Monday, February 17, 2020

A doo-wop singer, a hard-as-nails actor, and the western movie that connects them by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #hollywood #moviemusic

February 17th  and February 19th  have a primary and secondary connection that makes the trivia-loving nerd in me happy as a dog wagging two tails.

I’ll begin with the secondary connection, which is simply February birthdays— 

Musician Gene Pitney was born on February 17th

Gene Pitney (reference below)

and actor Lee Marvin was born on February 19th.

Lee Marvin (reference below)

First, a little about Gene Pitney—

Born on February 17, 1940 (died April 5, 2006), Pitney was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Over the course of his career (1961 – 2006), Pitney experienced musical success with songs he wrote for others and with songs that he wrote and performed himself. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

He referred to himself as a doo-wop singer. According to the website

‘doo-wop is a style of rhythm and blues and rock-and-roll vocal music popular in the 1950s and ’60s [with roots in the 1930s and 1940s]. The structure of doo-wop music generally featured a tenor lead vocalist singing the melody of the song with a trio or quartet singing background harmony. The term doo-wop is derived from the sounds made by the group as they provided harmonic background to the lead singer.’

Notable and successful songs he wrote for others:

  • Hello Mary Lou by Ricky Nelson
  • Rubber Ball by Bobby Vee
  • He’s a Rebel by the Crystals
  • Today’s Teardrops by Roy Orbison
Notable and successful songs he performed:

  • Only Love Can Break a Heart
  • Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa
  • Half Heaven, Half Heartache
  • It Hurts to Be in Love
  • I’m Gonna Be Strong
  • Town Without Pity from the Kirk Douglas movie of the same name. Pitney performed this song during the 1962 Academy Awards as it was nominated for Best Song (lost to Moon River)
 Pitney recorded two albums with country music entertainer George Jones. They were voted the ‘most promising country-and-western-duo of the year’ in 1965.

He also recorded in Italian, Spanish, and German and competed in Italy’s annual Sanremo Music Festival to critical acclaim comparing his voice to that of Italian opera tenor Enrico Caruso.

A radio disc jockey nicknamed Pitney “The Rockville Rocket” because of his meteoric rise in the music charts. (Pitney grew up in Rockville, Connecticut.)

Next, a few words about Lee Marvin—

He was born on (February 19, 1924 (died August 29, 1987). He was an American film and television actor with a military background of having enlisted in the Marines at the beginning of World War II. His military experience, which included receiving the Purple Heart Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Med, and the Combat Action Ribbon.

His military experiences affected him deeply for the rest of his life. He disliked acting in many of his war-related movies as he felt the movies glorified war, and he was picky about which war movies he took. He often spoke out against U.S. involvement in Viet Nam.

These two quotes from the IMDb website (link in references below) illustrate his entire Hollywood career.
  • He was typecast as a heavy before graduating to unsympathetic heroes.
  • He often played tough, hard bitten anti-heroes.
Also from his bio on the IMBd website, here are three of his quotes regarding the violence in some of his movies and the violence in the characters he’d played.

Because real violence is a thing that must not be tolerated, and in order not to tolerate it, you must be educated in knowing what it is. Violent films come out with value… When I play these roles of vicious men, I do things you shouldn’t do and I make you see that you shouldn’t do them.

...But most violence on the screen looks so easy and so harmless that its’ like an invitation to try it. I say make it so brutal that a man thinks twice before he does anything like that.

I’ve always been against senseless violence myself. When I incorporate violence in my performances, I make sure there’s a point to it. If I were playing a heavy, say a cowboy bad guy, I could commit some senseless crime to that I’d have to be destroyed in the third or fourth reel Holding up the stagecoach, for example, and shooting the old lady because she turned her back on me. So I’m against pointless violence, too.

Just a few of Lee Marvin’s movies: (deliberately left out his numerous television appearances)
  • You’re in the Navy Now (1951 film debut - uncredited)
  • Bad Day at Black Rock
  • Not as a Stranger
  • Pillars of the Sky
  • Raintree County
  • The Comancheros
  • Donovan’s Reef
  • Cat Ballou (Oscar win)
  • Ship of Fools
  • The Professionals
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • Paint Your Wagon
  • Monte Walsh
  • Pocket Money
  • Prime Cut
  • The Iceman Cometh
  • Death Hunt
  • The Delta Force

Finally, the primary connectionThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Pitney had a hit with the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Marvin played the villain Liberty Valance in the western film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

…and now you know the nerdy connection.

Side note: The song was not included in the movie because of a publishing dispute. However it did reach No. 4 on the music charts.

Gene Pitney singing the theme song to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:

We meet Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance in all his villainous glory:

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Stay in contact with Kaye—

Gene Pitney
Image: William Morris Agency (management), Gene Pitney 1967, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Lee Marvin
Image: NBC Television Uploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia, Lee marvin 1971, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Film: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Song: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


  1. Nerd away my friend for it makes for great reading. Thank you for an entertaining post, Kaye. I enjoyed it. Doris

  2. Great blog post. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Missed mentioning my favorite Lee Marvin movie, Hell in the Pacific, a sort of early anti-war film starring only Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune.

    1. Hell in the Pacific is a good one. Thanks for the reminder. ;-)

  3. I loved Lee Marvin's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the western villain with a "tin nose" in Cat Ballou. I believe he won an Oscar for the role, and dedicated to the horse.

  4. I love Cat Ballou, too. In his Oscar acceptance speech he said half of the Oscar went to the horse. lol

  5. Oh, this was so interesting, Kaye! I loved it. I bought a piano book of Gene Pitney hits a few years loses something in the "translation"...LOL I always liked Lee Marvin, but didn't know about all his military accolades and service. Very cool!