Nationality: American. Born: Omaha, Nebraska, 3 April 1924. Education: Attended Shattuck Military Academy, Faribault, Minnesota; studied acting with Stella Adler, New School for Social Research, New York. Family: Married 1) Anna Kashfi, 1957 (divorced 1959), son: Christian Devil; 2) Maria Castaneda, 1960, children: Miko and Rebecca; children by Tarita Teriipaia: Teihotu and Tarita Zumi "Cheyenne" (deceased). Career: 1944—Broadway debut in role of Nels in I Remember Mama; 1947—stage stardom established by performance in A Streetcar Named Desire; 1950—film debut in The Men; 1959—founded Pennebaker Productions to produce One-Eyed Jacks; 1972—declined Academy Award for role in The Godfather, delegated Indian actress, Sasheen Littlefeather, to read statement accusing film industry of misrepresenting the American Indian; 1979—in TV mini-series Roots: The Next Generation. Awards: Best Actor, Cannes Festival, and Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for Viva Zapata!, 1952; Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for Julius Caesar, 1953; Best Actor Academy Award, Best Actor, New York Film Critics, and Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for On theWaterfront, 1954; Best Actor Academy Award (declined), for The Godfather, 1972; Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for Last Tango in Paris, 1973. Address: Home: Tetiaroa Island, Tahiti.
Films as Actor:
The Men (Zinneman) (as Ken)
A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan) (as Stanley Kowalski)
Viva Zapata! (Kazan) (as Emiliano Zapata)
The Wild One (Benedek) (as Johnny); On the Waterfront (Kazan) (as Terry Malloy); Desiree (Koster) (as Napoleon Bonaparte)
Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Sky Masterton)
The Teahouse of the August Moon (Daniel Mann) (as Sakini)
Sayonara (Logan) (as Major Lloyd Gruver)
The Young Lions (Dmytryk) (as Christian Diestl)
The Fugitive Kind (Lumet) (as Val Xavier)
Mutiny on the Bounty (Milestone) (as Fletcher Christian)
The Ugly American (Englund) (as Harrison Carter MacWhite)
Bedtime Story (Levy) (as Freddy)
The Saboteur—Code Name Morituri (Morituri) (Wicki) (as Robert Crain)
The Chase (Arthur Penn) (as Sheriff Calder); The Appaloosa (Southwest to Sonora) (Furie) (as Matt Fletcher)
A Countess from Hong Kong (Chaplin) (as Ogden Mears); Reflections in a Golden Eye (Huston) (as Major Weldon Penderton)
Candy (Marquand) (as Grindl)
The Night of the Following Day (Cornfield) (as Bud); Burn! (Queimada!) (Pontecorvo) (as Sir William Walker)
The Nightcomers (Winner) (as Peter Quint)
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Don Vito Corleone)
L'ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris) (Bertolucci) (as Paul)
The Missouri Breaks (Arthur Penn) (as Robert E. Lee Clayton)
Superman (Richard Donner) (as Jor-El, father of Superman)
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Colonel Kurtz)
The Formula (Avildsen) (as Adam Steiffel)
A Dry White Season (Palcy) (as Ian McKenzie)
The Freshman (Andrew Bergman) (as Carmine Sabatina)
Don Juan DeMarco (Leven) (as Dr. Jack Mickler)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (Frankenheimer) (title role, + co-sc)
Film as Director:
One-Eyed Jacks (+ ro as Rio)
By BRANDO: books—
Conversations with Brando, with Lawrence Grobel, New York, 1991.
Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, with Robert Lindsey, New York, 1994.
By BRANDO: articles—
"Brando's Oscar Speech," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 5, no. 4, 1973.
"The Complete Transcript of Brando's Speech at the First American Gala," in Interview (New York), January 1975.
Interview in Ciné Revue (Paris), 27 March 1980.
Film und Fernsehen (Potsdam), June 1990.
On BRANDO: books—
Zuckerman, Ira, The Godfather Journal, New York, 1972.
Carey, Gary, Brando, New York, 1973.
Jordan, René, Marlon Brando, New York, 1973.
Morella, Joe, Brando: The Unauthorized Bioraphy, New York, 1973.
Puzo, Mario, The Making of the Godfather, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973.
Thomas, Bob, Marlon: Portrait of the Rebel as Artist, New York, 1973.
Shipman, David, Brando, London, 1974; rev. ed., as Marlon Brando, London, 1989.
Braithwaite, Bruce, The Films of Marlon Brando, 1977.
Brando, Anna Kashfi, and E. P. Stein, Brando for Breakfast, New York, 1979.
Downing, David, Marlon Brando, New York, 1984.
Carey, Gary, Marlon Brando: The Only Contender, New York, 1985.
Higham, Charles, Brando: The Unauthorized Biography, London and New York, 1987.
Nickens, Christopher, Brando: A Biography in Photographs, New York, 1987.
Fauser, Jorg, Marlon-Brando-Biographie, Hamburg, 1990.
Schickel, Richard, Brando: A Life in Our Times, New York, 1990.
McCann, Graham, Rebel Males: Clift, Brando, and Dean, London, 1991.
Mourousi, Yves, Le destin Brando, Paris, 1991.
Ryan, Paul, Marlon Brando: A Portrait, New York, 1991.
Bly, Nellie, Marlon Brando: Larger than Life, New York, 1994.
Manso, Peter, Brando: The Biography, New York, 1994.
Tanitch, Robert, Brando, London, 1994.
Haber, Mel, Bedtime Stories of the Legendary Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs, Palm Springs, California, 1996.
Schirmer, Lothar, Marlon Brando: Portraits & Film Stills: 1946–1995, New York, 1996.
Vergin, Roger C., Brando with His Guard Down, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1997.
On BRANDO: articles—
Current Biography 1952, New York, 1952.
Houseman, John, "Filming Julius Caesar," in Films in Review (New York), April 1953 and Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1953.
Brinson, P., "The Brooder," in Films and Filming (London), October 1954.
Capote, Truman, "Marlon Brando," in Newsweek (New York), 9 November 1957.
Rush, B., "Brando—The Young Lion," in Films and Filming (London), March 1958.
Malden, Karl, "The 2 Faces of Brando," in Films and Filming (London), August 1959.
McVay, Douglas, "The Brando Mutiny," in Films and Filming (London), December 1962.
Steele, R., "Meet Marlon Brando," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Fall 1966.
McGillivray, D., "Marlon Brando," in Focus on Film (London), Autumn 1972.
Haskell, Molly, articles on Brando in Village Voice (New York), 14 June 1973 through 30 August 1973.
Sarris, A., "A Tribute to Marlon Brando," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1974.
Gow, G., "The Brando Boom," in Films and Filming (London), November 1974.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Marlon Brando," in Films in Review (New York), December 1980.
Kael, Pauline, "Marlon Brando and James Dean," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Schickel, Richard, "Celebrity," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1985.
Peary, Gerald, "The Wild One," in American Film (New York), June 1986.
Kram, Mark, "Brando," in Esquire (New York), November 1989.
Webster, Andy, filmography in Premiere (New York), October 1994.
Brodkey, Harold, "Translating Brando," in New Yorker, 24 October 1994.
Naremore, James, "Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, Brando: The Biography," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 21, no. 1–2, Winter/Spring 1995.
Bush, Lyall, "Doing Brando," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1996.
Goldstein, R. "A Streetcar Named Meshuge," in Village Voice (New York), 23 April 1996.
* * *
Marlon Brando is the preeminent actor of American postwar cinema. In the early 1950s, he received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in four successive years, and in 1954 won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in On the Waterfront. His portrayal of the leather-jacketed biker in The Wild One established an integral connection between rebellion, defiance, and sexual prowess, and made Brando a generation's symbol of masculinity. Brando himself studied the work of actors such as Spencer Tracy, Paul Muni, and Cary Grant, but for actors of his generation and beyond, it has been Brando who has served as the model.
Often considered America's greatest actor, Brando has, throughout his career, demonstrated a remarkable ability to reveal characters' contradictions. His portrayals of rebels such as Stanley Kowalski (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Terry Malloy (On the Waterfront) present us with brutish characters who possess an innate intelligence and fundamental nobility; his characterizations of figures such as Major Penderton (Reflections in a Golden Eye) and Sir William Walker (Burn!), men who understand and live by the rules of "civilized" society, become studies of personal disintegration and the devastating effects of power. Brando's skill in representing complex characters creates compelling and contradictory points of contact for spectators: in The Young Lions, Brando's portrayal of the young Nazi officer is disturbing for he is, at times, a sympathetic and attractive figure; in The Godfather, Brando's Don Corleone is both ruthless and kindhearted; in The Last Tango in Paris, Brando's representation of Paul mobilizes and lays siege to the image of masculinity Brando's early film roles helped to establish.
Brando studied with Stella Adler and came to Hollywood from Broadway after his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire caught the attention of the critics and the public. In an interview with Truman Capote in 1957, Brando explained that he intended to remain a film actor because "movies have the greatest potential. You can say important things to a lot of people. About discrimination and hatred and prejudice." Brando's work with Adler had instilled in him the belief that actors should have a point of view toward society, and we can get a sense of that view by looking at the parts he has chosen to play throughout his career (e.g. the Mexican revolutionary in Viva Zapata!), and the specific coloring he has given many of his characters (e.g. his portrayal of Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty who, because of the forces of class and commerce, cannot live inside or outside the law).
The conventional wisdom is that Brando wasted his talents in the period between his auspicious beginning in the 1950s and his commercial and critical comeback in the 1970s (in films such as The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris). A more comprehensive consideration of his work suggests that is not the case. For example, in 1961, Brando directed and starred in One-Eyed Jacks, an effective ensemble piece and, in its reworking of Western formulas, an interesting (Hamlet-like) study of revenge. In 1970's Burn!, playing the part of the agent of imperial and capitalist aggression, Brando gave what he sees as his best performance. This role is especially illustrative of the actor's authorial control and ideological concerns, for in portraying Sir William, Brando candidly articulates why the British imperial forces will defeat the island's guerrilla army in a way that echoes, almost word for word, the speech he gives as Major Penderton when lecturing on military strategy in Reflections in a Golden Eye. Brando's performances in the late seventies, eighties, and nineties—for example, as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, as Ian McKenzie in A Dry White Season, and as Tomas de Torquemada in Christopher Columbus—reveal his signature reshaping of material and his abiding (social) concerns.
Like other stars, Brando's work as an actor has been understood through and in terms of certain roles and highly publicized moments of his private life. Yet rather than focusing on the rebel roles of his early career or incidents that have provided fuel for gossip columnists, Brando's work should be considered as a whole, for as James Naremore points out, Brando's achievements are remarkable, and his performances reveal a negotiation between the contradictions of not only his own personality, but those of the culture as well. What is significant is that Brando has not simply continued to play the rebel throughout his career, but instead has put together a body of work that examines the exercise of power in all its troubling aspects.
(b. 3 April 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska; d. 1 July 2004 in Los Angeles, California), actor who won two Academy Awards and revolutionized the acting style of American films.
Brando, nicknamed Bud, was the third of the three children of Dorothy (“Dodie”) Pennebaker Brando, an amateur actress, and Marlon Brando, Sr., a traveling salesman. Brando was close to his mother but had an animosity toward his harsh, remote father. Brando’s parents, both alcoholics, had an embattled relationship, frequently separating and reuniting.
An indifferent and often misbehaving student, Brando was expelled from a number of schools. In 1941 his father sent Brando to his alma mater, the Shattuck Military Academy, in Faribault, Minnesota. Defying his teachers and often fighting with other students, Brando resisted the discipline that the academy attempted to impose. His one success was his appearance in three one-act plays, in which he demonstrated a talent for mimicry and disguise. In May 1943, after repeated refusals to conform to school regulations, Brando was expelled. He did not graduate from high school.
In the summer of 1943 Brando moved to New York City, mostly because his two sisters were living there. Because one of his sisters was pursuing an acting career, Brando decided to explore the theater as well. He enrolled in the dramatic workshop of the New School for Social Research. There Brando met Stella Adler, a legendary acting teacher who immediately recognized his gifts.
In the summer of 1944 Brando appeared in summer stock theater in Sayville, Long Island, New York. He played the double role of a young Christ and an enfeebled elderly schoolmaster in Gerhart Hauptmann’s Hannele’s Way to Heaven. The MCA talent agency, impressed by Brando’s skill in self-transformation, signed the actor and that fall sent him on many auditions. On 19 October 1944 Brando made his Broadway debut as the fifteen-year-old son in a Norwegian-American family in I Remember Mama by John Van Druten. Critics and audiences responded at once to Brando’s striking looks and charismatic naturalness, the sense that he did not seem to be acting.
Adler encouraged her husband, the director Harold Clurman, to cast Brando in Truckline Cafe by Maxwell Anderson. Brando played a World War II veteran who kills his unfaithful wife and then in a five-minute monologue confesses to the crime. On opening night, 27 February 1944, Brando’s electrifying delivery of the monologue stopped the show. Other stage roles, including March-banks in a 1946 production of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, followed quickly.
On 3 December 1947 Brando opened on Broadway as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan. Although Stanley is supposed to be the play’s heavy—a brute realist locked in mortal battle for his wife, Stella, with Stella’s high-toned sister, Blanche Du Bois, who is addicted to illusion and masquerade—audiences rooted for Stanley and often laughed at Blanche, played by Jessica Tandy. The reaction surprised and delighted Williams.
In the fall of 1947 Brando had begun attending sessions at the Actors Studio, the home of the Method acting technique. As he had throughout rehearsals for Streetcar, Brando admired the ability of Kazan, one of the cofounders of the studio, to establish immediate intimacy with actors. When the acting teacher Lee Strasberg, a bitter enemy of Adler’s, began to moderate sessions in 1949, Brando became disenchanted with the studio and left.
Brando relocated to Hollywood in late 1949. Rather than signing a standard seven-year contract with a major studio, Brando made a one-picture deal with Stanley Kramer, an independent producer who offered him the role of a paraplegic veteran in The Men (1950). To prepare for the role, Brando, pretending to be unable to walk, checked into a hospital, where he could make first-hand observations. In his second film Brando collaborated again with Kazan to play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Brando’s slurred, mumbled speech pitted with pauses and broken sentences; his loaded silences; his hunched and potentially threatening body language; his suggestions of his character’s coiled, vibrant inner life; his flights of corrosive humor and rage; and his volcanic sexuality set a new standard for psychological realism in American film acting. For the film Kazan was careful to cast a Blanche Du Bois who was worthy of Brando’s performance. Vivien Leigh’s tremulous and ultimately tragic characterization evoked no laughter in movie audiences.
After Streetcar, Brando was in a position to play the roles he wanted to, and in his next three films he chose material that showed his range as well as his determination to defy typecasting. In Viva Zapata! (1952), directed by Kazan, with dark makeup and a sketchy attempt at vocal disguise Brando plays a mercurial Mexican revolutionary. As Marc Antony in MGM’S all-star Julius Caesar (1953) Brando was more successful in banishing traces of Stanley Kowalski. Uncertain of his ability to perform Shakespeare with a cast of veterans, Brando relied on his skills in mimicry and prepared by studying the actor Laurence Olivier’s recordings of the works of Shakespeare. As the rebel in The Wild One (1953) Brando projected a combination of muscularity and sensitivity, and the image of the actor riding a motorcycle dressed in jeans and leather became an icon of 1950s America.
On the Waterfront (1954), Brando’s final collaboration with Kazan, was the high point of his career. The film’s drama is an inner one: what Terry Malloy, a former prize-fighter who works on the crime-ridden Hoboken waterfront, is thinking and feeling as he gradually arrives at self-knowledge. For most of the film there is a split between the character’s words and his thoughts, and Brando filled the gaps between speech and action with a palpitating subtext. Malloy’s turbulent inner monologue is registered in Brando’s body language, his roving, distracted eye movements, and his strangled speech patterns, which reflect the struggle of an inarticulate character to find the words to match his feelings. Brando won his first Academy Award for this performance, which has been cited as the quintessential example of the inner-directed Method style.
After On the Waterfront, Brando refused to repeat Stanley Kowalski or Terry Malloy and refused to play the role of star that the press expected of him. As his fame grew, Brando became an uncooperative celebrity. He received bad publicity for two tempestuous, short-lived marriages. On 11 October 1957 he wed Anna Kashfi, an actress. The couple had one son and divorced in 1959. On 4 June 1960 Brando married the Mexican actress Movita Castaneda, with whom he had one son. The couple divorced in 1962.
From 1955 to 1960 Brando’s films were of uneven merit, but his work was filled with invention. In Desirée (1954), Brando played Napoleon as a fop with a crisp British accent. In Guys and Dolls (1955) he took on the challenge of musical comedy, singing in his own voice to play the gambler Sky Masterson. In Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Brando played a wily Japanese interpreter. Brando changed the ending of Sayonara (1957) so that his character, a southern military man, marries a Japanese performer. His revision underscored the change of heart that Brando looked for in his characters and provided the kind of social comment to which he was increasingly drawn. Brando also altered his role of an ardent Nazi in The Young Lions (1958). Searching for the kind of arc that ignited his instincts, Brando portrayed the character as becoming gradually disillusioned with the Nazi cause. His performance as a drifter in The Fugitive Kind (1960) failed because Brando was unable to discover change in the character, a stud who ignites passionate responses in others while remaining passive.
With One-Eyed Jacks (1961), the only film Brando directed, and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), the actor became a victim of his reputation for being difficult. On both projects Brando was accused of causing lengthy production delays and of being responsible for hefty cost overruns. During the shooting of Bounty, Brando began a relationship with his co-star, Tarita Teriipia, whom he married on 10 August 1962 and to whom he was married at the time of his death. He also became attached to Tahiti, buying his own Pacific island, the atoll Teti’aroa.
After Bounty, Brando appeared in numerous unsuccessful films, including Bedtime Story (1964), a clumsy farce, and The Countess from Hong Kong (1967), in which he was unhappily directed by Charles Chaplin, who insisted on giving line readings and demonstrating movements that he expected Brando to imitate. During this period in which he was repeatedly charged with having forsaken his talent and his audience, Brando appeared in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). As a repressed homosexual officer in a southern military outpost, the actor gave an extraordinary performance that was subtle, rapt, and intuitive. When the film failed, Brando began to make frequent statements about his contempt for acting. Also in the late 1960s Brando became active in civil rights causes. For a time he endorsed the Black Panthers, some of whom resented his fame and questioned his motives.
Brando returned to form playing Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972), his most skillfully conceived disguise. His face and voice cracking with age, the actor created a character built of sharp contradictions: as he plans mass murders the don softly strokes a cat; before his death the don plays with his grandson in a spirit of childlike innocence. For his performance Brando received, and famously refused, a second Academy Award. On Oscar night he sent a representative to read a speech he had written about the plight of American Indians.
Brando followed his greatest disguise performance with his most generous act of self-revelation. As Paul in The Last Tango in Paris (1972) Brando played a tortured character who has ferocious sexual encounters with a woman whose name he never knows. Encouraged by his director, Bernardo Bertolucci, to improvise, Brando drew on his own experiences, and the performance was laced with the actor’s memories of his childhood, his marriages, and his promiscuity. After Last Tango, Brando never again played a central role or one that demanded much of his emotional resources. Although his films after Tango were rarely more than routine, Brando’s work had variety and the imprint of a born actor’s inspiration. In the minor Western The Missouri Breaks (1976), for example, Brando appeared in an assortment of disguises and used a range of accents.
As his weight swelled Brando became ever more reclusive and erratic. In May 1990 his privacy was shattered when his son Christian killed his half-sister Cheyenne’s boyfriend. To protect his son and to deflect attention from the trial, Brando was gregarious with the news media. Christian, who claimed the shooting was accidental, was sentenced to prison, and Cheyenne committed suicide in 1995. For a sizable advance Brando in 1994 broke his silence with the memoir Songs My Mother Taught Me, written with Robert Lindsey. Although he makes no reference to his eleven children (three of whom he adopted and three of whom were by his former housekeeper Christina Maria Ruiz), Brando is frank about his sexual history and about his coworkers. Fan-Tan (2005) is a posthumous novel written by Brando in collaboration with Donald Cammell. The protagonist, who conquers and betrays exotic women and lives a bohemian life outside the law, is a revealing self-portrait.
Over the years it became apparent that Brando was disturbed and self-destructive. Despite decades of therapy he never resolved his feelings about his father or accepted his gifts as an actor, yearning instead for prominence as a social thinker and activist, public roles for which he was unqualified. Brando died of pulmonary fibrosis on 1 July 2004. His body was cremated and the ashes spread in Death Valley, California, and Tahiti. At the time of his death Brando had become a nearly 400-pound recluse. He was, however, one of the most influential actors in the history of American film. At least five of his performances—in A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Godfather, and Last Tango in Paris—are milestones in the history of acting.
Peter Manso, Brando: The Biography (1994), is highly critical. Patricia Bosworth, Marlon Brando (2001), is a concise overview of the actor’s life. Obituaries are in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle (both 3 July 2004).
Beginning with his early career in the films of the 1950s, through his powerful roles in such classics as On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Godfather, Marlon Brando (born 1924) has captivated the American public with his intense on-screen presence, as well as with his personal life of controversy and excess.
Before James Dean, Marlon Brando popularized the jeans-and-T-shirt look, with and without leather jacket, as a movie idol during the early 1950s. The theatrically trained actor began to turn away from his youth-oriented persona with such movie roles as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar (1953). After winning an Academy Award for Best Actor for On the Waterfront (1954), he portrayed a wide variety of characters on-screen, garnering popular acclaim and critical consensus as one of the greatest cinema actors of the late twentieth century.
Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 3, 1924. He grew up in Illinois. After expulsion from a military academy, he dug ditches until his father offered to finance his education. Brando moved to New York to study with acting coach Stella Adler and at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio. While at the Actors' Studio, Brando adopted the "method approach, " which emphasizes characters' motivations for actions. He made his Broadway debut in John Van Druten's sentimental I Remember Mama (1944). New York theater critics voted him Broadway's Most Promising Actor for his performance in Truckline Cafe (1946). In 1947 he played his greatest stage role, Stanley Kowalski—the brute who rapes his sister-in-law, the fragile Blanche du Bois—in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. As The New York Review surmised, "The rest is stardom and gossip and a small handful of wonderful films."
Hollywood beckoned to Brando, and he made his motion picture debut as a paraplegic World War II veteran in The Men (1950). Although he did not cooperate with the Hollywood publicity machine, he went on to play Kowalski in the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, a popular and critical success that earned four Academy Awards. His next movie, Viva Zapata! (1952), with a script by John Steinbeck, traces Emiliano Zapata's rise from peasant to revolutionary to president of Mexico. Brando followed that with Julius Caesar and then The Wild One (1954), in which he played a motorcycle-gang leader in all his leather-jacketed glory. Next came his Academy Award winning role as a longshoreman fighting the system in On the Waterfront, a hard-hitting look at New York City labor unions.
During the rest of the decade, Brando's screen roles ranged from Napoleon Bonaparte in Désirée (1954), to Sky Masterson in 1955's Guys and Dolls, in which he sang and danced, to a Nazi soldier in The Young Lions (1958). From 1955 to 1958 movie exhibitors voted him one of the top ten box-office draws in the nation. During the 1960s, however, his career had more downs than ups, especially after the MGM studio's disastrous 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, which failed to recoup even half of its enormous budget. Brando portrayed Fletcher Christian, Clark Gable's role in the 1935 original. Brando's excessive self-indulgence reached a pinnacle during the filming of this movie. He was criticized for his on-the-set tantrums and for trying to alter the script. Off the set, he had numerous affairs, ate too much, and distanced himself from the cast and crew. His contract for making the movie included $5, 000 for every day the film went over its original schedule. He made $1.25 million when all was said and done.
Brando's career was reborn in 1972 with his depiction of Mafia chieftain Don Corleone in The Godfather. He refused his Academy Award for Best Actor as a protest of Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans. Brando did not appear at the awards show to personally deny the trophy. Instead, a Native American Apache named Sacheen Littlefeather read his protest. However, in September of 1994, Brando told the broker in possession of the award, Marty Ingels, that he now wishes to own it. Ingels would not return it.
Brando proceeded the following year to the highly controversial yet highly acclaimed Last Tango in Paris, which was rated X. Since then Brando has received huge salaries for playing small parts in such movies as Superman (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for A Dry White Season in 1989, Brando also appeared in The Freshman with Matthew Broderick. In 1995, he costarred in Don Juan DeMarco with Johnny Depp. Young people who have not seen Brando's amazing efforts in his early films will not find the same genius in his later movies. The small roles he has played do not demand the acting range for which he had once achieved so much praise. Janet Maslin of the New York Times, in her review of Don Juan DeMarco, wrote, "Mr. Brando doesn't so much play his role as play along." The critic added, "Don Juan DeMarco verges on the sad when its subject is vitality, since Mr. Depp's so clearly eclipses that of his co-star."
In early 1996 Brando costared in afilm called The Island of Dr. Moreau. Entertainment Weekly reported that the actor was using an earpiece to remember his lines. His costar in the film, David Thewlis, told the magazine that he was nonetheless still impressed by Brando. "When he walks into a room, " Thewlis noted, "you know he's around."
A Life of Turmoil and Self-Indulgence
There have been countless pages of print written about Brando's reclusive and self-indulgent lifestyle, including two books released in 1994: Brando: The Biography, by Peter Manso, and Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, by Marlon Brando with Robert Lindsey. The book by Marlon Brando is obviously the one he authorizes, but Manso's book is a result of seven years of research and interviews with more than a thousand people. Time magazine, though, questioned Manso's ethics in conducting such excessive research: "Driven to possess another man's life, Manso becomes the literary version of one of the late 20th century's scariest specimens, the celebrity stalker."
It has been observed that Brando has perhaps loved food and womanizing too much. His best acting performances are roles that required him to show a constrained and displayed rage and suffering. His own rage may have come from parents who did not care about him. Time magazine reported, "Brando had a stern, cold father and a dream-disheveled mother—both alcoholics, both sexually promiscuous—and he encompassed both their natures without resolving the conflict." Brando himself wrote in his autobiography, "If my father were alive today, I don't know what I would do. After he died, I used to think, 'God, just give him to me alive for eight seconds because I want to break his jaw."'
Brando's acting teacher, Stella Adler, is often credited with helping him become a brilliant actor. Brando said in a reprint of Manso's book presented in Premiere magazine, "If it hadn't been for Stella, may be I wouldn't have gotten where I am—she taught me how to read, she taught me to look at art, she taught me to listen to music."
Although Brando avoids speaking in details about his marriages, even in his autobiography, it is known that he has been married three times to three ex-actresses. He has at least 11 children ranging in age from two to thirty-eight. Five of the children are with his three wives, three are with his Guatemalan housekeeper, and the other three children are from other affairs. One of Brando's sons, Christian, told People magazine, "The family kept changing shape. I'd sit down at the breakfast table and say, 'Who are you?"' Christian is now at a state prison in California serving a 10-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter in the death of his sister's fiancee, Dag Drollet. He claimed Drollet was physically abusing his pregnant sister, Cheyenne. Christian said he struggled with Drollet and accidentally shot him in the face. Brando, in the house at the time, gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Drollet and called 911. At Christian's trial, People reported one of Brando's comments on the witness stand, "I tried to be a good father. I did the best I could."
Brando's daughter, Cheyenne, was a troubled young woman. In and out of drug rehabilitation centers and mental hospitals for much of her life, she lived in Tahiti with her mother Tarita (one of Brando's wives whom he met on the set of Mutiny on the Bounty). People reported in 1990 that Cheyenne said of Brando, "I have come to despise my father for the way he ignored me as a child." After Drollet's death, Cheyenne became even more reclusive and depressed. A judge ruled that she was too depressed to raise her child and gave custody of the boy to her mother, Tarita. Cheyenne took a leave from a mental hospital on Easter Sunday in 1995 to visit her family. At her mother's home that day, Cheyenne, who had attempted suicide before, hanged herself.
Brando's years of self-indulgence are visible—he weighed well over 300 pounds in the mid-1990s. To judge Brando by his appearance and dismiss his work because of his later, less significant acting jobs, however, would be a mistake. His performance in A Streetcar Named Desire brought audiences to their knees, and his range of roles is a testament to his capability to explore many aspects of the human psyche. Brando seems perfectly content that his best work is behind him. As for his fans, they must accept that staying power is not what confirms the actor's brilliance.
Gary Cary, Marlon Brando: The Only Contender (London: Robson, 1985).
Christopher Nickens, Brando: A Biography in Pictures (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987).
Richard Schickel, Brando: A Life in Our Times (New York: Atheneum, 1991). □
Born Marlon Brando, Jr., April 3, 1924, in Omaha, NE; died of lung failure, July 1, 2004, in Los Angeles, CA. Actor. In the post World War II world of cinema, no one stood out like Marlon Brando. Projecting a raw, forceful energy from the screen, Brando created a cast of characters that tugged at viewers' heartstrings like never before. Whenever Brando inhabited a character, he went beyond simply memorizing lines and delivering them eloquently; he delved into the dark corners of humanity, literally setting his emotions free in pursuit of nailing his characters. Brando's performances set a new standard, forcing other actors to follow. Over the course of his half-century career, Brando won two Academy Awards.
Brando was born on April 3, 1924, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Marlon Sr. and Dorothy Pennebaker Brando. His dad was a cattle- and chicken-feed dealer; his mother, an aspiring actress, was a founder of the Omaha Community Playhouse. Unfortunately, they were both alcoholics. Brando's tumultuous childhood at the hands of his abusive father and frustrated mother, however, gave him an emotional base to later draw from when inhabiting his roles.
When Brando was a child, his parents separated for a while and he moved to Santa Clara, California, with his mother before a reconciliation moved them to Illinois. Brando, known as "Bud" to his family, attended high school in Libertyville, Illinois, but made such meager efforts that his father shipped him off to the Shattuck Military Academy in Minnesota. He was later expelled for insubordination.
By the early 1940s, the United States was heavily involved in World War II and most of Brando's peers headed off to the military. A bad knee kept him out of the draft. Instead, the 19-year-old Brando went to New York City to live with a sister. Another sister, Jocelyn, was living in New York, too, and was enrolled in acting classes under Stella Adler at the New School for Social Research. Adler taught her students a new approach to acting called the Method, encouraging them to develop their parts by conjuring up real emotions tucked away inside from their real-life human experiences. By 1943, Brando was taking classes there and became the definitive leader at this approach to acting. Before, actors concentrated on externalized actions; Brando, however, under Adler's direction, had learned to look inward, relying on emotion over delivery.
Brando first appeared on Broadway in 1944. He captured the attention of theatergoers three years later, in 1947, for his steadfast performance as the boorish, yet sometimes comic, Stanley Kowalski in the famed Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. He became famous for the role and continued this willingness to bare his emotions in his first film, The Men, released in 1950. In this film he played a hostile hospitalized paraplegic soldier trying to come to terms with his fate. The film version of Streetcar appeared a year later, with Brando taking up his same role, which he played to almost disturbing perfection, thus establishing himself as a major star in Hollywood.
He next played a Mexican bandit in Viva Zapata! in 1952 before appearing in 1953's The Wild One, 1954's On the Waterfront, and 1955's Guys and Dolls. Brando earned his first award in 1952, a best actor award at Cannes Film Festival, for Viva Zapata!. In 1954, he captured his first Oscar for his role as washed-up boxer Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. In this role, Brando uttered one of Hollywood's most famous lines, "I coulda been a contender." The line was still being imitated 50 years after Brando first muttered it.
Brando was clearly the scene-stealer of the 1950s. As Neal Gabler, author ofLife the Movie, told the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro, "Marlon Brando defined American movies in the 1950s and early 1960s. He was an attitude. Brando contained an aesthetic in the way he mumbled, the way he walked, the way he grimaced and rolled his eyes . You only had to watch Marlon Brando, not even to hear him, to see the things that he stood for, which essentially was an antagonism to everything that was neat and straight and square."
The 1960s were filled with a string of bad films for Brando, including Mutiny on the Bounty, filmed on a South Seas island, which was a total flop. Producers blamed Brando's poor work habits for the movie's failure and enormous cost overruns. It was said that he put plugs in his ears so he did not have to listen to the director.
In 1972, Brando revived his career with the box office sensation The Godfather, under the direction of Francis Ford Coppola. Playing Don Vito Corleone, Brando once again displayed his acting genius. Delivering his lines in an abrasive whisper, he created a timeless portrait of patriarchal authority. Brando, in essence, was able to act between the lines of the script, creating one of the most tantalizing characters to ever fill the screen.
Brando won an Academy Award for the role, but did not attend the ceremony. Instead, he sent an actress who called herself Sacheen Littlefeather. She declined the Oscar on Brando's behalf, citing mistreatment of Native Americans in film, television, and real life. Another memorable 1970s role was his portrayal of the crazed Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
Brando's real life was as full of blistery torment as the characters he played. He married three times and had a long-term relationship with his housekeeper. In 1990, his son, Christian, was accused of killing his sister's boyfriend, the son of a prominent Tahitian banker and politician. Christian Brando alleged that his victim had been abusing his sister, Cheyenne. Christian spent five years in prison for the crime and Cheyenne later committed suicide.
In 2001, Brando made his last film, The Score, playing opposite Robert De Niro in this flick about a heist. By then, Brando was considered a crazy eccentric. In the mid-1990s he ballooned to a reported 400 pounds, driven by an unstoppable love for food. There were also bizarre interview appearances, such as the time he appeared on Larry King Live barefoot and donning heavy makeup and red suspenders, saying he wanted to look like King. During the interview, Brando was belligerent and at the end, kissed King on the lips.
Brando died on July 1, 2004, when his lungs failed; he was 80. For years he had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease. Survivors include his son, Christian, from his first marriage to Welsh actress Anna Kashfi; two children, Miko and Rebecca, from his second marriage to Mexican actress Movita Castaneda; and a son, Teihotu, from his third marriage to Tarita Teriipaia. He also had several children with his housekeeper, Christina Ruiz, including Ninna Priscilla, Myles, and Timothy. He is also survived by Petra Barrett, whom he adopted in 1984. Brando may have more children but was generally tight-lipped about his domestic affairs during his lifetime.
Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2004, p. 1
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Movies/07/02/obit.brando/index.html (February 28, 2005).
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Movies/07/07/people.brando.reut/index.html (February 28, 2005).
Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 2004, pp. 24-36.
Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2004, p. A1, pp. A26-27.
New York Times, July 3, 2004, p. A1.
People, July 19, 2004, pp. 80-86.
American actor Marlon Brando has fascinated the public with his intense onscreen presence. His film career began in the 1950s and has included powerful roles in such classic films as On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Godfather.
Marlon Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 3, 1924. When he was six years old his family moved to Illinois. His father was a salesman and his mother acted in amateur plays. Brando did not have a happy family life. He frequently argued with his father. He also did poorly in school. Sports and dramatics were the only things that interested him. He failed all other subjects.
In an effort to control Brando and give him some discipline, his father sent him to a military school. Brando was seventeen years old at the time. He stayed there for almost three years, but he refused to respect authority and caused so much trouble that he was expelled in his senior year. Because of his behavior, Brando never graduated from high school. He has said that not having a high school education and diploma has always been a source of embarrassment for him.
The young actor
Brando returned to his family and ended up taking a job digging ditches. Finally his father offered to finance his education. Brando moved to New York, where one of his sisters was trying to become an actress. He began to study with the famous acting coach Stella Adler at the Actors' Studio, a very important acting school. While at the Actors' Studio, Brando learned the "method approach." In method acting actors are taught to draw on their own personal emotions and experiences as a way to portray their characters. Older acting systems relied heavily on teaching actors physical gestures as the way to express themselves.
Brando made his Broadway debut in I Remember Mama in 1944. The New York theater critics voted him Broadway's Most Promising Actor for his performance in 1946. In 1947 he played his greatest stage role, Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's (1911–1983) drama A Streetcar Named Desire.
Brando goes to Hollywood
Before James Dean (1931–1955), Marlon Brando popularized the jeans-and-T-shirt look, as a movie idol during the early 1950s. Hollywood was impressed with Brando, and in 1950 he made his motion picture debut as a severely injured war veteran in The Men. He went on to play Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. The movie was both a popular and a critical success.
Brando played a variety of different characters over the next several years. In his next movie, Viva Zapata! (1952), he played Emiliano Zapata, who rose from being a peasant (a poor farmer) to becoming the president of Mexico. He was Marc Antony in the film version of William Shakespeare's (1564–1616) Julius Caesar (1953). He played a motorcyclegang leader in The Wild One (1954), portrayed Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) in Désirée (1954), and sang and danced as Sky Masterson in the musical comedy Guys and Dolls (1955). Brando won his first Academy Award in 1954 for his role in On the Water-front, a hard-hitting look at New York City labor unions (a workers' group organized to help workers receive fair wages).
A period of decline
From 1955 to 1958 people in the movie industry always voted Brando as one of the top ten film attractions in the nation. During the 1960s, however, his career had more downs than ups. In 1962 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios decided to remake Mutiny on the Bounty, which had originally been filmed in 1935. The movie was a disaster at the box office. It failed to earn even half of its enormous budget (the money it cost to make it). Brando's excessive self-indulgence (spoiled behavior) reached its height during the filming of this movie. He was criticized for his tantrums (fits of bad temper) on the set and for trying to alter the script. Off the set he ate too much and would not associate with the cast and crew. For the rest of the 1960s Brando acted in several movies, but none of them was considered to be of very high quality.
Brando's career was reborn in 1972 with his portrayal of Mafia (a secret, criminal organization) leader Don Corleone in The Godfather. He won his second Oscar for that role, but he refused to accept it because of how he felt Hollywood showed Native Americans in its movies. Brando did not appear at the Academy Awards ceremony to personally deny the trophy. Instead, he had a Native American Apache woman named Sacheen Littlefeather read his protest. In 1994 Brando changed his mind and tried to get the gold Oscar statuette, but his request was denied.
Life after the Oscar
Brando continued to work in many films after The Godfather, both as a star and in smaller roles in dramas and comedies. Critics have said that both the movies themselves as well as Brando's performances have been of very uneven quality. Young people who have not seen Brando's amazing efforts in his early films will not find the same genius in his later movies. The small roles he has played do not demand the acting range for which he had once achieved so much praise.
A life of turmoil
The unhappy family life Brando had as a child has been mirrored in his own family life as an adult. He has had many failed marriages and has experienced personal tragedy from the actions of two of his children. A son served time in prison for manslaughter and a daughter committed suicide.
Brando's years of self-indulgence are visible. He overate until he weighed well over three hundred pounds in the mid-1990s. However, to judge Brando by his appearance today and dismiss his work because of his later, less significant acting jobs, would be a mistake. The range of the roles he played is a testament to his ability to explore many aspects of the human psyche (mind). Brando seems perfectly content knowing his best work is behind him. He still remains an influence for actors today, and has won popular acclaim and critical consensus as one of the greatest cinema actors of the late twentieth century.
For More Information
Cary, Gary. Marlon Brando: The Only Contender. London, England: Robson, 1985.
Nickens, Christopher. Brando: A Biography in Pictures. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987.
Schickel, Richard. Brando: A Life in Our Times. New York, NY: Atheneum, 1991.