getting the answer to this question?
Time passed… and the following July, I had tickets to see a production of Camelot at Lincoln Center. Richard Burton reprising his role, and Christine Ebersol playing Guenevere. I met my friend, Audrey, at the box office, where we picked up our tickets. Then, we entered the large lobby. We had a little time to mill about before heading up to our cheap seats, and as we both took in the array of people, I noticed a large man, about ten feet away.
“Look!” I said to Audrey. “Lee Marvin!”
Then, it dawned on me: He’ll know!
Without thinking twice about it, I raced over to him. And then, in a truly childlike move, I tugged ever so gently on the sleeve of his camel-colored jacket. “Mr. Marvin?” I said, my voice easily three octaves higher than it usually is. “Mr. Marvin?”
He looked down at me (not in a classist way; rather, in the way of someone who is just that much taller).
“Yes?” he said, his voice large, the word seeming to have so many more than three letters.
I was stunned, and I must have looked incredibly frightened.
“Yes?” he reiterated, his presence so far above me that his words echoed as God’s might.
(I was temporarily frozen by the reality of the moment: Lee Marvin was waiting for me to say something!)
“Um, yes, Mr. Marvin,” I began, sounding like a chipmunk on amphetamines, “Um, anyway, these friends of mine and I have been obsessed for a while with a trivia question, and…”
“Yes?” he asked again, still looking down upon me (not unkindly) and filling the time while I took a breath.
“And so we’re just wondering, Mr. Marvin, in Cat Ballou, what’s the name of that guy you played – not Kid Shelleen, we know about him, but the other guy… the guy with the silver nose?”
“Tim Strawn,” he said.
“Tim Strawn?” I repeated, my voice still sounding like I’d just inhaled a boatload of helium.
“Tim Strawn,” he confirmed, maintaining his solid standing and deep vocal register.
“Thank you,” I squeaked.
And as I scurried away, all I could think was, “I can’t wait to tell John!”
I got the answer! I got it from the man himself!