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Marlon Brando (1924-2004)


Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
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Marlon Brando was an American actor who is considered by many to be the greatest screen actor of all time. During his glory period, from 1950 to 1972, he covered himself with the mantle of unforgettable greatness and by his genius and force of personality helped to forge and popularise a new style of acting, the Method School.

His life was more complex and more celebrated than any Hollywood plot. He died as one of the world's truly obese men and most prominent eccentrics, and his behaviour in later life nearly overshadowed his earlier incredibly high standard of postwar acting; a standard against which he himself would later often come up wanting.

Brando won two Academy Awards for Best Actor. The first one was in 1954 for the movie 'On the Waterfront' and the second was in 1972 for 'The Godfather'. Brando himself refused to accept this Oscar due to a conflict with his beliefs at the time. The award however is still recognized. On the American Film Institute's List of Greatest Male Stars of All Time Brando is placed at number four.

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Biography

Marlon Brando was born on April 3, 1924, in Omaha, Nebraska. He had two older sisters, Jocelyn and Frannie. His childhood was a lonely one with his salesman father, also called Marlon, frequently absent, and his mother, Dodie, an unconventional and artistically inclined woman, with a serious drinking problem.

However, she was an actress, well known in local theatrical circles. She was a director of the Omaha Community Playhouse where she helped a young Henry Fonda at the start of his acting career and it was she who fueled her son's interest in acting as a career. The young Marlon, known in the family as Bud, often acted out scenes for her to help draw her out of a drunken stupor. Sometimes he had to collect her, drunk, from the town jail to bring her home.

At school Brando was constantly in trouble for bad behaviour and he was eventually expelled. He failed to get in the army because of a damaged knee, and in 1943, at the age of 19, he moved to New York to join his sisters, partly to strike out on his own and partly in an attempt to prove wrong his father's low expectations for his future. The only thing he knew he was good at was the one thing for which he had received praise during his schooling and from his mother - acting - and he was determined to make it his career

Method Acting

In New York Brando studied firstly at the American Theatre Wing Professional School, then at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School and finally at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio. It was at the New School's Dramatic Workshop that he met and studied with Stella Adler and learned the techniques of the Constantin Stanislavski System, the system which became known throughout the world as Method acting, rejecting traditional acting techniques in favor of a deep emotional expressiveness with the emphasis on the character's inner motivation.

Early Acting Career 1944

After some summer stock roles Brando made it to Broadway in 1944 in the bittersweet drama 'I Remember Mama'. 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. 'Truckline Café' was the first collaboration between Brando and Elia Kazan who would later direct him to great effect on stage and on screen. In 1946 Brando appeared on Broadway as the young hero in the political drama 'A Flag is Born', and in the same busy year he co-starred with Katharine Cornell in 'Candida' and then toured for a short time with Tallulah Bankhead in the pre-Broadway run of 'The Eagle Has Two Heads'.

'A Streetcar Named Desire' Broadway 1947

He achieved stardom, and some would say, acting immortality, in 1947, when he portrayed the boorish Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's play 'A Streetcar Named Desire', directed by Elia Kazan. The outstanding success of the play and his role in it established him amongst America's acting elite and made his Hollywood debut inevitable.

He made his television debut on an episode of "Actor's Studio" in 1949, after which his first movie role came in 1950, portraying a paraplegic World War II veteran in Fred Zinnemann's 'The Men' for producer Stanley Kramer. He then reprised his role as Kowalski in the movie version of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and in so doing instilled a consciousness of 'The Method' into the world of acting. In the movie, Vivien Leigh replaced Jessica Tandy in the Blanche Dubois role, a change which Brando like as she gained more audience sympathy than Tandy had done in the role.

Hollywood Star

Brando received the first of his eight Academy Award nominations for 'Streetcar', and he then made a string of magnificent acting performances which also received nominations - 'Viva Zapata!' in 1952, Joseph L Mankiewicz's 'Julius Caesar' as Mark Antony the following year, and 'On the Waterfront' in 1954 for which he won his first Oscar for Best Actor.

On the Waterfront 1954

'On the Waterfront' a crime drama about violence and corruption on New York's waterfront, was Brando's next movie landmark achievement after 'Streetcar'. He was again directed by Elia Kazan and his Oscar-winning performance as longshoreman Terry Malloy, the washed-up boxer who "coulda been a contender," is universally praised as a magnificent example of the acting art.

For three years in succession, from 1951 to 1953 Brando won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, a true reflection of the immense impact he had made, and he was already firmly established as the most exciting acting talent in the world. He had also given an iconic performance as the rebel Johnny in 'The Wild One' in 1953, ("What are you rebelling against?" Johnny is asked. "What have ya got?" is his reply). This movie became a cult classic, and helped create the street rebel image that was so widely copied by other stars of the Fifties, particularly James Dean and Elvis Presley.

He cemented his pre-eminent position during the rest of the 1950's with brilliant performances in a variety of roles. He managed a singing role as Sky Masterson in 'Guys and Dolls' in 1955; as Sakini, a Japanese interpreter for the U.S. Army in postwar Japan in 'The Teahouse of the August Moon' the following year; as a Korean Air Force officer in Joshua Logan's 'Sayonara' in 1957 for which he received another Best Actor Academy Award nomination, as a Nazi soldier in 'The Young Lions' in 1958 after which played an enigmatic hippy in 'The Fugitive Kind' in 1960.

In 1961 Brando tried his hand at directing with 'One Eyed Jacks' which was being produced by his own company, Pennebaker Productions which he had formed in 1959, but it went way over-budget. The film bombed at the box-office and Brando went back to acting though he would always believe that all actors are essentially their own directors during the shooting of a picture.

His next role was in 1962 in the remake of 'Mutiny on the Bounty'. His foppish interpretation of Fletcher Christian received poor reviews but the film was one of the top-earning movies of the year and received a Best Picture Oscar nomination. It also marked a turning point in Brando's career. His darker, self-destructive side was becoming more prominent.

The Long Slide

He began to put on a considerable amount of weight and his reputation for being volatile and difficult resurfaced. During the remainder of the 1960's he appeared in the unsuccessful 'The Chase' in 1966, 'Reflections in a Golden Eye' the following year, portraying a gay army officer and 'Burn!' in 1969, his personal favorite but which was a commercial failure. By the end of the decade his career had gone into reverse. He was pilloried by movie critics for supposedly not living up to his gifts. His political activism, which he maintained throughout his life, ranging from the early 1960s with his championing of Native Americans' rights, and including an appearance at a Black Panther rally in 1968, did not win him many admirers. He became box office poison and from 1969 did not make a film for 3 years.

'The Godfather' 1971

His return from movie exile came in 1971 with his inventive and electrifying portrayal of Vito Corleone in 'The Godfather' considered to be one of the best films of all time, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. In typical Brando fashion, he refused the award and boycotted the award ceremony, sending an actress purporting to be Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who appeared in full Apache dress, to state his reasons, which were based his dislike of how American Indians were being stereotyped on screen.

The following year Brando was once again nominated for the Best Actor Award, for the seventh time, for his performance in the controversial and highly erotic 'Last Tango in Paris' co-starring Maria Schneider.

Brando's career thereafter remained uneven. He showed that he was still able to hit the acting heights as in his performance as Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now' in 1979 and he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for 'A Dry White Season' in 1989 but for the most part he seemed content to pick up enormous amounts of money for relatively small roles, as in 'Superman' in 1978 when he was paid $3.7 million for just two weeks of work and the disappointing remake of 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' in 1996. His weight and girth expanded uncontrollably and Brando didn't seem to care that it limited the parts he could play. The main theme running through his last years was waste.

Brando's last movie was as an ageing jewel thief in the uninspiring thriller 'The Score' in 2001, opposite Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.

Personal Life

Brando had a chaotic, restless and seemingly unhappy, private life. He was married three times and had nine children and three adopted children from various relationships.

Brando married his first wife, actress Anna Kashfi in 1957. They had a son, Christian Brando, on May 11, 1958 and they divorced in 1959.

In 1960, Brando married his second wife, Movita Castaneda, a Mexican actress seven years his senior; they separated in 1962 and the marriage was annulled in 1968. They had 2 children, Miko Castaneda Brando in 1961 and Rebecca Brando Kotlizky in 1966.

Tahitian beauty Tarita Teriipia, who played his love interest in 'Mutiny on the Bounty', became Brando's third wife in August, 1962. She was 20 years old, 18 years younger than Brando. They had two children Simon Teihotu Brando in 1963 and Tarita Cheyenne Brando in 1970. Brando and Tarita divorced in July 1972.

In addition Brando had the following known offspring:
By an unknown mother, Stefano Brando in 1967.
By adoption:
Petra Brando-Corval in 1972), daughter of Brando's assistant Caroline Barrett and James Clavell.
Maimiti Brando in 1977
Raiatua Brando in 1982
By his live-in housekeeper, Maria Christina Ruiz:
Ninna Priscilla Brando in 1989
Myles Jonathan Brando in 1992
Timothy Gahan Brando in 1994

The last decades of Brando's life were clouded by serious health problems and family tragedy. In May 1990, his son Christian shot and killed the boyfriend of Brando's daughter, Cheyenne, in the family home at Beverly Hills. The 31-year old Christian received a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and served 5 years. But the trial caused an even deeper family tragedy. Marlon's daughter, Cheyenne committed suicide by hanging herself in 1995.

By this time Brando's years of personal indulgence had caught up with him. He weighed well over 300lbs and during the last years of his life he appeared in public less and less. For several years he suffered from advanced diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis (damage to the tissue inside the lungs). Shortly before his death he was told that the only way to prolong his life was to allow oxygen tubes to be inserted into his lungs. He refused permission.

Marlon Brando died on July 1, 2004, from respiratory failure brought on by pulmonary fibrosis. He was 80. After cremation his ashes were mingled together with those of his lifelong friend, Wally Cox, and were scattered, some in Death Valley and some in Tahiti.

Summary

Brando had a massive impact on his own and succeeding generations of actors and many imitators followed, such as James Dean, the young Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. He is still the standard by which all US actors are measured. There were too many bad movies amongst the greatness, but when he was at his in full flower he was imperious, unstoppable and utterly majestic. Perhaps not the greatest acting career but the greatest screen actor in the history of Hollywood.

Marlon Brando Academy Awards

Best Actor: 2 wins:
1954 On the Waterfront
1972 The Godfather
5 Unsuccessful Nominations:
1951 A Streetcar Named Desire
1952 Viva Zapata!
1953 Julius Caesar
1957 Sayonara
1973 Last Tango in Paris
Best Supporting Actor: 1 Unsuccessful Nomination:
1989 A Dry White Season

Marlon Brando Filmography

1950
The Men
1952
Viva Zapata!
1953
Julius Caesar
The Wild One
1954
On the Waterfront
Desirée
1956
The Teahouse of the August Moon
1957
Sayonara
1958
The Young Lions
1959
1960
The Fugitive Kind
1961
One-Eyed Jacks
1962
Mutiny on the Bounty
1963
The Ugly American
1964
Bedtime Story
1965
Morituri
1966
The Chase
Southwest to Sonora
1967
A Countess from Hong Kong
Reflections in a Golden Eye
1968
Good Grief It's Candy
The Night of the Following Day
1969
Burn!
1970
1971
The Nightcomers
1972
The Godfather
Ultimo tango a Parigi
1973
1974
1975
1976
The Missouri Breaks
1977
1978
Superman
1979
Apocalypse Now