Actor Lee Marvin remained true to his tough-guy screen image during two days of cross-examination as a hostile witness in the landmark $1-million property settlement suit brought by his former lover, Michelle Triola Marvin.
Thursday he testified that the told Michelle Marvin he loved her "on occasion" during the six years they lived together, but that he never meant it. Yesterday he explained that the I-love-you's were common show-business expressions and "idle male promises."
Though Michelle Marvin's attorney, Marvin Mitchelson, touched briefly on the former couple's financial arrangements, he was mostly interested in establishing the depth of their affection. Most of the Friday morning session was given over to Mitchelson's dramatic and interpretive reading of love letters from the actor to Michelle Marvin.
At one point, the attorney directed Lee Marvin's attention to the close of one such letter. It read, "Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, het baby!"
"What did you mean by that?" Mitchelson asked.
Amid a ripple of laughter from reporters and spectators, the actor turned to Judge Arthur K. Marshall with a look of disbelief and asked "How do I explain that, Your Honor"
"If you can't explain it, tell him so," replied Marshall, chuckling. "I can't explain that," Marvin responded.
But Mitchelson pressed on: "Isn't it true that 'hey babywas a code word between you and Michelle for saying, 'I love you?'" The actor denied that it was. And so it went, with Mitchelson also asking an often sarcastic but unruffled Marvin what he meant when he wrote, "Baby, you are mine," "You are all I want," and "Baby, I want so much for you."
The point of the letter-reading, Mitchelson told a reporter later, was to "prove that he loved her or that he lied to her and misled her." Either way, Mitchelson contended, the letters gave rise to what he calls his client's "reasonable expectations" of continuing financial support.
Thought the letters as read did not contain the words "I love you," and there were no allusions to property-sharing agreements, Mitchelson is hoping that Judge Marshall finds in them evidence of an "implied contract" to share property based on the couple's possessive "demonstrated conduct."
Throughout Marvin's two days on the witness stand the subject of love has come up repeatedly, often provoking the actor to remove his glasses and glare at Mitchelson. Yesterday, attorney Mitchelson attempted to show that the actor had promised lifelong devotion to Michelle Marvin when he wrote in a letter, "I guess we'll have to spend the rest of our lives hiding in bed."
The actor characyerized that statement as "an idle sexual promise." "I think we've all said things like that," he said.
Pressing Marvin to define what he meant by love, Mitchelson asked, "You don't love me, do you?" But he quickly added, "No, strike that" -- to which Judge Marshall replied, "Is that because you fear the answer, Counselor?"
Despite the levity, exchanges between the actor and the attorney grew so testy at times that the judge once asked Mitchelson to back off from his face-to-face questioning and return to his seat.
After Mitchelson presents his entire case, Lee Marvin's attorneys will call the actor to testify for the defense, and give his own side of the story.