Where I grew up there were no celebrities to be seen, except during deer season when Tennessee Ernie Ford came to town. He stayed at my friend Collin Bryner’s house, and hunted with Collin’s father. By request, he sang “Sixteen Tons,” a ballad more popular in Carbon County than the National Anthem.
Needless to say, I was very envious of Collin; that is, until Lee Marvin’s dog took up residence right next door.
The way I heard it, Lee Marvin himself came to town—stopping briefly at Frank Sanders’ Texaco station to fill up. According to Frank, the actor was behind the wheel of a fancy sports car—one of those little English two-seaters. In the passenger seat sat a striking brunette, and between the bucket seats was parked the most beautiful Irish setter Frank had ever laid eyes on. He couldn’t take his eyes off it.
Frank had checked the oil level and tire pressure and was wiping bugs off the windscreen, stealing furtive glances, when Marvin spoke up.
“Nice dog, wouldn’t ya say?”
“Sure is,” replied Frank, who still wasn’t sure if his customer was Lee Marvin, what with the sunglasses and all.
“Well, he might be nice t’ look at, but he sure ain’t much fun t’ travel with.” This delivered in a rich baritone, out of one side of his mouth. Frank was pretty sure now that it was indeed Lee Marvin speaking.
“See, I got myself a little problem. Me and my friend here, we gotta drive all the way back to L.A., and what with the dog squatting on the console, it’s getting’ kinda crowded, if ya know what I mean.”
Frank agreed that he knew what Marvin meant, even though he’d never transported a dog in anything other than the bed of a pickup truck—the way everybody transported dogs back in his home state of Kentucky.
“Helluva nice dog all right,” Marvin continued, “A good bird dog. But then I’m not inta bird huntin’. Not the feathered kind, anyhow.”
“A good bird dog, is he?” asked Frank.
“The best. I don’t even wanna tell ya how much I paid for him.”
Frank finished wiping the windscreen, and that’s when Marvin asked for a favor. Would he mind looking after the dog—just for a little while until he could take care of some business in Los Angeles? “I’ll dump the dame, trade this thing in on a truck, and then I’ll come back for him.”
Marvin didn’t have to twist Frank’s arm. Ever since he was a kid, Frank had wanted a dog just like the one Lee Marvin had. Problem was, Frank’s wife Bertha wasn’t particularly fond of dogs and didn’t wish to have one around the house. Dogs, she said, are basically a big nuisance, so why had he brought this one home?
“This is no ordinary dog,” Frank explained. “It’s Lee Marvin’s dog!”
Well, that changed everything. Bertha may not have cared for dogs, but she did care for Lee Marvin. Matter of fact, Lee Marvin just happened to be her favorite movie star.
“It’s only for a little while,” Frank continued. “Mr. Marvin promised he’d be back to pick him up, soon as he gets some things squared away in Los Angeles.”
Of course there was no way Bertha was going to turn away Lee Marvin’s dog—especially if its owner would be coming to fetch it. Hell, the dog could sleep in the house if it wanted.
In the days that followed, people started driving slowly past the Sanders house, hoping to catch sight of the celebrity animal. Whenever the poor thing ventured outside, flashbulbs would pop before its bloodshot eyes. Meantime, Bertha kept a watchful eye out her kitchen window, hopeful that Lee Marvin might show up at any moment.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. No Lee Marvin! Still, Bertha maintained her vigil at the window, hope slowly fading. From what she’d gleaned from fan magazines, hers wasn’t the first heart the actor had broken. She wondered if, like Michelle Triola, she should get in touch with attorney Marvin Mitchelson. Is not a man’s best friend entitled to palimony? She even considered writing a letter.
“Dear Mr. Marvin,
You don’t know me, but I have your dog.”
No, that wouldn’t do. Nothing would do but to stand and watch and wait. And wait and watch some more.
A whole year passed, and Bertha finally gave up watching and waiting. Things went back to the way they were before, except that now the Sanders household included a dog. Bertha had gotten used to the animal; to her surprise, she’d even grown fond of it.
Lee Marvin’s dog lived to a ripe old age, spending his twilight years as a lawn ornament and doing occasional work as a volunteer siren for the fire department. His passing was a sad day for all of us, his doggedly faithful fans.
“He certainly was a fine dog, wouldn’t you say?” asked Frank.
“Yes, he certainly was,” sighed Bertha. “But just between you and me, I don’t believe Lee Marvin ever laid eyes on him.”