Brando, Marlon

Brando, Marlon
(April 3, 1924– )
   “Marlon Brando is one of the most brilliant and charismatic artists of the 20th century,” applauds cultural critic Camille Paglia. “Like Elvis Presley, he is a supreme sexual persona, an icon who has entered our dreams and transformed the way we see the world. All contemporary actors owe a debt to Mr. Brando and are in some sense in his shadow. ”Widely considered the greatest screen actor of the post–World War II era, Marlon Brando grew up in the Midwest under a difficult family situation. Time magazine reported, “Brando had a stern, cold father and a dreamdisheveled mother—both alcoholics, both sexually promiscuous—and he encompassed both their natures without resolving the conflict. ” Brando’s mother, Dodie had been an aspiring actress, but her husband did not approve of her career—even though he himself appeared on the local stage in 1926 as a pirate in Captain Applejack. Despite Marlon Sr. ’s disapproval, Dodie helped to found the Omaha Community Playhouse, which launched the acting careers of Dorothy McGuire and Henry Fonda. Indeed, Dodie Brando was responsible for Henry Fonda’s being hired by the company, and she costarred with him in a 1928 production of Eugene O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon.
   As a young man, Marlon Jr. moved to New York and enrolled in the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research. There, while appearing in the long-running play I Remember Mama (1944), Brando studied acting with the noted coach Stella Adler, who chiefly is credited with influencing his technique. Brando adopted the “method approach,” which emphasizes characters’ motivations for actions. Brando said of Adler’s influence,“If it hadn’t been for Stella, maybe 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. ” In 1947, Brando made his Broadway debut in the role that many would consider his finest acting achievement and a performance that revolutionized the nature of acting, that of Stanley Kowalski in Elia Kazan’s production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. In this role (one initially offered to John Garfield), Brando defied the boundaries of theater convention, giving a sexually charged, emotional portrayal of the troubled Stanley, with a fresh, interpretive approach that countless others have since tried to emulate. His stage success brought numerous offers from Hollywood to star in motion pictures, but Brando rejected all of them until he read the script for The Men (1950), a film about a paralyzed soldier’s return from World War II. In Kazan’s screen version of A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando reprised his signature performance as Kowalski, receiving an Academy Award nomination for best actor. After two more nominations for Viva Zapata! (1952) and Julius Caesar (1953), Brando finally won an Oscar in 1954 for his role in On The Waterfront. The appeal of Brando’s acting style and of his most enduring characters lies in their complexity and apparent self-contradiction: alternately harsh and kind, selfish and generous; alienated yet sympathetic; inarticulate yet attractive; brutal yet vulnerable; possessing extreme physical power tempered by gentle restraint. STANLEY KUBRICK grabbed Marlon Brando’s attention with the highly acclaimed PATHS OF GLORY, and, at the suggestion of producer Frank P. Rosenberg, Brando also took a look at THE KILLING. The young actor was duly impressed with both films. Brando said of The Killing that Kubrick projected “such a completely distinctive style with so little previous filmmaking experience. Here was a typical, episodic detective story—nothing unusual in the plot—but Stanley made a series of bizarre and interesting choices which buttressed and embellished an ordinary story into an exciting film. ” Kubrick and producing partner JAMES B. HARRIS were eager to meet with Brando to discuss possible collaborations, which in their view would strengthen their reputations significantly. Initially Harris, Kubrick, and Brando wanted to make a boxing picture together, but nothing materialized in their weekly meetings until Brando brought to the table a western that he had been developing. Based on the 1956 novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which in turn was loosely based on Pat Garrett’s The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid ), the script by Sam Peckinpah would eventually become One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Stanley Kubrick worked during preproduction as director on the Brando-produced project, but their relationship deteriorated. Disagreements over the script and casting decisions mounted, and it became clear that Kubrick, the unstoppable force, could not budge Brando, the immovable object. Accounts of the events leading up to Kubrick’s leaving One-Eyed Jacks vary. According to Brando biographer Charles Higham, Brando insisted that Rosenberg get rid of Kubrick, which he did with little flourish. Kubrick’s contract with Brando did not allow him to discuss the conditions under which he left the project, but he did issue a statement saying that he resigned “with deep regret,” citing his admiration for Brando as “one of the world’s foremost artists. ” In his 1999 book Eyes Wide Open, Frederic Raphael relates a different story, as purportedly told to him by Stanley Kubrick in a telephone conversation: . . . “One-Eyed Jacks. Two years I spent on that. . . . Marlon was going to star and produce. . . . He couldn’t make up his mind about things, and he wouldn’t let anybody else. We never got the story straight. We never got anything straight. At the end of two years, Marlon decided to get decisive suddenly. He got everybody in and we had to sit round the table. He put this stopwatch on the table . . . He was going to allow everybody just three minutes to tell him what their problems were . . . and we could decide what needed to be done. He started around the table . . . and each of them, as soon as he’d had three minutes, the buzzer would go and-bop!—that was all the time they got, no matter if they’d finished or not. So it went all the way around the table, and Marlon looked at me and said,‘Stanley, what are your problems?’And he pressed the button. ‘You’ve got three minutes. ’ I said,‘Come on Marlon, this is a stupid way to do things. ’ And he said, ‘Now you’ve got two minutes fifty. ’ So I started with what I thought had to be done on page one and page two, and I’d maybe got to page five when he said, ‘That’s it, you’ve had your three minutes. ’ So I said,‘Marlon, why don’t you go fuck yourself ?’ He just got up and walked into the bedroom and slammed the door . . . He never came out of there. We sat around and finally all went home. I figured he’d call, but he never did. Truth was, it was all a setup. He wanted to direct the picture, which is what he did eventually. He wanted me out of there, and he couldn’t figure how else to do it. That was Marlon. ”
   Although this account has Kubrick working on One-Eyed Jacks for two years, according to VINCENT LOBRUTTO’s biography, Kubrick was hired in May 1958 and let go in November of the same year. Given the vehemence with which Kubrick’s family, friends, and associates have decried Eyes Wide Open, one has to question the veracity of this account. After One-Eyed Jacks, the remainder of Brando’s 1960s films were commercial failures that somewhat diminished his reputation among critics and audiences. But in 1972, his career bounced back with the role of mafia boss Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather (1972). Brando won his second best-actor Oscar for this performance, but he refused to accept it. In a notorious moment in Oscar history, Brando sent actress Sacheen Littlefeather to reject the award on his behalf, and Littlefeather used the occasion to speak at length in protest of what she saw as Hollywood’s degradation of Native Americans. (More than 20 years later, Brando told Marty Ingels, the broker in possession of the Oscar statuette, that he wished to have it back. Ingels refused. )
   On the heels of Brando’s triumph in The Godfather came another critically acclaimed role—considered by some to be the definitive performance of Brando’s mature career—in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. The great Brando, it seemed, was back. However, acting in Last Tango proved too strenuous for Brando, as he explains in his autobiography: “Last Tango in Paris required a lot of emotional arm wrestling with myself, and when it was finished, I decided that I wasn’t ever again going to destroy myself emotionally to make a movie. ”
   Even more than before, Brando now garnered notoriety for being extraordinarily difficult, a reputation which crystallized with Coppola’s magnum opus, Apocalypse Now. Yet, Brando was and still is able to command top dollar, even for very brief appearances such as his role in Superman; and his ability to earn large sums with relatively little effort has led Brando to accept roles sheerly for the money, with little regard for the quality of the films. He admits, in Songs My Mother Taught Me, “I’ve made stupid movies because I wanted the money. I’m writing this book for money. ”
   While critics lambast Brando for sinking to this level, one should bear in mind that, as he became more socially and spiritually aware, the actor developed indifference, even disdain, for his profession: “Acting has absolutely nothing to do with anything important . . . The only reason I’m in Hollywood is I don’t have the moral courage to refuse the money. ” Furthermore, his need for money has been constant, as over the years Brando has given away large portions of his earnings (along with his time and energy), in support of various charitable and social objectives. They include the causes of Native Americans, UNICEF, the Black Panthers, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and protests against capital punishment and the persecution of Russian Jews. In early November 1963, Brando joined Paul Newman and Tony Franciosa on a trip to Gadsden, Alabama, to protest police brutality against African-American citizens. There, he witnessed firsthand the cruelty of the segregationists, in the form of scars left on the people’s bodies from cattle prods. A longtime, major supporter of the American Indian Movement, Brando has worked directly with that organization, sometimes in violent demonstrations, to protest the injustices done to Native Americans. Brando’s more recent film appearances include A Dry White Season (1989); The Freshman (1990), in which Brando offers a subtle parody of Don Corleone; Don Juan DeMarco (1995), with Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp; and truly one of his most bizarre renditions as the title character in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), with Val Kilmer.
   Brando steadfastly refuses to discuss his marriages and his children, even in his autobiography. Despite his efforts to protect his family, a tragedy involving two of Brando’s adult children made headlines in the early 1990s in a series of exploitative, tabloid accounts. In addition to publicizing Brando’s personal suffering, the press in recent years has emphasized his poor choice of roles and his weight problems. Brando retorts, “Why shouldn’t a movie star grow fat just like any other old man?” Ultimately Brando has tried to live his life on his own terms. Whatever his shortcomings, they are far outweighed by the shining performances in his best films.
   ■ “Brando, Marlon (Jr. ),” in Contemporary Authors Online, The Gale Group, 2001;
   ■ “Brando, Marlon (Jr. ),” in American Decades CD-ROM. Gale Research, 1999.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Brando, Marlon, (Jr.) — born April 3, 1924, Omaha, Neb., U.S. died July 1, 2004, Los Angeles, Calif. U.S. actor. He gained stardom on Broadway as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). An early member of the Actors Studio, he brought its method acting… …   Universalium

  • Brando, Marlon — ► (1924 2004) Actor teatral y cinematográfico estadounidense. De sus trabajos cabe destacar Un tranvía llamado Deseo (1951) y El último tango en París (1972), La jauría humana (1966), Queimada (1969), Apocalypse Now (1979) y La isla del doctor… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Brando, Marlon, (Jr.) — (3 abr. 1924, Omaha, Neb., EE.UU.–1 jul. 2004, Los Ángeles, Cal.). Actor estadounidense. Logró el estrellato en Broadway como Stanley Kowalski en la obra Un tranvía llamado deseo (1947). Fue uno de los primeros miembros del Actors Studio e… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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  • Marlon Brando — 1963 bei der Abschlusskundgebung des vom Civil Rights Movement organisierten Marsches auf Washington Marlon Brando, Jr. (* 3. April 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska; † 1. Juli 2004 in Los Angeles, Kalifornien) war ein …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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