Betty Marvin was married to Lee Marvin from the start of his career as a struggling actor in Hollywood to his triumph in Cat Ballou (1965). In his company, she met Walter Matthau, Simone Signoret, John Wayne and many other stars. In her new memoir, Tales of a Hollywood Housewife, she provides vivid glimpses of these important figures in their heyday and a strong sense of what it was like in Hollywood in the 1940s for women and minorities, who suffered the casual racism and sexism that all too many people took for granted.
Although Marvin believes her husband did not do well by her or her children in their divorce settlement, she writes without rancor. Indeed, she takes full responsibility for supporting and even enabling her brilliant but immature husband to carry on irresponsibly through much of their 15-year marriage.
This memoir is more than just an account of their union, however. Marvin came to Hollywood at 16 to live with her undependable father, a car salesman and gambler. She had a knack for making the right contacts and wanting to better herself, enrolling at UCLA to study music. These contacts led to a two-year stint with Joan Crawford as a nanny. After her marriage to Lee Marvin, the star designed her house as a movie set and expected her servants and her children to follow her carefully scripted scenarios.
Still quite young when the couple separated, the mother of four showed resourcefulness and tenacity in recovering from devastating episodes that included losing virtually all of her assets in a property swindle. She was homeless for nearly three years yet eventually overcame her setbacks. She writes from a surprisingly calm and wise perspective.
Tales of a Hollywood Housewife contains considerable dialogue and well-crafted scenes. Marvin acknowledges getting professional help on the book from several people, including noted author Kathryn Harrison. The result is a polished performance that seems quite honest and authentic.