Marlon Brando, considered by many to be the most gifted actor of all time, died on June 2, 2004, at the age of 80. He made 40 movies -- some were outstanding, some were clunkers. He was nominated for an Oscar a half dozen times, winning twice.
"Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse." Marlon Brando
On screen, he was raw power.
Off screen, he was a big bag of wind.
When he learned of Brando’s death, actor James Cann said that Brando “influenced more young actors of my generation than any other actor. Anyone who denies this never understood what it was all about.”
The son of an absentee father and an alcoholic mother, Brando was an angry, quick-tempered child who had been expelled from military prep school for bad conduct. He was married three times and had nine kids. His son Christian was imprisoned for killing his daughter Cheyenne’s boyfriend. Cheyenne later committed suicide.
An outspoken activist for minority causes, Brando sent a Native American woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, to accept his Oscar for his performance in The Godfather. Instead of accepting the award, Littlefeather, dressed in American Indian garb, refused the award on Brando’s behalf and attempted to read a statement (15 pages long) written by Brando condemning America’s treatment of Native American people. She was booed off-stage.
Ironically, Sacheen Littlefeather was only part Indian and part Caucasian. Her real name was Maria Cruz. She was a bit actor -- Sacheen Littlefeather was her stage name. She had previously been named Miss American Vampire and had appeared in Playboy. As a representative of Native Americans, she was sadly lacking.
While some of his movies were real stinkers, Brando gave many memorable, wide-ranging performances.
ON THE WATERFRONT – Won an Oscar as a former prizefighter working for corrupt union thugs.
THE GODFATHER – Won an Oscar as a Mafia Don who made offers that couldn’t be refused.
APOCALYPSE NOW – One of many roles as a madman. Perhaps in touch with his own madness.
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY – Played an effeminate British naval officer who led the mutiny.
ONE-EYED JACKS – Brando directed this western, grossly exceeding the shooting schedule and budget.
GUYS AND DOLLS – Displaying his versatility in a musical, he held his own with co-star Frank Sinatra.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE – Originally played the brutish Stanley Kowalski on the Broadway stage.
THE WILD ONE – As a rebellious motorcycle gang leader, Brando menacingly defined the lost generation.
THE MISSOURI BREAKS – Playing a deranged bounty hunter, he out-improvised co-star Jack Nicholson.
THE FUGITIVE KIND – Raw sexual tension between Brando and an older, married woman.
LAST TANGO IN PARIS – A sexually explicit piece of vulgarity that Brando made even more vulgar.
JULIUS CAESAR – Brando mastered Shakespeare equally as well as he had mastered Stanley Kowalski.
THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON – As a Japanese servant, Brando was amazingly convincing.
THE YOUNG LIONS – As a German soldier, he was more German than some of the German actors.
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU – Brando as an insane genius. Bad movie but a stunning portrayal.
SAYONARA – A rare performance as a normal guy. Although far from normal, he managed to pull it off.
While brilliant on-screen, his personal life was a mess. He had financial difficulties throughout his lucrative career. Those who knew him well called him an egomaniac and a brooding eccentric, on the brink of being dysfunctional.
On the set, he had a reputation for being difficult.
Off the set, he was downright self-destructive.
He had contempt for his profession. During a rare interview, he claimed, “If a studio offered to pay me as much to sweep the floor as it did to act, I’d sweep the floor. There isn’t anything that pays as well as acting while you decide what the hell you’re going to do with yourself.”
Somehow, I suspect he’d bellyache about sweeping floors too.
Marlon Brando was truly one of a kind – a consummate actor and a troubled soul.
Rest in Peace.
Quote for the Day -- "If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner." Marlon Brando
Bret Burquest is the author of 7 books, including THE REALITY OF THE ILLUSION OF REALITY and ORB OF WOUNDED SOULS (available on Amazon). He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where brooding eccentrics live in hollow trees.