Marlon Brando, the young rebel who became the best actor in the world

He came to Hollywood in the early 1950s as a rebellious boy who wore leather clothes, rode motorcycles and defied convention.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 10:24
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Marlon Brando, the young rebel who became the best actor in the world

He came to Hollywood in the early 1950s as a rebellious boy who wore leather clothes, rode motorcycles and defied convention. But a single performance, that of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, was enough for him to become a prestigious actor. And in the most versatile. Marlon Brando (1924-2004) played Marco Antonio, Emiliano Zapata, Napoleon, Fletcher Christian, Kurtz and Vito Corleone. His star shone in the 50s, faded in the 60s and re-emerged in the 70s. Movie fans remember him as the best actor in the world. April 3 marks one hundred years since his birth.

Brando felt his childhood was a tragic time. He did not perceive the affection of his parents. His mother was a regular alcoholic in Omaha bars. The actor hated his father since he was a child. The Brandos soon got rid of the boy, sending him to a military academy from which he escaped as soon as he could. He landed in New York where he practiced multiple jobs and, although he said that he lacked a vocation, he enrolled in Stella Adler's acting courses. That saved him. Brando had found his way. A path that he followed at the Actor's Studio, where he enrolled in 1943.

At the prestigious acting school, the actor made two discoveries: he learned the Stanislawsky method and met the director Elia Kazan, who was the driving force behind his career. Brando did not take long to get on the Broadway stage where he triumphed thanks to his acting skills and his beauty. And as was common in those times, Hollywood noticed him. He filmed his first film, Men (Fred Zinnemann), in 1950, where he played a paralyzed war veteran.

The film didn't have much of a run, but fame awaited Brando just around the corner. Kazan wanted to make an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire for the cinema. Brando had already played the male lead, Stanley Kowalski, in the New York theater and was chosen for the role. Vivien Leigh, the star of Gone with the Wind, was chosen for the role of Blanche DuBois. The film was shot in 1951 and was a success: it won four Oscars. Brando did not win the statuette but he did get his first nomination.

Marlon Brando was already a star whose shine increased with Wild (László Benedek, 1953) where he played the leader of a motorcycle gang. Dressed in leather on the back of his motorcycle, the actor became a myth idolized by the youth of his time and a pioneer of the "young rebels" aesthetic that would continue with other performers such as James Dean, Paul Newman and Warren. Beatty.

But Brando was more than just a youth idol. He was an actor. An actor capable of giving life to very different characters. And he demonstrated it again under the orders of Kazan by getting into the shoes of the Mexican revolutionary Emilano Zapata in ¡Viva Zapata! (1952). And later, again directed by Kazan, in The Law of Silence (1954), a social drama where Brando played Terry Malloy, a longshoreman in the port of New York who confronts his mafia bosses. Brando won his first Oscar for this role.

But before becoming Terry Malloy, Brando had demonstrated his versatility in nothing more and nothing less than in a play by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, which Joseph L. Mankiewicz made into a film in 1953. The actor played Mark Antony and his funeral speech before Caesar's corpse was applauded by critics. Despite being American, Brando lived up to his British co-stars, James Mason and John Gielgud.

Going from Mark Antony to Napoleon was no challenge for a performer trained at the Actor's Studio. So Brando got into the shoes of an Emperor Bonaparte in love with none other than Jean Simmons in Désirée (Henry Koster, 1954). The couple repeated it in Them and Them (1955). Mankiewicz was behind the camera again in this delightful film in which Frank Sinatra completed the star cast. Brando made a splash: he not only knew how to act, he could also sing.

Already established in comedy, he did not hesitate to become Chinese to star in The Tea House of the August Moon (Daniel Mann, 1956). He later traveled to Japan to fall in love with a local dancer, Miiko Taka, in Sayonara (Joshua Logan, 1957). Brando accepted the role to influence his anti-racist ideas. The actor had shown a love for the exotic in his personal life, which led him to choose foreign wives.

In 1957 he married the Hindu actress Anna Kashi. The marriage did not last long. After the divorce, the couple's dirty laundry was aired in the tabloid press. At the end of the 50s, he remarried another actress, the Mexican Movita Castaneda, with whom he had two children, Miko and Rebecca, but the relationship ended in 1962 when Brando met what would become his third wife, the Tahitian actress Tarita Teriipia. , during the filming of Mutiny on the Boat (Lewis Milestone).

Before boarding the Bounty as Fletcher Christian to mutiny against Captain Bligh and discover the paradise island of Pitcairn, Brando had starred in two other dramas: the warlike Dance of the Damned (Edward Dmytryk, 1958) and the adaptation of the work of Tennessee Williams Snakeskin (Sidney Lumet, 1959), with Anna Magnani. He had also made his directorial debut with the western The Impenetrable Face (1961), in which he starred alongside Karl Malden and Katy Jurado.

Brando's debut behind the cameras was a failure that added to the poor success of Snakeskin and the problems during the filming of Mutiny on the Board, which exceeded its budget to the despair of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The actor's star was beginning to fade. In addition to work problems, Brando began to be fodder for gossip: "He was known for having an exhausted life in the corners of bohemian Paris and he established a much-discussed friendly relationship with the French actor Christian Marquand," according to Terenci Moix in Las grandes. movie stars (La Vanguardia Library).

Throughout the '60s, Brando's light dimmed more and more. He filmed several films that did not receive public acclaim, such as His Excellency the Ambassador (George Englund, 1963), a drama set in the Cold War; The Human Pack (Arthur Penn, 1966), where he played an honest sheriff who tried to prevent the lynching of an ex-convict played by Robert Redford, or The Countess of Hong Kong, under the orders of Charles Chaplin, alongside Sophia Loren , a film that did not achieve the applause of the public at the time, but seen today is a delight.

Brando was experiencing low times, but the best actor in the world could do nothing but rise from the ashes. In the early 1970s, Francis Ford Coppola decided to adapt Mario Puzo's best-selling novel The Godfather. Brando heard about the project and did not doubt that he could recreate Vito Corleone, but the producers did not want him in the film, he was poison for the box office. Coppola gave him a chance, but made him undergo a test. At 48 years old with an Oscar and an enviable filmography behind him, Brando accepted, auditioned and was given the role. His Vito Corleone is unforgettable and the film, The Godfather (1972), one of the great works in the history of cinema that earned the actor his second Oscar.

A new career had begun for Brando that would be consolidated with his most controversial and also the most mature interpretation, that of Paul, the man who meets a girl when he goes to see an apartment for rent in Paris and enters into a passionate sexual relationship with her. her in Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972). The film attracted attention for its sexual content, but in reality it is a chronicle of desperate loneliness. Controversy has followed the film to this day after its co-star, Maria Schneider, revealed that the rape scene was real, as were her tears on the screen.

Brando had regained stardom and did not want to pass up the opportunity to cash in on his regained fame in case things went wrong again. Some say he earned one million dollars, others say three, and there are even those who claim it was four. In any case, Brando's appearance in Superman (Richard Donner, 1978) seems to be the best paid in history: a million-dollar figure for playing the superhero's father for ten minutes on screen.

The interpreter still had one outstanding character to bring to life. Coppola was preparing a particular adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, transferring the setting from the 19th century Congo to the Vietnam War. Brando thus became the terrible Mr. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979), putting a finishing touch to his film career.

The actor's maturity was as tragic as his childhood. Despite having been paid a million-dollar amount to appear for ten minutes in Superman, he was suffering from financial problems. Also physical. He weighed 130 kilos and was in a wheelchair. He remained locked up in his house on Mulholland Drive in recent years after experiencing some family dramas. The best actor of his generation died in 2004 at the age of 80.