American actor who performed for over half a century.
He was perhaps best known for his roles as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), his Academy Award-nominated performance as Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952), his role as Mark Antony in the MGM film adaptation of the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar (1953), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and his Academy Award-winning performance as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954). During the 1970s, he was most famous for his Academy Award-winning performance as Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), also playing Colonel Walter Kurtz in another Coppola film, Apocalypse Now (1979). Brando delivered an Academy Award-nominated performance as Paul in Last Tango in Paris (1972), in addition to directing and starring in the western film One-Eyed Jacks (1961). His roles, especially during the period of the early 1950s, catapulted him to sex symbol status and led him to be regarded as one of the most respected actors of his generation.
Brando had a significant impact on film acting, and was the foremost example of the "method" acting style. While he became notorious for his "mumbling" diction, his mercurial performances were nonetheless highly regarded. Director Martin Scorsese said of him, "He is the marker. There's 'before Brando' and 'after Brando'.'" Actor Jack Nicholson once said, "When Marlon dies, everybody moves up one."
Brando was also an activist, supporting many issues, notably the African-American Civil Rights Movement and various American Indian Movements.
Early lifeMarlon Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to Marlon Brando, Sr., a pesticide and chemical feed manufacturer, and his wife, Dorothy Julia (née Pennebaker). His parents moved to Evanston, Illinois, but separated when he was eleven years old. His mother took her three children: Jocelyn (1919–2005), Frances (1922–1994) and Marlon, to live with her mother in Santa Ana, California. In 1937, Brando's parents reconciled and moved together to Libertyville, Illinois, north of Chicago.
Brando's family was of German, Dutch, Irish, and English ancestry. His direct male ancestor Johann Wilhelm Brandau emigrated to New Amsterdam in the 17th century from Pfalz, Germany (contrary to some biographies, Brando's grandfather Eugene E. Brando was not French but was born in New York.) Brando was raised a Christian Scientist.She used the money Eugene sent her to support her gambling and alcoholism.
Marlon Brando, Sr., was a talented amateur photographer. His wife, known as Dodie, was unconventional but talented, having been an actress. She smoked, wore trousers, and drove cars, unusual for women at the time. However, she was an alcoholic and often had to be brought home from Chicago bars by her husband; she finally joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Dodie Brando acted and was a theater administrator. She helped Henry Fonda to begin his acting career, and fueled her son Marlon's interest in stage acting. However, Brando was closer to his maternal grandmother, Bessie Gahan Pennebaker Meyers, than to his mother. Widowed while young, Meyers worked as a secretary and later as a Christian Science practitioner. Her father, Myles Gahan, was a doctor from Ireland; her mother, Julia Watts, was from England.
Brando was a mimic from early childhood and developed an ability to absorb the mannerisms of people he played and display them dramatically while staying in character. His sister Jocelyn Brando was the first to pursue an acting career, going to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. She appeared on Broadway, then movies and television. Brando's sister Frances left college in California to study art in New York. Brando soon followed her.
Brando had been held back a year in school and was later expelled from Libertyville High School for riding his motorcycle through the corridors. He was sent to Shattuck Military Academy, where his father had studied before him. Brando excelled at theatre and did well in the school. In his final year (1943), however, he was put on probation for talking back to a student officer during maneuvers. He was confined to the campus, but tried going into town, and was caught. The faculty voted to expel him, though he was supported by the students, who thought expulsion was too harsh. He was invited back for the following year, but decided instead to drop out of high school.
Brando worked as a ditch-digger as a summer job arranged by his father. It was also during this time that Brando attempted to join the Army. However at his army induction physical it was discovered that a football injury that he had sustained at Shattuck had left him with a trick knee. Brando was therefore classified as a 4-F, and not inducted into the Army. He then decided to follow his sisters to New York. His father supported him for six months, then offered to help him find a job as a salesman. However, Brando left to study at the American Theatre Wing Professional School, part of the Dramatic Workshop of The New School with the influential German director Erwin Piscator and at the Actors Studio. He also studied with Stella Adler and learned the techniques of the Stanislavski System. There is a story in which Adler spoke about teaching Brando, saying that she had instructed the class to act like chickens, then adding that a nuclear bomb was about to fall on them. Most of the class clucked and ran around wildly, but Brando sat calmly and pretended to lay an egg. Asked by Adler why he had chosen to react this way, he said, "I'm a chicken, what do I know about nuclear bombs?"
Early workStanislavski System skills for his first summer-stock roles in Sayville, New York on Long Island. His behavior got him kicked out of the cast of the New School's production in Sayville, but he was discovered in a locally produced play there and then made it to Broadway in the bittersweet drama I Remember Mama in 1944. Critics voted him "Broadway's Most Promising Actor" for his role as an anguished veteran in Truckline Café, although the play was a commercial failure. In 1946 he appeared on Broadway as the young hero in the political drama A Flag is Born, refusing to accept wages above the Actor's Equity rate because of his commitment to the cause of Israeli independence. In that same year, Brando played the role of Marchbanks with Katharine Cornell in her production's revival of Candida, one of her signature roles. Brando achieved stardom, however, as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan. Brando sought out that role,driving out to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Williams was spending the summer, to audition for the part. Williams recalled that he opened the screen door and knew, instantly, that he had his Stanley Kowalski. Brando's performance revolutionized acting technique and set the model for the American form of method acting.
Afterward, Brando was asked to do a screen test for Warner Brothers studio for the film Rebel Without A Cause, which James Dean was later cast in. The screen test appears as an extra in the 2006 DVD release of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Brando's first screen role was as the bitter paraplegic veteran in The Men in 1950. True to his method, Brando spent a month in bed at the Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys to prepare for the role. By Brando's own account it may have been because of this film that his draft status was changed from 4-F to 1-A. He had had an operation on the knee he had injured at Shattuck, and it was no longer physically debilitating enough to incur exclusion from the draft. When Brando reported to the induction center he answered a questionnaire provided to him by saying his race was "human", his color was "Seasonal-oyster white to beige", and he told an Army doctor that he was psycho neurotic. When the draft board referred him to a psychiatrist Brando explained how he had been expelled from Military School, and that he had severe problems with authority. Coincidentally enough the psychiatrist knew a doctor friend of Brando, and Brando was able to avoid military service during the Korean War.
Rise to fameStanley Kowalski to the screen in Kazan's adaptation of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for that role, and again in each of the next three years for his roles in Viva Zapata! in 1952, Julius Caesar in 1953 as Mark Antony, and On the Waterfront in 1954. These first five films of his career established Brando, as evidenced in his winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in three consecutive years, 1951 to 1953.
In 1953, Brando also starred in The Wild One riding his own Triumph Thunderbird 6T motorcycle which caused consternation to Triumph's importers, as the subject matter was rowdy motorcycle gangs taking over a small town. But the images of Brando posing with his Triumph motorcycle became iconic, even forming the basis of his wax dummy at Madame Tussauds.
Later that same year, Brando starred in Lee Falk's production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man in Boston. Falk was proud to tell people that Marlon Brando turned down an offer of $10,000 per week on Broadway, in favor of working on Falk's play in Boston. His Boston contract was less than $500 per week. It would be the last time he ever acted in a stage play.
On the Waterfront. For the famous I coulda' been a contender scene, Brando convinced Kazan that the scripted scene was unrealistic, and with Rod Steiger, improvised the final product.
Brando then took a variety of roles in the 1950s: as Sky Masterson in the musical Guys and Dolls; as Sakini, a Japanese interpreter for the U.S. Army in postwar Japan in The Teahouse of the August Moon; as a United States Air Force officer in Sayonara, and a Nazi officer in The Young Lions.
In the 1960s, Brando starred in films such as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962); One-Eyed Jacks (1961), a western that would be the only film Brando would ever direct; The Chase (1966), and Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), portraying a repressed gay army officer. It was the type of performance that later led critic Stanley Crouch to write, "Brando's main achievement was to portray the taciturn but stoic gloom of those pulverized by circumstances." He also played a guru in the sex farce Candy (1968). Burn! (1969), which Brando would later claim as his personal favorite, was a commercial failure. His career slowed down by the end of the decade as he gained a reputation for being difficult to work with.
The GodfatherVito Corleone in 1972's The Godfather was a mid-career turning point. Director Francis Ford Coppola convinced Brando to submit to a "make-up" test, in which Brando did his own makeup (he used cotton balls to simulate the puffed-cheek look). Coppola was electrified by Brando's characterization as the head of a crime family, but had to fight the studio in order to cast the temperamental Brando. Mario Puzo always imagined Brando as Corleone. However, Paramount studio heads wanted to give the role to Danny Thomas in the hope that Thomas would have his own production company throw in its lot with Paramount. Thomas declined the role and actually urged the studio to cast Brando at the behest of Coppola and others who had witnessed the screen test.
Eventually, Charles Bluhdorn, the president of Paramount parent Gulf + Western, was won over to letting Brando have the role; when he saw the screen test, he asked in amazement, "What are we watching? Who is this old guinea?"
Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, but turned down the Oscar, becoming the second actor to refuse a Best Actor award (the first being George C. Scott for Patton). Brando boycotted the award ceremony, sending instead American Indian Rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who appeared in full Apache dress, to state Brando's reasons, which were based on his objection to the depiction of American Indians by Hollywood and television.
The actor followed with Bernardo Bertolucci's 1973 film, Last Tango in Paris, but the performance was overshadowed by an uproar over the erotic nature of the film. Despite the controversy which attended both the film and the man, the Academy once again nominated Brando for the Best Actor.
Brando, along with James Caan, was later scheduled in 1974 to appear in the final scene of The Godfather Part II. However, rewrites were made to the script when Brando refused to show up to the studio on the single day of shooting due to disputes with the studio.
Later careerSuperman's father Jor-El in the 1978 Superman. He agreed to the role only on assurance that he would be paid a large sum for what amounted to a small part, that he would not have to read the script beforehand and his lines would be displayed somewhere off-camera. It was revealed in a documentary contained in the 2001 DVD release of Superman, that he was paid $3.7 million for just two weeks of work.
Brando also filmed scenes for the movie's sequel, Superman II, but after producers refused to pay him the same percentage he received for the first movie, he denied them permission to use the footage. However, after Brando's death the footage was reincorporated into the 2006 re-cut of the film, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
Two years after Brando's death, he "reprised" the role of Jor-El in the 2006 "loose sequel" Superman Returns, in which both used and unused archive footage of Brando as Jor-El from the first two Superman films was remastered for a scene in the Fortress of Solitude, and Brando's voice-overs were used throughout the film.
In 1979, Marlon Brando starred as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now. Brando plays a highly decorated American Army Special Forces officer who goes renegade. He runs his own operations out of Cambodia and is feared by the US military as much as the Vietnamese. Brando was paid $1 million a week for his work.
Despite announcing his retirement from acting in 1980, he subsequently gave interesting supporting performances in movies such as A Dry White Season (for which he was again nominated for an Oscar in 1989), The Freshman in 1990 and Don Juan DeMarco in 1995. In his last film, The Score (2001), he starred with fellow method actor Robert De Niro. Some later performances, such as The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), earned Brando some of the most uncomplimentary reviews of his career.
Brando conceived the idea of a novel called Fan-Tan with director Donald Cammell in 1979, which was not released until 2005.
In 2004, Brando signed with Tunisian film director Ridha Behion and began pre-production on a project to be titled Brando and Brando. Up to a week before his death, Brando was working on the script in anticipation of a July/August 2004 start date. Production was suspended in July 2004 following Brando's death, at which time Behi stated that he would continue the film as an homage to Brando, with a new title of Citizen Brando.
Personal lifeBrando became well known for his crusades for civil rights, Native American rights, and other political causes. He also earned a "bad boy" reputation for his public outbursts and antics. On June 12, 1973, Brando broke paparazzo Ron Galella's jaw. Galella had followed Brando, who was accompanied by talk show host Dick Cavett, after a taping of The Dick Cavett Show in New York City. He reportedly paid a $40,000 out-of-court settlement and suffered an infected hand as a result. Galella wore a football helmet the next time he photographed Brando at a gala benefiting the American Indians Development Association.
In Songs My Mother Taught Me, Brando claimed he met Marilyn Monroe at a party as she played piano, unnoticed by anybody else there, and they had an affair and maintained an intermittent relationship for many years, receiving a telephone call from her several days before she died. He also claimed numerous other romances, although he did not discuss his marriages, his wives, or his children in his autobiography.
Brando married actress Anna Kashfi in 1957. Kashfi was born in Calcutta and moved to Wales from India in 1947. She is said to have been the daughter of a Welsh steel worker of Irish descent, William O'Callaghan, who had been superintendent on the Indian State railways. However, in her book, Brando for Breakfast, she claimed that she really is half Indian and that the press incorrectly thought that her stepfather, O'Callaghan, was her real father. She said her real father was Indian and that she was the result of an "unregistered alliance" between her parents. In 1959, Brando and Kashfi divorced after the birth of their son, Christian Brando, on May 11, 1958.
In 1960, Brando married Movita Castaneda, a Mexican actress seven years his senior; they were divorced in 1962. Castaneda had appeared in the first Mutiny on the Bounty film in 1935, some 27 years before the 1962 remake with Brando as Fletcher Christian. Brando's behavior during the filming of Bounty seemed to bolster his reputation as a difficult star. He was blamed for a change in director and a runaway budget, though he disclaimed responsibility for either.
The Bounty experience affected Brando's life in a profound way. He fell in love with Tahiti and its people. He bought a twelve-island atoll, Tetiaroa, which he intended to make partly an environmental laboratory and partly a resort. Tahitian beauty Tarita Teriipia, who played Fletcher Christian's love interest, became Brando's third wife on August 10, 1962. She was 20 years old, 18 years younger than Brando. A 1961 article on Teriipia in the fan magazine Motion Picture described Brando's delight at how naïve and unsophisticated she was. Because Teriipia was a native French speaker, Brando became fluent in the language and gave numerous interviews in French. Teriipia became the mother of two of his children. They divorced in July 1972. Brando eventually had a hotel built on Tetiaroa. It went through many redesigns as a result of changes demanded by Brando over the years. It is now closed. A new hotel, consisting of thirty deluxe villas, was planned.
In an interview with Gary Carey, for his 1976 biography The Only Contender, Brando said, "Homosexuality is so much in fashion it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me. But if there is someone who is convinced that Jack Nicholson and I are lovers, may they continue to do so. I find it amusing." On his death, his ashes were scattered in Tahiti and Death Valley.
In 1992, he donated money to Michael Jackson to help start his Heal the World Foundation.
- by Anna Kashfi:
- by Movita Castaneda
- Miko Castaneda Brando (b. 1960)
- Rebecca Brando (b. 1966)
- by Tarita Teriipia:
- Petra Brando-Corval (b. 1972), daughter of Brando's assistant Caroline Barrett and novelist James Clavell (aka Charles Edmund DuMaresq de Clavell)
- by unidentified mothers:
- by his housekeeper, Maria Christina Ruiz:
- Ninna Priscilla Brando (b. May 13, 1989)
- Myles Jonathan Brando (b. January 16, 1992)
- Timothy Gahan Brando (b. January 6, 1994)
- Michael Brando (b.1988)
- Tuki Brando (b. 1990)
Shooting involving Brando's son, ChristianIn May 1990, Dag Drollet, the Tahitian lover of Brando's daughter Cheyenne, died of a gunshot wound after a confrontation with Cheyenne's half-brother Christian at the family's hilltop home above Beverly Hills. Christian, then 31 years old, claimed he was drunk and the shooting was accidental.
After heavily publicized pre-trial proceedings, Christian pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and use of a gun. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. Before the sentence, Brando delivered an hour of testimony, in which he said he and his former wife had failed Christian. He commented softly to members of the Drollet family: "I'm sorry... If I could trade places with Dag, I would. I'm prepared for the consequences." Afterward, Drollet's father said he thought Brando was acting and his son was "getting away with murder." The tragedy was compounded in 1995, when Cheyenne, suffering from lingering effects of a serious car accident and said to still be depressed over Drollet's death, committed suicide by hanging herself in Tahiti. Christian Brando died of pneumonia at age 49, on January 26, 2008.
Final years and deathBrando's notoriety, his troubled family life, and his obesity attracted more attention than his late acting career. He gained a great deal of weight in the 1980s and by the mid 1990s he weighed over 300 lbs. (136 kg) and suffered from diabetes. Like Orson Welles or Elvis Presley, he had a history of weight fluctuations through his career, attributed to his years of stress-related overeating followed by compensatory dieting. He also earned a reputation for being difficult on the set, often unwilling or unable to memorize his lines and less interested in taking direction than in confronting the film director with odd demands. On the other hand, most other actors found him generous, funny, and supportive.
Brando also dabbled with some innovation in his last years. Brando had several patents issued in his name from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, all of which involve a method of tensioning drum heads, in June 2002 – November 2004. For example, see U.S. Patent 6,812,392 and its equivalents.
The actor was a longtime close friend of entertainer Michael Jackson and paid regular visits to his Neverland Ranch, resting there for weeks at a time. Brando also participated in the singer's two-day solo career thirtieth-anniversary celebration concerts in 2001, and starred in his 13-minute-long music video, "You Rock My World," in the same year. The actor's son, Miko, was Jackson's bodyguard and assistant for several years, and was a friend of the singer. He stated "The last time my father left his house to go anywhere, to spend any kind of time... was with Michael Jackson. He loved it... He had a 24-hour chef, 24-hour security, 24-hour help, 24-hour kitchen, 24-hour maid service." On Jackson's 30th anniversary concert, Brando gave a speech to the audience on humanitarian work which received a poor reaction from the audience and was unaired.
On July 1, 2004, Brando died, aged 80. He left behind eleven children as well as over thirty grandchildren. The cause of death was intentionally withheld, his lawyer citing privacy concerns. It was later revealed that he had died at UCLA Medical Center of respiratory failure brought on by pulmonary fibrosis. He also suffered from congestive heart failure, failing eyesight caused by diabetes, and liver cancer. Before his death and despite his ill-health, he recorded his voice to appear in The Godfather: The Game, once again as Don Vito Corleone.
Karl Malden, Brando's fellow actor in A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront, and One-Eyed Jacks (the only film directed by Brando), talks in a documentary accompanying the DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire about a phone call he received from Brando shortly before Brando's death. A distressed Brando told Malden he kept falling over. Malden wanted to come over, but Brando put him off telling him there was no point. Three weeks later, Brando was dead. Shortly before his death, Brando had apparently refused permission for tubes carrying oxygen to be inserted into his lungs, which, he was told, was the only way to prolong his life.
Brando was cremated, and his ashes were put in with those of his childhood friend Wally Cox and another friend. They were then scattered partly in Tahiti and partly in Death Valley.
In 2007, a 165-minute biopic of Brando, Brando: The Documentary, produced by Mike Medavoy (the executor of Brando's will) for Turner Classic Movies, was released.