Brando, Marlon (Jr.) 1924-2004

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BRANDO, Marlon (Jr.) 1924-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born April 3, 1924, in Omaha, NE; died of lung failure July 1, 2004, in Los Angeles, CA. Actor and author. One of the most famous American actors of the twentieth century, the Academy Award-winning Brando had a long, though frequently uneven, career that included such acclaimed films as A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), The Wild One (1954), The Godfather (1972), Last Tango in Paris (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979), and A Dry White Season (1989). Growing up a rebellious teenager in Nebraska, the young Brando did not do well in school and often skipped classes. Dismissed from military school and ineligible for service in the army because of a bad knee, he traveled to New York City, where his sister, a budding actress, lived. He decided to try acting as well, and while working a variety of low-skill jobs, met Stella Adler, a famous acting teacher who taught the "method" approach to acting. Brando, it turned out, was a natural for this type of acting, which advocated the creation of characters with more true-to-life emotions, behaviors, and ways of speaking. He thrived on Adler's instruction, though she would later say that Brando's talent was already there when she met him. Up until this point, actors focused on being absolutely faithful to the words written on the page; they would enunciate dialogue clearly and did not deviate from what the writer had originally intended. Brando soon changed all that. After winning several parts in plays, the young actor landed the role of Stanley Kowalski in the 1947 production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. Audiences were soon amazed by the muscular passion with which Brando threw himself into the role; no two performances were exactly alike, yet each one was thought-provoking and stunning to watch. Other actors attended Brando's performances, trying to figure out how he performed so naturally and brilliantly. Later, after playing Stanley in over 850 stage performances, he reprised the part in the 1951 film adaptation, which earned him an Academy Award nomination. Other great performances followed with Viva Zapata (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Wild One (1953), and On the Waterfront (1954), in which his performance as a boxer who sells himself out to the mob earned him an Acadmy award, a Golden Globe award, and a British Academy award. After On the Waterfront, however, Brando's star potential seemed to flag, especially during the 1960s when the actor became more concerned with civil rights and peace activism. He developed a contempt for Hollywood, at one point saying that acting to him seemed a trivial pursuit compared to the many other important issues and problems that faced the world. By the late 1960s, many in Hollywood considered Brando a has-been, a terrific actor who had wasted his vast potential. But Brando was not finished yet. In 1972 he won the part that would mark a brief comeback, playing mafia boss Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. The performance won Brando his second Academy award, but he once again showed his contempt for Hollywood by boycotting the award ceremonies, sending friend and actress Maria Cruz in his place. On his instructions, she wore a Native American costume and made an impassioned speech protesting the treatment of native tribes; she was booed off the stage. Also in 1972, Brando made what many consider his last great film, Last Tango in Paris, for which he was nominated for another Academy award. After this, the actor became more and more reclusive, though he continued to make appearances in such films as Superman (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), A Dry White Season (1989), The Freshman (1990), and The Score (2001). In the last decades of his life Brando was frequently criticized for letting both his acting potential and his body go to flab. He rarely appeared in public, often finding solace in food. Tragedy also struck his family when one of his sons, Christian Brando, was found guilty of murdering his sister Cheyenne's boyfriend; Cheyenne later committed suicide. While many actors greatly admired Brando, even in his declining years, many more mourned the fact that a great actor had not done as much as he could have with his considerable talents. Brando wrote about his life in the autobiography Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me (1994).



Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2004, section A, pp. 1, 26-27.

New York Times, July 3, 2004, section A, pp. 1, 12-13.

Times (London, England), July 3, 2004, p. 51.

Washington Post, July 3, 2004, section A, pp. 1, 8.