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Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando



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Also Known As: Marlon Brando Jr. Died: July 1, 2004
Born: April 3, 1924 Cause of Death: lung condition
Birth Place: Omaha, Nebraska, USA Profession: actor, producer, director, elevator operator


Widely regarded as the greatest actor of his generation, Marlon Brando crafted several of the most iconic characterizations in the history of cinema, a legacy that would shine bright even after his death. One of Hollywood's earliest "method" actors, Brando leapt from the New York stage to film notoriety with his electrifying portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowalksi in director Elia Kazan's adaptation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). The roles that followed - in films such as "The Wild One" (1953) and "On the Waterfront" (1954) - were primeval displays of the human condition, never before seen quite that raw on film, that would go on to inspire future acting giants such as Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. In later years, Brando enjoyed an unprecedented career rebirth with his Oscar-winning portrayal of Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972). Then, in a one-two punch, he left audiences speechless with his brave performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" (1973). He also appeared as Jor-El in "Superman" (1978) and as the mad Col. Kurtz in Coppola's wartime opus, "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Nothing could overshadow the scope and artistic brilliance of the body...

Widely regarded as the greatest actor of his generation, Marlon Brando crafted several of the most iconic characterizations in the history of cinema, a legacy that would shine bright even after his death. One of Hollywood's earliest "method" actors, Brando leapt from the New York stage to film notoriety with his electrifying portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowalksi in director Elia Kazan's adaptation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). The roles that followed - in films such as "The Wild One" (1953) and "On the Waterfront" (1954) - were primeval displays of the human condition, never before seen quite that raw on film, that would go on to inspire future acting giants such as Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. In later years, Brando enjoyed an unprecedented career rebirth with his Oscar-winning portrayal of Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972). Then, in a one-two punch, he left audiences speechless with his brave performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" (1973). He also appeared as Jor-El in "Superman" (1978) and as the mad Col. Kurtz in Coppola's wartime opus, "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Nothing could overshadow the scope and artistic brilliance of the body of work Brando had committed to film in a career that spanned more than 50 years.

The youngest of three children, Marlon Brando, Jr. was born on April 3, 1924 in Omaha, NE to parents Marlon, Sr., a pesticide salesman who had changed his last name from Brandeaux, and Dorothy, a local actress. While Brando was still young, the family moved to Illinois - initially, to the town of Evanston, and later to Libertyville. It was a tumultuous time for the Brando clan, marked by Dorothy's alcoholism and her brief separation from Marlon, Sr. A precocious child from a young age, Brando - a poor student who had already been held back a year - was expelled from Libertyville High School after one particularly egregious prank. Enraged, his father sent him to his alma mater, Shattuck Military Academy in Minnesota, in the hopes that it would straighten the boy out. By most accounts, it did not. Although he excelled in the academy's drama program, the young Brando continued to clash with authority, a tendency that led to a near expulsion before he ultimately decided to drop out altogether. When his attempt to join the Army failed to pan out - a trick knee from a football injury rendered him 4-F status - the 19-year-old Brando chose to follow his sisters to New York City in 1943. He began studying at the Dramatic Workshop at the New School as well as with the Actors Studio. It was during this time that Brando worked with legendary acting coach Stella Adler and became indoctrinated in the acting method of the Stanislavski System - an approach that utilized emotions and physical action rather than more traditional stagecraft techniques.

Brando flourished under Adler's tutelage and within the year made his Broadway debut in the sentimental hit "I Remember Mama" (1944). He later co-starred opposite Katharine Cornell in "Candida" (1946) and briefly toured with Tallulah Bankhead in "The Eagle Has Two Heads" the same year. His breakthrough came with his searing portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947), directed by Elia Kazan for the stage. Although some - including co-star Jessica Tandy - took issue with the mumbled delivery of his dialogue, the role established a new order of acting intensity and made him a known quantity in the world of theatre. After making his television debut on an episode of "Actor's Studio" (CBS, 1948-1950) in 1949, Brando's first film was Fred Zinnemann's "The Men" (1950), in which he gave an against-type performance as an embittered, paraplegic war veteran struggling for dignity. Kazan's film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) followed, forever linking Brando to the image of the sexually voracious, brutish Kowalski, and making him one of the first "new generation" actors to achieve full-fledged stardom. His impassioned screaming of "Stella!" also became an iconic moment on film - remarkable for an actor just beginning his career. The role earned him the first of four consecutive Best Actor Academy Award nominations. He followed with a pair of impressive, individualistic performances as a Mexican revolutionary in "Viva Zapata!" (1952), and as Marc Anthony in Joseph L Mankiewicz's adaptation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" (1953).

Brando's status as a newly minted film star was confirmed with the release of "The Wild One" (1953), a motorcycle melodrama, which set the tone for future tales of youth rebellion and established the leather jacket as de rigueur for tough guys everywhere. With his simmering portrayal of anarchic gang leader Johnny Strabler, both the actor and character instantaneously became movie icons to a generation. Brando went on to earn a richly-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his multi-layered performance as a conflicted ex-prize fighter torn between his connection to a corrupt union official and pangs of guilt after witnessing a murder in Kazan's gritty masterpiece "On the Waterfront" (1954). For the second time in three years, Brando scored another iconic film moment with his backseat speech lamenting that he "could've been a contender." Enjoying unprecedented box-office and critical success, the young actor had, in less than five years, become one of the most influential performers in Hollywood. Never one to do the expected, he followed with a series of unconventional roles in his subsequent projects. He raged as the little conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte in the historical biopic "Desiree" (1954), tried his hand at musicals as a smarmy singing gambler in "Guys and Dolls" (1955), and played a Japanese interpreter in "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (1956). Other notable roles included a turn as a Korean War pilot in love with a Japanese entertainer in Joshua Logan's "Sayonara" (1957) - for which he received yet another Best Actor nomination - portrayed a sympathetic Nazi officer in "The Young Lions" (1958), and played an enigmatic drifter in the steamy melodrama "The Fugitive Kind" (1960).

By the dawn of the 1960s, Brando had gained a reputation as being not only exceptionally talented, but exceedingly difficult, especially when it came to working with directors. Initially slated as a project for director Stanley Kubrick, the revenge western "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961) became Brando's sole directorial effort after he and Kubrick parted ways because of creative differences. Tales of bad behavior abounded on the set of the remake of the nautical adventure "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962). In addition to claims that his antics caused the production to run over schedule and budget - as they had on "One Eyed Jacks" - Brando raised eyebrows with his insistence on giving his character of 1st Lt. Fletcher Christian a decidedly effete British accent. Working steadily, despite his eccentricities, he appeared as a U.S. diplomat in "The Ugly American" (1963), as a scheming gigolo in the comedy "Bedtime Story" (1964), and as a sheriff charged with capturing escaped convict Robert Redford in "The Chase" (1966). Having accumulated tremendous wealth by this time, Brando, who had fallen in love with the island nation of Tahiti while filming "Bounty," purchased the island of Tetiaroa in 1967. He would later open a hotel on the island with his third wife, Tarita Teriipia - his love interest in "Bounty" - which they would operate for nearly 25 years. Despite complex performances as a repressed gay military officer in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967) and as a 19th Century mercenary in "Burn!" (1969), Brando's films increasingly met with indifference from audiences. By the end of the decade the former box office titan had been reduced to a marginalized presence on the cinematic landscape.

It was not until Francis Ford Coppola cast Brando - in the face of fierce studio resistance - in the title role of "The Godfather" (1972) that he regained his once vaunted stature. His inventive and nuanced turn as the aging mafia boss Don Corleone set the tone for the entire film, received nearly universal critical praise, and earned him a second Oscar for Best Actor. Ever the eccentric, Brando became only the second actor to refuse to personally accept an Academy Award - George C. Scott had been the first - when he sent purported Native American Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, who then read from a prepared statement by the actor decrying America's ill-treatment of its native population. It was later revealed that Miss "Littlefeather" was in fact an actress named Maria Cruz. He followed with a riveting method performance as a self-destructive American in Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial "Last Tango in Paris" (1972). The sexually-charged film earned an X-rating at the time of its release due to its raw depictions of eroticism, and garnered Brando his seventh Best Actor nomination for his uncompromising portrayal. After a four-year hiatus, he next appeared in Arthur Penn's Western deconstruction "The Missouri Breaks" (1976), opposite Jack Nicholson. As Brando's follow-up to "Godfather" and "Last Tango," the unconventional film was perhaps a victim of unreasonably high expectation when it failed at the box-office. In his later years, the actor stated that many of the films that followed were merely jobs he accepted for the financial compensation. His brief cameo - for which he commanded the staggering sum of $3.7 million - as Jor-El, the father of "Superman" (1978) in Richard Donner's superhero spectacular bore the claim out.

Brando made a rare television appearance with an Emmy-winning cameo as American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell in "Roots: The Next Generation" (ABC, 1979), before returning to theaters in one of the last truly memorable performances of his illustrious career. As Col. Kurtz, the dark heart of Coppola's hallucinogenic war drama "Apocalypse Now" (1979), Brando was simultaneously terrifying, riveting, and utterly insane. At the height of his professional eccentricity, the actor engaged in a legendary game of cat-and-mouse with his frantic director when he arrived weeks late for filming, grossly overweight, and having personally rewritten his scenes. In spite of this, Brando went on to deliver one of the most compelling and avant-garde performances of his career. Although it met with mixed reviews upon initial release, over the passage of time the film would be regarded as one of the most important films about the Vietnam War ever made. Brando went on to team with fellow Oscar snubber George C. Scott for the turgid corporate thriller "The Formula" (1980), before taking a break from film for several years. Upon his return, Brando earned a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his engaging performance as a crusty South African civil rights lawyer in Euzhan Palcy's "A Dry White Season" (1989).

The next decade began with tragedy for Brando and his family. In May of 1990 after an alcohol-fueled altercation, his eldest son, Christian, shot and killed Dag Drollet, the Tahitian boyfriend of his half-sister, Cheyenne. Following a trial that saw a tearful Brando admitting to having failed as a father, Christian pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and spent the next five years in a California state prison. Juxtaposed against the calamity of his personal life, Brando impressed critics and audiences with his comic send-up of Don Corleone in the lightweight romp "The Freshman" (1990) alongside a youthful Matthew Broderick. He kept a low-profile for much of the duration of his son's incarceration, but reappeared as a complacent psychiatrist in the romantic comedy "Don Juan DeMarco" (1995), opposite Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp; with the latter playing a delusional young man who claims to be the legendary lover. With Christian's release from prison only a year away, reverberations from the horrific events of the past continued when Cheyenne, still despondent over the death of Drollet and diagnosed with schizophrenia, hung herself at her mother's home in Tahiti in 1995. Still reeling from his daughter's suicide, Brando's experience on the set of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996) was, understandably, not a happy one. Compounding the problems were the reprehensible behavior of co-star Val Kilmer, last minute changes in the cast and crew, and constant delays due to a script that was being rewritten in the midst of filming. Not surprisingly, the completed film was met with disastrous reviews, bombed at the box-office, and earned the revered thespian a "Razzie" Award for Worst Supporting Actor.

Brando's last original screen outing was in the routine heist thriller "The Score" (2001), as a past-his-prime "fence" opposite acting heavyweights of subsequent generations Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. Having been morbidly obese since the 1990s, Brando's health continued to deteriorate due to a host of infirmities, including diabetes, liver disease, and congestive heart failure. On July 1, 2004 he died in Los Angeles from respiratory failure brought on by pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 80. However, the world would be given one last performance by the actor when footage shot during Richard Donner's "Superman" films - some never before seen - was utilized for an appearance of Brando as Jor-El in director Bryan Singer's relaunch "Superman Returns" (2006). Another project which Brando had been collaborating on up until a week before his death, "Citizen Brando" - originally titled "Brando and Brando" - was completed in 2006 as a homage to the late actor.


Filmographyclose complete filmography


  One-Eyed Jacks (1961) Director

CAST: (feature film)

 Always Brando (2010)
 Superman Returns (2006)
 Naqoyqatsi (2002)
 Score, The (2001)
 Brave, The (1997)
 Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996) Dr Moreau

Milestones close milestones

Acted in little scenes to illustrate Dramatic Workshop teacher John Gassner's lectures
Co-starred with Charlie Sheen in the comedy thriller "Free Money"; aired on Starz! before being released on video
Collaborated with film director Donald Cammell in 1979 on a China Seas pirate story, later published into the novel <i>Fan-Tan</i>
Directed by Charlie Chaplin in the misfire "The Countess From Hong Kong"
Earned second Best Actor Oscar nod in the title role of "Viva Zapata!"
Feature directorial debut, "One-Eyed Jacks"; took over direction from Stanley Kubrick; also producing debut and had a starring role
Film acting debut, playing a paraplegic war veteran in "The Men"
Formed Pennebaker Productions (named after his mother's maiden name) to produce films that would "explore the themes current in the world today"
Headlined the film version of Tennessee Williams' play "Orpheus Descending"; later renamed "The Fugitive Kind"
Made last stage appearance in a summer stock tour of "Arms and the Man"
Offered impressive turn as Marc Antony in "Julius Caesar"; earned third Academy Award nomination
Participated in the Selma, Alabama and the Washington DC civil rights marches
Played a heroic freedom fighter for the state of Israel in Ben Hecht's play, "A Flag is Born"
Portrayed a psychiatrist treating a man who thinks he is the great lover in "Don Juan DeMarco"; co-starred Johnny Depp
Portrayed gambler Sky Masterson in the movie version of the hit musical "Guys and Dolls"
Portrayed Superman's father Jor-El in "Superman: The Movie"; earned a reported salary of $3.7 million and over 11 percent of the gross for a cameo role that was shot over four days
TV debut in the "I'm No Hero" segment of ABC's "Actors Studio"
Was subject of the documentary, "Meet Marlon Brando"; filmed by the Maysles brothers
Worked as an elevator operator at Best & Company in New York for one week
Agreed to appear (for a reported $2-3 million salary) in a cameo turn as a priest performing an exorcism in "Scary Movie 2"; forced to drop out due to ill health
First leading role on Broadway in "A Streetcar Named Desire"; offered star-making turn as Stanley Kowalski opposite Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois
First screen test for a film titled "Rebel Without a Cause" (not the same as the James Dean film)
Garnered seventh Best Actor Oscar nomination for Bernardo Bertolucci's sexually-themed drama "Last Tango in Paris"
Had cameo as Torquemada in the historical drama "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery"
Performed in the Broadway production of "Candida" opposite Katharine Cornell
Portrayed a Korean war pilot who falls in love with a Japanese entertainer in "Sayonara"; earned fifth Best Actor Academy Award nomination
Received second Academy Award playing the title role of "The Godfather"; co-written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Resumed film acting and picked up eighth career Academy Award nomination as a British attorney in the anti-apartheid drama "A Dry White Season"; earned a salary in excess of $3 million which he reportedly donated to anti-apartheid charities
Sold Pennebaker Productions to Universal for a reported $1 million in exchange for a certain number of films to be made for Universal on a non-exclusive basis
Spoofed his Oscar-winning turn as gangster Don Vito Corleone in the comedy "The Freshman"
Won Best Actor Oscar for performance as washed-up fighter Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront"
Acted in "The Score" alongside Robert De Niro and Edward Norton
Appeared with a troupe of Dramatic Workshop students in summer stock in Sayville, New York
Broadway acting debut in "I Remember Mama"
Debut stage performance in the dual roles of a school teacher and a dark angel in Erwin Piscator's production of Gerhardt Hauptman's "Hannele's Way to Heaven"
Delivered an eccentric turn opposite Jack Nicholson in the oddball Western "The Missouri Breaks"
Delivered generationally signature performance as the motorcycle-riding rebel in "The Wild One"
Delivered perhaps the most eccentric turn of his career as the titular scientist in "The Island of Dr. Moreau"
Had small role in Johnny Depp's directorial debut, "The Brave"
Headlined the expensive remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" playing Fletcher Christian
Last feature for almost a decade, the formulaic thriller "The Formula"
Moved to Libertyville, Illinois
Played a psychologically maimed war veteran in the short-lived Broadway drama, "Truckline Cafe"; first brought to the attention of Elia Kazan who produced the play
Published memoirs, <i>Songs My Mother Taught Me</i>
Re-teamed with Coppola to play the madman Kurtz in the Vietnam-themed drama "Apocalypse Now"
Acted in the then-controversial film "Candy"
After clashing with French director Claude Autant-Lara, walked off production of "The Red and the Black"
Played an Okinawan in the feature version of the Broadway play "The Teahouse of the August Moon"
Reprised stage role of Stanley in film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire"; received first of four consecutive Best Actor Academy Award nominations; was only one of the four nominated principals (Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden) not to win an Oscar
Starred as himself in the documentary, "Brando and Brando"
Won an Emmy Award for a rare TV appearance as George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party in "Roots: The Next Generations"


Libertyville High School: Libertyville, Illinois -
Actors Studio: New York, New York -
American Theatre Wing Professional School: New York, New York -
Shattuck Military Academy: Faribault, Minnesota - 1943
The New School: New York, New York - 1943


"Brando's Terry Malloy is a shatteringly poignant portrait of an amoral, confused, illiterate citizen of the lower depths who is goaded into decency by love, hate and murder. His groping for words, use of the vernacular, care of his beloved pigeons, pugilist's walk and gestures and his discoveries of love and the immensity of the crimes around him are highlights of a beautiful and moving portrayal."---A. H. Weiler's review of "On the Waterfront", in The New York Times, July 30, 1954

"He's the most keenly aware, the most empathetical human being alive... He just knows. If you have a scar, physical or mental, he goes right to it. He doesn't want to, but he doesn't avoid it... He cannot be cheated or fooled. If you left the room he could be you."---Stella Adler quoted in Richard Schickel's "Brando: A Life in Our Times" (1991)

"This was the first of the many ritual beatings characters played by Brando would absorb in his films, punishment for being an outsider and sensitive, a hip messiah in the pop mythology of the time."---Richard Schickel

"Brando always was a weirdo, long before anyone heard of him. Surely his 'eccentricity' deepened with the passing years, but the overall evidence is that he consciously chose to stress that side of his nature less, not more, in his Sixties work... He is less self-consciously witty, less self-satirizing, than he was in the fat Fifties movies... when his spirits were up and he carried with him the feistiness of successs. He is also much less sexy than before, much less volatile than he was in his previous on-screen encounters with women. Indeed, it is impossible to recall a single romantic scene that had either the rapacious menace of 'Streetcar' or the insinuating seductiveness of his scenes with Eva Marie Saint in 'On the Waterfront.'"---Richard Schickel, In discussing Brando's bland, tame professionalism in his work during the 1960s

"We may treasure, as he does not, the moments he gave us, at the same time speculating about the ones he didn't give us, out of spite or goofiness or whatever has moved him to not move us. Looking at him now, one can't help recalling the illimitable promise of his youth and perhaps of our own, and the inevitable confusions and compromises life imposes on us, the inevitable follies we impose on ourselves... Brando has kept faith with incoherence. Whatever he has done and not done, no actor in his life and his work has more consistently kept us in touch with the erratic, that which is unpredicatable and dangerous in ourselves and in the world."---Richard Schickel in "Brando: A Life in Our Times" (1991)

"Brando's a giant on every level. When he acts, it's as if he's landed on another planet. He's got it all. That's why he's endured. When I first saw 'On The Waterfront' I couldn't move. I couldn't leave the theatre. I'd never seen the like of it. I couldn't believe it."---Al Pacino, Brando's co-star from "The Godfather Empire August 2004

"He's simply the best, and if he wants to call acting merely a craft, then he's the greatest craftsman who ever lived."---Dennis Hopper Empire August 2004

Companions close complete companion listing

Josanne Marianna Berenger. Model. 19-year-old French woman from Toulon working in NYC as a governess when she met Brando at a party; announced engagement in 1954; separated.
Rita Moreno. Actor. Had a 12-year on-and-off relationship; she attempted suicide when they finally separated.
Jackie Collins. Writer. Had brief relationship when Collins was 16 (c. 1956).
Anna Kashfi. Actor. Married in October 1957; divorced in 1959; made screen debut in "The Mountain" (1956); her father (a Mr. Callahan) claimed she had no Indian blood; introduced by producer A C Lyles; separated when son Christian was born; reconciled and later divorced.
Movita. Actor. Born on December 4, 1916 in Nogales, Arizona; married in secret ceremony in 1960; separated in 1962; marriage annulled in 1968; had co-starred as Clark Gable's Tahitian love interest in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935); met while making "Viva Zapata" (1952); broke up during the filming of "On the Waterfront" (1954); reunited.
France Nuyen. Actor.
Tarita Teriipia. Actor, former waitress. Married in 1962; featured with Brando in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962).
Christina Ruiz. Former maid. Born c. 1958; mother of Brando's daughter Ninna.

Family close complete family listing

Marlon Brando Sr. Cattle feed, chicken feed and limestone salesman. Later became Brando's business manager; died in July 1965 at age 70.
Dorothy Pennebaker. Amateur actor. One of the founders of the Omaha Community Playhouse; died of effects of alcoholism c. 1954.
Jocelyn Brando. Actor. Born on November 19, 1919.
Frances Brando. Artist. Born in 1922.
Christian Devi Brando. Born on May 11, 1958; mother, Anna Kashfi; subject of a custody battle; on January 4, 1991 pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Dag Drolet, boyfriend of half-sister Cheyenne; released from prison in December 1995.
Miko Brando. Security guard. Born in 1960; mother, Movita Castenada; security guard to Michael Jackson; his former wife Jiselle Honore Brando was killed by a hit-and-run driver June 2, 1991.
Rebecca Brando. Mother, Tarita Teriipia.
Simon Tehotu Brando. Mother, Tarita Teriipia.
Tarita Cheyenne Brando. Born in 1970; mother, Tarita Teriipia; commited suicide in April 1995.
Ninna Priscilla Brando. Born in May 1989; mother, Christina Ruiz.
Petra Barrett Brando. Adopted; birth father was author James Clavell; born c. 1970.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Conversations With Brando" Hyperion
"Songs My Mother Taught Me" Random House
"Brando" Hyperion
"Marlon Brando: A Penguin Lives Biography" Viking Penguin

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