The 1960s were an exciting time for Francis Ford Coppola. He enrolled at UCLA Film School to complete his graduate studies and worked on several projects, which helped him land an assistant gig with super producer Roger Corman. Coppola reedited a Russian sci-fi film, which became Corman's Battle Beyond the Sun. The young filmmaker was eventually hired as dialogue director, producer and soundman on several other features. Corman gave him an opportunity to create his own film, which became the cult horror movie Dementia 13, based on Coppola's own screenplay. After connecting with filmmaker George Lucas, winning several awards, and creating his own film studio (Zoetrope), Coppola was well on his way to making The Godfather — a movie that left an indelible mark on the face of cinema and became Coppola's masterpiece.
Lee Marvin was a legend by the time Coppola wrote him this letter in 1969. The Oscar-winning star had his pick of the litter. After all, this is the same actor who turned down the role of Quint in Steven Spielberg's Jaws because he didn't want his deep-sea fishing buddies to watch him wrestle a giant, rubber shark. Marvin lived the lives of his tough-guy characters. He was a Marine sniper during World War II, was shot during the Battle of Saipan and discharged with a Purple Heart. Coppola was drawn to this and asked Marvin to accept the role of renegade Army Colonel Kurtz (called Karnage in this letter) in his new movie Apocalypse Now. Marlon Brando wound up taking the role, and the rest is history.
This letter recently sold for $5,078.05 at auction. It's a symbol of an electrifying time for a burgeoning auteur — and certainly makes us wonder what Coppola's movie would have been like had Marvin played the part of the crazy colonel.
Mr. Lee Marvin,
We'd like you to play the part of Colonel Karnage in Apocalaypse Now. We're an independant company in San Francisco financed by Warner Bros.
It's a good script.
Francis Ford Coppola