Jarmusch is the founder of The Sons of Lee Marvin, a humorous 'semi-secret society'. Members of the society reportedly include musician Tom Waits and actors John Lurie and Richard Boes, all of whom have worked with Jarmusch on several occasions. Nick Cave has also "been included", and John Boorman has been "given a card" as an "honorary member". (Thurston Moore, Iggy Pop, Josh Brolin and Neil Young have at various occasions been rumored to be members as well.) The entry criterion for the club is that the person must have some physical resemblance or plausibly look like a son of the actor Lee Marvin — as such, women are not allowed to join. The club supposedly meets occasionally to watch Lee Marvin movies together. Its members perpetuate the joke in the media.
In an interview, Jarmusch had this to say:
"I'm not at liberty to divulge information about the organization, other than to tell you that it does exist. I can identify three other members of the organization: Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Richard Bose. You have to have a facial structure such that you could be related to, or be a son of, Lee Marvin. There are no women, obviously, in the organization. We have communiques and secret meetings. Other than that, I can't talk about it."
(Interview Magazine, No. 11, 1989: pp 146-150.)
"We are both members of an organization called the Sons of Lee Marvin. It's a mystical organization and they have a New York chapter, and we met at one of the annual meetings. It's some where between the Elks Club and the Academy Awards."
(Rolling Stone Magazine, Nov. 6, 1986.)
"Just the idea of Marvin's characters being outsiders and very violent appeals to me. Some seem to have a very strong code - even if it's a psychotic one - that he follows rigidly.
A secret organization exists called The Sons of Lee Marvin - it includes myself, Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Richard Boes... Six months ago, Tom Waits was in a bar somewhere like Sonoma County in Northern California, and the bartender said:
'You’re Tom Waits, right? A guy over there wants to talk to you.'
Tom went over to this dark corner booth and the guy sitting there said,
'Sit down, I want to talk to you.'
'What do you want to talk to me about? I don’t know you.'
'What is this bullshit about the Sons of Lee Marvin?'
'Well, it’s a secret organization and I’m not supposed to talk about it.'
'I don’t like it.'
'What’s it to you?'
'I’m Lee Marvin’s son', and he really was.
He thought it was insulting, but it's not, it's completely out of respect for Lee Marvin"
("Jim Jarmusch's Guilty Pleasures", Film Comment, May-June, 1992, pp 35-37.)
Asked by an audience member after a screening of "Year of the Horse" in 1999 to further explain the Lee Marvin-connection, Jim Jarmusch answered:
"Well, I wanted to make a film, years and years ago, called The Sun Song [*]… Well, it wasn’t going to be called this, but, it was basically going to have Lee Marvin in it and then Tom Waits, and John Lurie, and then another friend named Richard Boes. And all of us look, a little bit, like we could be related to Lee Marvin. And then Lee died and we started this secret organization called “The Sons of Lee Marvin.” And, it does exist, this organization, as you saw. I gave John Boorman a card, he’s an honorary member now. So, I love Lee Marvin… He’s a hell of an actor."
* Should probably be "The Son Song"
In an interview for Venice Magazine (March 2000), Jarmusch spilled some more beans:
"The Sons of Lee Marvin is a secret organization. I can't tell you much about it other than we have cards, and if you get a card from one of the founding members, you are an honorary member. Some of our founding members are myself, Tom Waits, John Lurie. We inducted at one point (musician) Nick Cave, because if you look like you could be a son of Lee Marvin, then you are instantly thought of by the Sons of Lee Marvin to be a Son of Lee Marvin. I lived in Berlin for almost a year in '87. Nick Cave lived there too and we used to hang out. People would always mistake us as brothers.
It all started years ago with an idea I had for a movie where Lee Marvin was a father with three sons who all hated each other, and he was an alcoholic guy and lived in a barn somewhere. It was one of those ideas that gradually became more interesting to me, then Lee Marvin crossed over to the other side."
In the segment "Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil" in Coffee and Cigarettes, Meg and Jack sit right beneath a painting of Lee.