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Marlon Brando Dies at 80


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'The Godfather' Actor Brando Dead at 80

 

By BOB THOMAS, Associated Press Writer

 

LOS ANGELES - Marlon Brando (news), the maverick actor who accepted one Oscar for "On the Waterfront" and refused another for "The Godfather," has died, his attorney said Friday. He was 80

 

Brando died at an undisclosed Los Angeles hospital Thursday, attorney David J. Seeley said. The cause of death was being withheld, Seeley said, noting the actor "was a very private man."

 

"Mr. Brando and his family are very private," Seeley said. "His family is gathering from all over the world and will be making arrangements following his last will and testament."

 

Details about those plans weren't disclosed and Seeley said arrangements would be private.

 

Brando was acclaimed the greatest actor of his generation, the unforgettable embodiment of the brutish Stanley Kowalski of "A Streetcar Named Desire," the mixed up Terry Malloy of "On the Waterfront" and the wily Don Corleone of "The Godfather."

 

But his private life may best be defined by a line from "The Wild One," in which Brando, playing a motorcycle gang leader, is asked what he's rebelling against.

 

"Whattaya got?" was his famous reply.

 

Millions of words were written about his eccentric behavior, his many romances and three marriages, his support of the American Indian and other causes, his battles with film producers and directors, his refuge on aTahitian isle.

 

Brando's later life was shadowed by his son's conviction for killing his half-sister's boyfriend.

 

The glaring spotlight never changed his ways.

 

"I am myself," he once declared, "and if I have to hit my head against a brick wall to remain true to myself, I will do it."

 

The blaring headlines could not diminish his reputation as an actor of startling power and invention.

 

With his Stanley Kowalski in the stage version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and a startling series of screen portrayals, Brando changed the nature of American acting.

 

Schooled at the Actors Studio in New York, he created a naturalism that was sometimes derided for its mumbling, grungy attitudes. But audiences were electrified, and a new generation of actors adopted his style.

 

Marlon Brando Jr. came from the American heartland, born in Omaha, Neb., on April 3, 1924. His father sold limestone products and cattle feed. He was a distant, conservative man of French, English and Irish stock; the original family name was Brandeau.

 

His mother, the former Dorothy Pennebaker, was small, willowy, compassionate and filled with creative energy. Her ambitions often were unrealized, and she underwent periods of problem drinking. She had given birth to two daughters, Frances and Jocelyn, before Marlon was born.

 

He grew up a pudgy, mischievous boy who was called Bud to distinguish him from his father. Jocelyn Brando was charged with getting Bud to kindergarten, a difficult task. She solved it by leading him on a leash.

 

Young Marlon first became exposed to the theater through his mother, who became a leader and occasional actress in the Omaha Community Playhouse. When a leading man dropped out of a play, she pleaded with a young neighbor just home from college to take the role. Henry Fonda (news) reluctantly agreed. Mrs. Brando also encouraged another young Omaha native, Dorothy McGuire.

 

The lives of Dorothy Brando and her children were upset when the father was transferred to Evanston, Ill., when Bud was 6. The family later moved to Santa Ana, Calif., and finally to Libertyville, Ill.

 

Bud was constantly being reprimanded for misbehavior at school, infuriating his father. The boy also displayed a talent for playacting, both in elaborate pranks and in plays and recitations. He proved a skilled pantomimist, especially in his depiction of the death of John Dillinger.

 

His exasperated father sent the boy to military school in an effort to instill discipline. He was expelled. Unable to join the war because of 4-F status, Brando at 19 moved to New York and stayed with his sister Frances, an art student.

 

Jocelyn Brando studied acting with Stella Adler, and Marlon decided to join her. It changed his life. After a week with the young man, Adler declared: "Within a year, Marlon Brando will be the best young actor in the American theater."

 

It took longer. He appeared in such plays as "I Remember Mama," "A Flag is Born" and "Truckline Cafe." The latter was directed by Elia Kazan, who would remember him for "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1947.

 

The Tennessee Williams play thrust Brando into the spotlight, and his first signs of discomfort emerged. The press made much of his weird behavior, his motorcycle, leather jackets and T-shirts, his bongo drum playing. He hated the clamor of fans and suffered through interviews.

 

The image of Stanley Kowalski seemed to have fallen on Brando, and he once protested to an interviewer: "Kowalski was always right, and never afraid. He never wondered, he never doubted. His ego was very secure. And he had the kind of brutal aggressiveness that I hate. I'm afraid of it. I detest the character."

 

Brando suffered through the tedium of his two-year contract with "Streetcar," and he never appeared in another play. For his first film he declined several big studio offers and joined independent Stanley Kramer for "The Men" in 1950. To research the story of paraplegic war veterans, he spent a month in a Veterans Administration hospital.

 

His impact on screen acting was demonstrated by Academy nominations as best actor in four successive years: as Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951); as the Mexican revolutionary in "Viva Zapata!" (1952); as Marc Anthony in "Julius Caesar" (1953); and as Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront" (1954). The latter brought his first Oscar.

 

Although he remained in Hollywood, he refused to be part of it.

 

"Hollywood is ruled by fear and love of money," he told a reporter. "But it can't rule me because I'm not afraid of anything and I don't love money."

 

His films after "Waterfront" failed to challenge his unique talent. Most were commercial enterprises: "Desiree," "Guys and Dolls," "The Teahouse of the August Moon," "Sayonara," "The Young Lions." He tried directing himself in a Western, "One-eyed Jacks," going wildly over budget.

 

A remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" in 1962, which was filmed in Tahiti with Brando as Fretcher Christian, seemed to bolster his reputation as a difficult star. He was blamed for a change in directors 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. Tahitian beauty Tarita who appeared in the film became his second wife and mother of two of his children. He bought an island, Tetiaroa, which he intended to make part environmental laboratory and part resort.

 

Although he remained a leading star, Brando's career waned in the '60s with a series of failures. His luster had faded until Francis Coppola chose him to play Mafia leader Don Corleone in "The Godfather" in 1972.

 

"I don't think the film is about the Mafia at all," Brando told Newsweek. "I think it is about the corporate mind. In a way, the Mafia is the best example of capitalists we have."

 

His most famous act of rebellion was his refusal to accept the best actor Oscar for "The Godfather." Instead, he sent a woman who called herself Sasheen Littlefeather to read a diatribe about Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans.

 

The actor followed with "Last Tango in Paris." One of his greatest performances was overshadowed by an uproar over the erotic nature of the Bernardo Bertolucci film.

 

Brando's later films were undistinguished. One hundred pounds heavier, he hired himself out at huge salaries for such commercial enterprises as "Superman" and "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery."

 

His crusades for civil rights, the American Indian and other causes kept him in the public eye throughout his career. So did his romances and marriages. He married actress Anna Kashfi in 1957, believing her to be East Indian. She was revealed to be Irish, and they separated a year later.

 

In 1960 he married a Mexican actress, Movita, who had appeared in the first "Mutiny on the Bounty." They were divorced after he met Tarita. All three wives were pregnant when he married them. He had nine children.

 

Brando was plunged into real-life tragedy on May 16, 1990. His first son, Christian, shot and killed the 26-year-old Tahitian lover of Christian's half-sister Cheyenne, at the family's hilltop home above Beverly Hills. Christian, 31, claimed the shooting was accidental.

 

After a heavily publicized trial, Christian was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and use of a gun. He was sentenced to 10 years.

 

The tragedy was compounded in 1995, when Cheyenne, said to be still depressed over the shooting, committed suicide. She was 25.

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