Tales of a Hollywood Housewife
Tales of a Hollywood Housewife
A Memoir by The First Mrs. Lee Marvin
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At sixteen, Betty runs away from the small river town she’s always known, to live in Los Angeles with her father, an outrageous used car salesman and avid gambler. It is the first journey in what will be a remarkable life among remarkable people: Betty’s first job out of college is as Joan Crawford’s nanny, caring for the Crawford children at the height of the star’s career. Hollywood is about to play an even larger role in Betty’s life when she meets a young ambitious actor named Lee Marvin. After a whirlwind courtship and a trip to Las Vegas, Betty and Lee are married. In this unique memoir, both hilarious and touching, we follow Betty as she creates a family with Lee, and is by his side as he works with Marlon Brando, John Wayne and a host of other stars. She is the penultimate hostess and Hollywood Housewife. Nobody knew what was really going on at home - until, unable to take Lee’s womanizing, drinking and abuse, Betty leaves him and strikes out on her own. What follows are adventures that could only be Betty Marvin’s; from the building of her career as an artist. To a love affair with an Italian King, to dire straits as investment con artists leave Betty suddenly homeless. After years of the Hollywood life, Betty is left with only her car, her dog and her typewriter. Forced to employ all of her skills to survive, she comes out on top. This is the story of a woman who finds the real riches that come with learning the value of a joyful life.
“Excuse me, but do you have a car?” “I do,” he said. I liked the sound of his deep resonant voice. “I live only ten minutes away, and my escort seems to have left me. Could you drive me home?” His eyes twinkled and his full lips parted in a half-smile. “Poor baby. It would be a privilege,” he said. Quite the charmer, I thought. I grabbed Beverly. “Bob left us. We have a ride. Let’s go.” “What’s your name?” our driver asked, as we got into his 1948 black Ford convertible. “Betty Ebeling. And yours?” I was trying to be friendly. “Lee Marvin.” “I suppose you’re an actor too,” I said, sarcastically. “Isn’t everyone?” He chuckled. When we pulled up in the alley, I just wanted to jump out, say my thanks and get in out of the rain. I was waiting for a phone call from my boyfriend Bob in New York. I’d been thinking of him all night. No phone call that night, but the next morning, finally, the phone rang. It had to be my Bob. “Good morning, Darling.” I said, trying to sound cheerful. “Same to you, Sweetheart.” I recognized Lee’s deep voice. “Oh, sorry.” “Don’t be. I’m not.” What a flirt. “How’d you get my number?” “I have my ways. I just came in from fly fishing in the park and I thought I’d take you to lunch.” “Fly fishing in the park? “Yeh. On the lawn.” “Catch anything?” He laughed. “I miss Montauk Point.” “Sorry about lunch. I‘m going with a friend to hear jazz at the Lighthouse in Manhattan Beach.” “What about dinner?” “I have a dinner date.” “How about after dinner?” he persisted. I started to laugh. “Look, I’m practically engaged. My boyfriend is in New York and I don’t think he would appreciate my going out with you.” He was undaunted. “So? I have a girlfriend in Manhattan. What’s wrong with our keeping each other company? I don’t know many people out here...I’m lonely. I like you.” “Sorry, I have to go. I’m expecting an important call. Besides, I think you could be trouble.” He laughed. I hung up. The phone rang. It was Lee. “Just want you to know I don’t give up easily.” Bob never called. When I came home from dinner that night, I was surprised to see Lee’s car parked in the alley. He was sitting on the steps leading up to my studio. “I don’t believe this,” I said. “Hi,” he said casually. “Coffee?” “Okay. Coffee. But that’s all.” He took my hand as we sped toward the beach with the top down. “You know, I could fall madly in love with you.” “You don’t even know me.” “My agent wants me to stay in Hollywood and work as a character actor in films. Let’s live together at the beach.” “We’re not living together anywhere. We’re just going out for a cup of coffee. I’m engaged, remember?” “You don’t want to marry that guy.” “Yes I do.” Lee pulled over to the curb. He took my hand and looked at the ring on my wedding finger. Though it was more of a promise of an engagement ring, it seemed wise not to mention that at the moment. Then, before I could so much as blink, Lee’s long fingers were twisted around mine. “Let’s get rid of that thing.” He quickly slipped off the ring, put it into his pocket and continued driving up the coast. “You’ve got one hell of a nerve. Who do you think you are?” “The man who adores you.” “Oh please. You’re nuts. Pull over. Give me back my ring and let me out of this car.” Lee stopped the car and took me in his arms. I tried to push him away. “What are you doing? Stop this,” I pleaded half-heartedly. He kissed me gently, then cupped my face in his hands and kissed me again. “You’ll grow to love me,” he whispered. The next morning, Sunday, Lee called - and called – and called. I tried to plead off, but he was adamant. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see him, but his intensity made me wary. Isn’t a guy supposed to wait a day or two? After the first two calls, I stopped answering the phone. I went out for a walk and even thought of stopping by work, although I wasn’t expected until Monday. When I came back into the apartment, the phone was ringing. I gave in. “Hello?” “Let’s have brunch. There’s a place I want to take you to.” “I don’t think…..” “I’ll be over in an hour. We’re gonna’ have a wild day.” “Okay, okay!” At that point we were both laughing. “See you,” Lee said, and hung up before I could change my mind. We drove through bright morning sunlight, the radio turned up, playing vintage blues. “The only music worth listening to,” said Lee, lending his deep bass to Leadbelly’s twelve string guitar. “So where is this place?” “Almost there,” he said, making a sharp turn. I looked, and next thing I knew we were headed toward the Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park. “I thought we were going out to Brunch!” “We are. Just wanted to show you something first.” Opening the door for me, Lee took my hand, and guided me immediately toward the nearest shooting gallery. He put down his money, picked up the gallery’s rifle and hit every sitting duck - bing, bing, bing. The young kid behind the stand stood there open-mouthed. “Guess you can choose whatever you want, Mister,” he said, pointing to the shelves of prizes behind him. Lee chose a huge monkey. “Give it to the lady.” I felt a little silly walking into the café on the Santa Monica pier, holding the oversized stuffed animal, but Lee insisted he be our escort and sat him in a chair at our table. After that Lee and I rarely spent a day apart. It was a whirlwind courtship with intimate dinners in the best restaurants, long drives up and down the coast and romantic nights at beach hideaways. I began having trouble remembering what had been so important in my life before we met and my dreams of a career seemed to be fading. One evening, a few weeks into the love affair, I was rehearsing with Roger in his music studio. I looked up and saw Lee sitting in the open French window watching me perform. I stopped in the middle of my song. He applauded. Roger looked up in surprise. “What are you doing here?” I said. “Watching you,” Lee said. He jumped down, came over and introduced himself to Roger. Later that evening we were together in my little apartment. “I hope you don’t take your singing and dancing with Mr. MGM seriously,” Lee said. “There’ll be only one career in this family.” I chose not to hear that.
Betty Marvin received a BFA and MFA in visual art at Otis Art Institute. She was raised by her maternal grandparents in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. At twenty-three, after a whirlwind relationship, she married actor Lee Marvin. This is the story of the ups and downs of her life in Hollywood.

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