From young rebel to prestigious actor

He arrived in Hollywood in the early fifties as a rebellious boy who wore leather clothes, rode a motorcycle and defied convention.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 11:19
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From young rebel to prestigious actor

He arrived in Hollywood in the early fifties as a rebellious boy who wore leather clothes, rode a motorcycle and defied convention. But it was enough for a single performance, that of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, to become a prestigious actor. And in the most versatile. Marlon Brando (1924-2004) played Marc Antoni, Emiliano Zapata, Napoleon and Vito Corleone. Film fans remember him as the best actor in the world. The 100th anniversary of his birth is celebrated on April 3.

He lived a tragic childhood. His parents sent him to a military academy and he escaped when he could. He landed in New York, where he held multiple jobs, until he enrolled in Stella Adler's acting courses. He had found a path that led him to the Actor's Studio.

At the prestigious school, the actor made two discoveries: he learned the Stanislavski method and met the director Elia Kazan, who was the driving force behind his career. Brando climbed the ranks of Broadway, where he succeeded thanks to his talents for acting and beauty. It didn't take long for Hollywood to notice. He shot the first film, Hombres (Fred Zinnemann), in 1950, where he gave life to a paralytic war veteran.

The film didn't have much success, but Brando had fame at hand. Kazan wanted to make a film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando had already played the male lead, Stanley Kowalski, in the New York theater and was chosen for the role. For the role of Blanche DuBois they chose Vivien Leigh. The film was shot in 1951 and was a success: it won four Oscars. Brando didn't get the statuette, but he did get the first nomination.

Marlon was already a star. The brilliance increased with The Savage (László Benedek, 1953) in which he played the leader of a biker gang. Dressed in leather on a motorcycle, the actor became a myth idolized by the youth of his time and a pioneer of the "rebel youth" aesthetic, which would have continuity with James Dean, Paul Newman and Warren Beatty.

But Brando was more than a youth idol. He was an actor. An actor capable of giving life to very different characters. He proved it again under Kazan's orders by playing Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952). And later, again with Kazan, in The Law of Silence (1954), in which he played Terry Malloy, a longshoreman at the port of New York. The role earned him his first Oscar.

Before this award, Brando had shown his versatility in nothing less than a play by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, which Joseph L. Mankiewicz brought to the cinema in 1953. The actor gave life to Mark Antony and the his funeral speech in front of Caesar's corpse was applauded by critics. Going from Marc Antoni to Napoleon was not a challenge for an actor trained at the Actor's Studio. Therefore, Brando put himself in the shoes of an Emperor Bonaparte in love with none other than Jean Simmons in Désirée (Henry Koster, 1954). The couple repeated in Them and Them (1955). Mankiewicz was behind the camera again in this film in which Frank Sinatra completed the star lineup. Brando made an impact: not only could he act, he could also sing.

His success progressed in parallel with a hectic personal life. In 1957 he married the Indian actress Anna Kashfi. The marriage did not last long. After the divorce, the reproaches of the couple reached the tabloid press. In the late fifties, Brando married another actress, the Mexican Movita Castaneda, with whom he had two children, Miko and Rebecca, but the relationship ended in 1962, when Brando met who would be his third woman, the Tahitian actress Tarita Teriipia, on the set of Rebellion on board (Lewis Milestone).

After this film his star declined. But the best actor in the world could do nothing but rise from the ashes. In the early seventies, Francis Ford Coppola decided to adapt Mario Puzo's best-selling novel The Godfather. The producers didn't want Brando in the movie, he was box office poison. Coppola gave him a chance, but put him through a test. At the age of 48, with an Oscar and an enviable filmography behind him, Brando accepted the proposal, auditioned and was given the role. His Vito Corleone earned him a second Oscar.

The actor's maturity was as tragic as his childhood. Although he was paid a millionaire to appear for ten minutes in Superman (1978), he had financial problems. Also physical. He weighed 130 kilos and was in a wheelchair. He spent the last few years locked up in his home on Mulholland Drive after experiencing a few family dramas. The best actor of his generation died in 2004 at the age of 80.