Marlon Brando


Marlon Brando, Jr. († July 1, 2004 in Los Angeles, California) was an American actor. He is considered one of the most important character actors in the history of 20th century cinema.

With his roles in the films Endstation Sehnsucht (1951) and Die Faust im Nacken (1954), he brought the acting technique of method acting worldwide attention. Both with his style of acting and his appearance in public as a social outsider who was not interested in the rules of Hollywood, he had a lasting influence on the younger generation of actors.

Between 1952 and 1990, he was nominated for an Oscar seven times in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role and once for Best Supporting Actor, winning it twice (1955 and 1973) in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role. In 1973, he refused to accept his second award for his title role in The Godfather in protest against the American film industry”s derogatory treatment of Native Americans, which was widespread up to that time. Brando received further awards at international film festivals, including Cannes in 1952 and Tokyo in 1989.

He ranked fourth in a 1999 American Film Institute list of the 25 greatest male film legends of all time.

Marlon Brando used his celebrity to engage in a wide range of sociopolitical activities, such as supporting the U.S. African American civil rights movement and the American Indian Movement indigenous organization.

Youth and school years

Marlon Brando was born in 1924 in the American Midwest in Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of three siblings. The family was long-established in the region; the Brando name came from ancestors named Brandau, who had immigrated generations earlier from the Palatinate region of Bavaria. Brando”s ancestors were German, English, Irish, Dutch, French, Welsh and Scottish. The father, Marlon Brando Sr, was actually an engineer, but after the birth of the children he worked as a traveling salesman and from 1930 as a sales manager. To distinguish him from his father of the same name, Marlon Jr. was called Bud by relatives and friends.

From the big city of Omaha, the family moved to Evanston, Illinois in 1930. In the summer of 1936, the parents separated temporarily; the mother moved with the children to Santa Ana, California, to live with her mother. Two years later, she returned to her husband and the family moved to Libertyville, a rural suburb of Chicago, where they operated a small horse farm as a sideline. Biographers have paid special attention to Marlon Brando”s childhood and adolescence because motifs that were typical of his early films can be found there, such as the motif of the youthful rebel whose aggressive macho attitude conceals a wounded and correspondingly vulnerable soul.

The family conditions in which Brando grew up were ambivalent: his mother, Dorothy Pennebaker Myers, a politically liberal, spiritual woman, possessed natural acting talent. Because of her family ties, she was only able to make this her profession temporarily, yet she at least did not hinder her children”s artistic development. Marlon”s oldest sister, Jocelyn, also took up acting; the middle child, Frances, studied painting. Both parents, however, were alcoholics, did not get along, and had numerous extramarital affairs. The mother made several suicide attempts. The children were often neglected and suffered from the mother”s poor reliability in particular. The young Brando is described by his biographers as an introverted, maladjusted, poor student who met any authority with excessive aggression.

The home and school situation eventually came to such a head that the father took the son out of high school and sent him to Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, in September 1941, where Brando was to be given one last chance to improve his grades, according to his father”s wishes. The hopes were not fulfilled. It is true that Brando found a mentor for the first time in English teacher Earle Wagner, who headed the academy”s theater group and had recognized the seventeen-year-old”s acting talent. Faced with the rigid discipline of the institution, however, Brando felt challenged to rebel, which led to his having to leave the Academy in May 1943 without graduating.

Training and stage work in New York

Due to a knee injury he sustained playing sports at the Shattuck Military Academy, Marlon Brando was not drafted as a soldier after the U.S. entered World War II. With financial support from his parents, he went to New York in the fall of 1943, where director Erwin Piscator had established a Dramatic Workshop at the New School in 1940. The workshop became famous because, in addition to Brando, it produced such high-profile artists as Walter Matthau, Shelley Winters, Tony Curtis and Harry Belafonte. Far more important for Brando than his work with Piscator, however, was his encounter with Stella Adler, who was on the faculty as an acting coach.

Adler, a veteran of Group Theatre, became Brando”s acting teacher and longtime mentor, later introducing him to important agents and directors. Of all the teachers Brando studied with, Adler exerted the greatest influence on his acting technique. And when interviewees later asked him about the Actors Studio, Brando would correct that he had not received his training there, but with Stella Adler. Like Lee Strasberg, her influential Group Theatre colleague, Stella Adler taught the acting method of Russian actor and theater reformer Konstantin Stanislavski, which became known as Method Acting.

Adler, who had studied with Stanislavski, however, accused Strasberg of having misunderstood the Russian”s teaching on fundamental points. With Brando, Stella Adler”s interpretation of method acting fell on fertile ground. Many of the acting devices that are so characteristic of him – such as his strong underacting – go back to Adler”s school. Above all, under Adler”s tutelage, Brando was able to unleash a complexity and inventiveness of emotional expression that astounded his fellow students, who often classified him in social intercourse as an inarticulate personality of little complexity.

After conflicts with Erwin Piscator, Brando had to leave the workshop again in the summer of 1944. This was not a disadvantage for his career, as Brando was already being mentored by the influential MCA agent Maynard Morris at this time, who was able to find him his first engagement for the following season. From October 1944, Brando played a small role on Broadway in the musical I Remember Mama. From the spring of 1945, he also took dance and drum lessons at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance.

In February 1946, Brando, by now mentored by MCA agent Edith Van Cleve, took on an engagement for the Broadway show Truckline Café. Although the highly talented Elia Kazan was the producer of the play, it was a commercial failure and was cancelled after only ten performances. However, because Brando showed his acting intensity in the small but central role he took on in a way that no one – including his agent – would have expected, the producer and director succeeded in bringing him out as “one of the hottest talents far and wide” in a widely acclaimed press follow-up.

A brief engagement for a production of George Bernard Shaw”s comedy Candida was followed by a period of unemployment. When Louis B. Mayer offered Brando a seven-year film contract at MGM during this time, he nevertheless turned it down because he would not have been able to choose his own roles under such a “gag contract.” His next two stage roles were in the political play A Flag is Born (from September 1946), set among Holocaust survivors, and in Jean Cocteau”s drama The Eagle Has Two Heads (from December 1946).

Beginning in August 1947, Irene Mayer Selznick – daughter of Louis B. Mayer and wife of David O. Selznick – prepared a stage production of Tennessee Williams” 1946 play, A Streetcar Named Desire. She hired Elia Kazan as director, Jessica Tandy was chosen for the role of Blanche, and Kim Hunter and Karl Malden appeared in other roles. Marlon Brando, after Edith Van Cleve lobbied Kazan for him, was given the role of Stanley Kowalski. Rehearsals began on October 6, 1947, and director Kazan took the risk of forcing Brando, whose personality had many points of contact with Kowalski”s, into a confrontation with himself in interpreting the role. For Brando, this was an unheard-of imposition, but it gave his portrayal a persuasiveness to which this production owed its success.

The play was previewed in New Haven, Boston and Philadelphia and had its New York premiere on December 3, 1947 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The production was a sensational success, with Marlon Brando receiving far more attention than the actual leading lady, Jessica Tandy. For the audience, the character of Kowalski became an icon, a new symbol of American masculinity. Costume designer Lucinda Ballard made a not insignificant contribution to this by outfitting Brando for the role with blue jeans and T-shirts that were – unusual at the time – skin-tight.

Male actors with such a blunt sexual charisma had not existed at all in American cultural life until then. Moreover, Brando was able to give this new kind of sex appeal an interesting complexity right from the start: the sexuality he stood for was not swashbuckling and conquering (like that of Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, for example), but slow, capricious, and muted by self-doubt. This paralysis was typical of the Silent Generation of Americans born around 1930 and offered great possibilities for identification to contemporaries of the same age. On top of that, Brando lent the character Kowalski a moment of uneasiness and subliminal danger – a motif he would later revisit regularly and in ever new variations in his film roles.

During his work on Endstation Sehnsucht, Marlon Brando also irregularly attended events at the Actors Studio, which had only been founded in October 1947 and where Lee Strasberg”s version of method acting was cultivated.

Early films (1949-1953)

In the fall of 1949, producer Stanley Kramer offered Brando the lead role in the film The Men. Brando was in the fortunate position of being one of the first film actors in Hollywood to sign a one-picture deal, i.e. a contract with which he was signed for only one film. The industry standard at the time was still seven-year studio contracts, which generally did not allow actors to freely choose their film roles. Brando had this freedom from the beginning. Filming, directed by Fred Zinnemann, began at the end of October.

In the film, Brando played the role of a young infantry lieutenant who, paraplegic after a war injury, goes through the nightmare of rehabilitation. Even before the film”s release in July 1950, influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper had heralded Brando as “Hollywood”s new sensation.” The premiere, unfortunately, took place two weeks after the start of the Korean War, at a time when audiences were clamoring for patriotic material rather than war-injury stories. Although The Men had little success at the box office, the press acknowledged Brando”s highly credible portrayal with effusive reviews.

After Longing Station had been so successful on Broadway, the producer Charles K. Feldman prepared a film version. Filming began on August 14, 1950, directed by Elia Kazan as in the Broadway version. The actors were also the same as in the stage production. Only the role of Blanche was to be filled by a star who would have more box office traction than Jessica Tandy. Initially, Olivia de Havilland had been negotiated; since she was too expensive, Vivien Leigh had gotten the part. Although pressure from the Catholic Legion of Decency meant that considerable cuts had to be made before its release in September 1951, the film was enormously successful with both audiences and critics and established Brando”s fame as a movie star.

The next film, Viva Zapata!, was a free adaptation of the biography of the Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, an adventure film with no particular political depth. Kazan, who directed, insisted that Brando appear in the title role, although he was blond and had to be completely transformed by the mask for his appearance. During filming, which began in May 1951, Kazan relied on Brando”s intuition, as he had done earlier, and gave him wide artistic latitude. Brando used this to masterfully bring out the inner conflict and confusion of the character, who in his interpretation was on the one hand an idealistic macho, on the other a peasant striving towards the bourgeoisie. After the film was released in February 1952, Brando was disappointed with his performance, as he felt he should have portrayed the revolutionary in a tougher and less romantic way. However, the role earned him his second Oscar nomination, a prize at the Cannes Film Festival and a British Film Academy Award.

For his fourth film, Julius Caesar, a classical drama based on Shakespeare, Brando ventured into the field where his greatest acting insecurity lay. Due to his school absences, he lacked a systematic education, and his diction in reading texts aloud also remained a problem throughout his life. Since he appeared in the film alongside the great British Shakespearean actor John Gielgud, among others, he feared looking like a novice. He was also keen to gain distance from his low-life and hooligan image and more intellectual respectability through a classical role.

Brando, who was to play the role of Antony, prepared for filming, which began on August 8, 1951 and was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, with training from MGM vocal coach Gladys Fogoler and with the help of recordings of famous Shakespearean actors. His performance – especially the famous speech “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears…” – was so convincing thanks to this good preparation that the press was full of praise after the premiere of the film in June 1953 and Brando again received a British Film Academy Award and an Oscar nomination.

In September 1952, Brando signed on for a second time with Stanley Kramer: in the film The Savage, directed by László Benedek, he was to play the leader of a motorcycle gang that invades a small American town and rouses the hysterically reacting, stuffy inhabitants there for days. The story was red-hot; it was based on an authentic incident that had caused an additional stir in the public debate that had flared up in the postwar period about the new phenomenon of juvenile delinquency. Brando had great sympathy for underdogs of all kinds and saw an opportunity to make the causes of rebellion visible through a differentiated interpretation of his role.

In preparation, he studied the language and demeanor of the members of a motorcycle gang who were to appear in the film as extras and supporting actors. Brando also rode a motorcycle himself, albeit with modest technical skill. Shot on Columbia”s Burbank lot and premiered in December 1953, the film suffered from the fact that Brando”s and Kramer”s social analysis fell short on the one hand, and on the other, Benedek”s direction, which was not comfortable with the whole subject, was not based on a convincing concept. Although the film reinforced Brando”s image as a “Hollywood rebel,” it met with little critical approval, and Brando was also disappointed with the result.

In order to help actor friends from New York who had become unemployed to get a job, Brando encouraged a stage production of Shaw”s comedy Heroes, which was produced by Morton Gottlieb and in which he himself played only a small supporting role. The play toured New England in the summer of 1953. Since Brando neither liked learning lines nor the professional routine of a theater actor, this was his last stage appearance.

As early as 1952, Elia Kazan had been preparing a film drama together with writer Budd Schulberg, which was to deal with corruption in the New Jersey dockworkers” union. Due to the unwieldy subject matter, the project initially met with no interest from film producers; Sam Spiegel, whose small company Horizon eventually produced the film, proved to be the “savior.” Spiegel exerted a strong influence on the script and demanded that the male lead be filled by Marlon Brando, who had since been replaced by MCA agent Jay Kanter. Brando reluctantly accepted the offer, as there were strong tensions between Kazan and him after Kazan, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, had given testimony before the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in April 1952 that had heavily incriminated some of his colleagues politically.

The film was entitled On the Waterfront (German: Die Faust im Nacken). Brando played the role of Terry Malloy, a young dockworker whose brother is deeply involved in the machinations of the corrupt union. Brando, who had last boxed during his school years, prepared for the filming, which began on November 17, 1953, by taking boxing lessons, among other things. The characterization Brando gave the figure of Terry was extraordinarily complex, encompassing delicate, feminine traits as well as gruff, masculine behavior.

Kazan once again forced Brando to reveal his innermost feelings in front of the camera – something the actor was very reluctant to do, but which gave the film much of its unusual persuasiveness and quality. Moreover, Kazan was the only director who succeeded not only in encouraging Marlon Brando to improvise efficiently, but also in guiding this improvisation into regular channels and subordinating it expediently to a mature directorial concept. After its American premiere in July 1954, the film was hailed by the press as a masterpiece of cinematic realism. Brando received the best reviews of his career as well as several important film awards, including his first Oscar.

Movies 1954-1958

After finishing the film The Fist in the Neck, Brando signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. He was to play the title role in the Cinemascope big-budget film Sinuhe the Egyptian. Under the impression of the lack of talent of his screen partner Bella Darvi and after the first meeting with the director, Michael Curtiz, who was known for not communicating well with actors, Brando lost interest in the project and broke the contract in January 1954. This decision was disastrous for his career, Brando was discredited by producers and was from then on for a long time under pressure to work for often low fees in artistically inferior, but box office-heavy films.

The first film in this series was another 20th Century Fox Cinemascope flick: the historical film Désirée, in which Brando starred alongside Jean Simmons in the role of the young Napoléon Bonaparte. During filming, which began in June 1954, Henry Koster proved to be a low-concept director who largely left Brando to his own devices in front of the camera, thus bearing responsibility for an uninspired performance by his leading man.

Afterwards, Samuel Goldwyn offered Brando the lead role in Heavy Boys – Light Girls. The film was to be the very expensive Cinemascope version of a musical that had run to great success on Broadway. Since musical films were in overwhelming demand with audiences, Goldwyn calculated that Brando, who had never sung or danced in front of the camera before, would help the film become a sensational success. For $200,000 – one of the highest film fees paid in Hollywood in 1954 – Brando accepted the offer and appeared in the film alongside Frank Sinatra in the role of a New York gambler who falls in love with a missionary nurse, Jean Simmons.

Brando, who had taken dance lessons in earlier years, prepared for the role with the help of a dance teacher, choreographer Michael Kidd. The film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, with whom Brando had already filmed Julius Caesar. After its release in November 1955, Heavy Boys – Light Girls was extremely successful with audiences, as expected. The industry publication Variety listed the film, which grossed more than $13 million, as the biggest box office hit of 1955.

A film project that aroused greater personal interest in Brando was the MGM production The Little Tea House, which was also based on a successful Broadway musical. Alongside Glenn Ford, Brando played a Japanese man who works as a translator for the American occupying forces at the end of World War II. Filming took place in Japan in the spring of 1956. Brando, who had read books on Japanese culture and learned some Japanese in preparation, saw the role as an opportunity to gain sympathy for the idea that defeated Japan should not be overrun with the culture of the American occupation forces. Although Brando had been allowed to choose his own director this time, Daniel Mann, the finished film, which was released in November 1956, was a disappointment.

In the 1950s, many Hollywood stars – including Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Kirk Douglas – set up their own production companies to gain greater control over their films. Because of their small capital, however, these companies were under great pressure to produce films that recouped their costs at the box office. With George Englund and his father as partners – later joined by George Glass and Walter Seltzer – Marlon Brando also founded his own production company in the spring of 1955, which had its offices on Paramount premises. Pennebaker Productions”, like other companies of this kind, were mostly dependent on cooperation with larger production companies due to their limited funds.

Pennebaker Productions” first film was the love melodrama Sayonara. Alongside James Garner and Red Buttons and the inexperienced Japanese-American actress Miiko Taka, Brando played in it an officer of the American occupation forces stationed in Japan who falls in love with a local actress. The script, based on a bestseller by James Michener and a Broadway show, was full of ethnic stereotypes, but nevertheless interested Brando because it offered the opportunity to denounce the bigotry of the American occupation policy, which wanted peace but forbade its soldiers to fraternize with the defeated Japanese.

Brando also appealed to the taboo subject of interracial love, still explosive under the Production Code; Sayonara became one of the first Hollywood films in which the love of an East Asian-American couple finds a happy ending. The film”s director, Joshua Logan, had recommended himself because he had just won a Golden Globe for his film Picnic. However, during the filming of Sayonara, which took place in Japan in the spring of 1957, he disappointed Brando by leaving him largely unsupported in the creation of his role. Sayonara premiered in December 1957, and although critics reacted with reserve, the film remained the most lucrative in which Brando starred until the release of The Godfather (1972).

Shooting for Brando”s eleventh film, The Young Lions – a 20th Century Fox production based on a bestseller by Irwin Shaw – began in June 1957, directed by Edward Dmytryk, with most of the filming taking place in Paris and in Berlin during the summer of 1957. Brando stood here for the first and only time in front of the camera with Montgomery Clift: the one of his fellow actors with whom Brando was most often compared and who – along with James Dean – was his fiercest competitor in the public”s favor. However, Brando and Clift were then only seen together in a single scene, in which they had no dialogue with each other.

Brando played a young Nazi officer in the film, and in order to conform to the stereotypes binding in Hollywood at the time, he had practiced a German accent and had his hair bleached. Deviating from the novel and also going far beyond the screenplay, however, he characterized the young German as a sympathetic figure and had him undergo an impressive inner development from a strapping Nazi henchman to a skeptic to a tragic hero.

After the premiere, which took place in April 1958, Brando was honored for his performance with a Laurel Award and nominated for a British Film Award. Although the film was also successful with audiences – The Young Lions remained the last film with Marlon Brando to earn much money for a long time – American film critics were largely negative.

The Possessed (1958-1961)

After many months of existing in name only and coming under pressure from the Internal Revenue Service, Pennebaker Productions resumed operations in 1958 and prepared to produce three films in which Brando did not take a role: Handshake of the Devil (1959), A Man Goes His Way and Paris Blues (both 1961).

In a fourth film, which Pennebaker wanted to produce with funds from Paramount, Brando was to star. To ensure that the production would be a box-office success, the choice fell on a western. The script was written by several authors in succession and was not yet finished when shooting began. The director was to be Stanley Kubrick, who had just directed The Reckoning Didn”t Add Up and had thus recommended himself as one of the most important new talents. However, when tensions arose between Brando and Kubrick during production preparations, Kubrick was dismissed. Brando, who had often worked quite independently on sets, gained the impression that he had mastered the craft and therefore decided to direct himself.

Filming in Monterey and Death Valley began in December 1958. In addition to Brando, who delivered an impressive portrait of brittle masculinity in the role of Rio, the film featured Karl Malden and Pina Pellicer, who was very popular in Mexico at the time. Brando pursued the project with great artistic commitment and skill, but was overwhelmed with the practical organization of the shooting. Shooting could not be completed until June 1959 and contributed to a drastic overrun of the budget. Paramount, disagreeing with Brando”s planned conclusion to the plot, insisted on additional shots for an altered ending. Because Brando had created a disproportionate amount of exposed footage, post-production also dragged on for many months.

After extensive cuts demanded by Paramount, One-Eyed Jacks (German: Der Besessene) was not released until March 1961. Although critics heaped praise and Brando was awarded the top prize for his performance at the San Sebastián Film Festival, the film failed to recoup its high production costs of six million dollars.

Superlative productions (1958-1962)

In 1957, Tennessee Williams completed his play Orpheus Descends, the main roles of which he had written for Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani. Brando, who was no longer interested in theater roles, had not wanted to participate in a stage production of the play. Since 1958, however, Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd had been preparing a film version, which was to be financed by United Artists. For one million dollars – a record fee that no Hollywood star had ever received before – Brando agreed to participate in December 1958. Since Magnani had also agreed and United Artist expected the Brando-Magnani duo to be an unprecedented box-office success, the high fee was approved. Joanne Woodward had signed on for another role.

The Man in the Snakeskin thus became the first film in Hollywood history in which three leading roles were filled by Academy Award winners. However, during filming, which began in June 1959 at Poughkeepsie in Upstate New York, the expensive production proved to be unhappily cast. Personal tensions between Brando and Magnani led to uninspired acting by both stars. During a pre-release of the film in December 1959, audiences reacted so negatively that the film was recut and shortened. Even after the official release in April 1960, reviews were scathing and theaters remained empty. The film received awards only at the San Sebastián Film Festival, for Joanne Woodward”s acting performance and for Sidney Lumet”s direction.

Mutiny on the Bounty (MGM), made in Hollywood in the early 1960s as one of the most lavish and expensive productions in American film history up to that time, was a remake of a film from 1935. Through attention to detail, filming on original locations and featuring one of the biggest American movie stars – Marlon Brando – the remake was expected to generate top receipts. Filming, most of which took place on the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora, began in late November 1960. Alongside Trevor Howard and Richard Harris, Brando played the role of Fletcher Christian, a naval officer who had played a key role in the historic mutiny aboard the British expedition ship Bounty.

Brando”s interest in the project had two reasons. On the one hand, he needed money to fight the custody battle he had been waging since 1959 over his son from his first marriage. The more than 1.25 million fee MGM offered him came in handy. On the other hand, he was interested in the aftermath of the historic Mutiny on the Bounty, which was treated differently in the 1935 film. Brando interfered in the shaping of the script and in the direction, and thus bore responsibility for part of the delays that caused the budget to be significantly exceeded in the end. Carol Reed also received reproaches for not keeping to the shooting schedule, for which reason he was fired in February 1961 and replaced by Lewis Milestone. However, the actual responsibility for the production getting out of hand was borne by the MGM management, which had given the artistic staff relatively great freedom of decision.

In early 1962, a rough cut was made of the filmed material, but Brando did not agree with the end of the film. In August 1962, reshoots took place under the direction of George Seaton. The film was released in November 1962. While Harris and Howard were positively reviewed, critics accused Brando of interpreting the role of Fletcher Christian as a pure eccentric and dandy – without depth and without reference to the dramatic plot of the film. Although the film grossed $20 million at the domestic and foreign box offices, the production costs had been $30 million. MGM got into big trouble because of the loss, and among film historians Mutiny on the Bounty is considered one of the films that made Hollywood”s star system obsolete and finally ended it.

Films 1962-1971

In 1962, Pennebaker Productions, which had already been in trouble since 1961, was bought by Universal Studios for one million dollars. Marlon Brando also had to commit himself to appear in five Universal productions. The films made under this contract were of inconsistent artistic quality. Brando often proved to be miscast in them or showed only weak acting performances.

The first film in this series, The Ugly American, was a film adaptation, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, of the 1958 political novel of the same name, which tells how the United States loses the battle against communism in a Southeast Asian country ravaged by civil war. In it, Brando played the role of an intelligent, educated and elegant American ambassador who gets caught between the fronts in this political conflict. The explosiveness that had initially aroused Brando”s interest in the material was lost again during filming, which took place in the summer of 1962 in Thailand, among other places; for George Englund, whom Brando himself had chosen as director, had no experience whatsoever in this capacity and directed a film that made its political statement all too ponderously and morally insipid, and was also in no way visually appealing. After its theatrical premiere in April 1963, audiences had little interest in the film.

In the Universal comedy Two Successful Seducers, which was to continue the success of such frivolous comedies as Pillow Talk and Enterprise Petticoat, Brando, with David Niven as his partner, played a gigolo who preys on single women on the Riviera. Brando appeared in the film, which was shot in early summer 1963 and released in June 1964, only because he was contractually obligated to do so and needed the money; he made no attempt to lend any multidimensionality to his role, for which, in the view of critics, he was completely miscast.

The fact that Brando also had to star in the film Morituri had nothing to do with his obligation to Universal, but was still a late consequence of his breach of contract with 20th Century Fox in 1954. Morituri was a wartime espionage thriller in which Brando, alongside Yul Brynner, Trevor Howard and Janet Margolin, played a German deserter who is blackmailed by British intelligence to cooperate in the extradition of a German blockade runner. During the filming, made in the fall of 1964 on a World War II cargo ship and directed by Bernhard Wicki, Brando developed no interest in the film, which was a pure adventure story, nor in the character of Robert Crain, playing the role so flat that his performance was later scathingly reviewed. The film, released in August 1965, was praised by critics only for Conrad L. Hall”s camerawork.

In April 1964, Brando signed a contract for a role in a film by producer Sam Spiegel for the second time. In A Man Being Hunted, he was to play the young sheriff of a small Texas town who tries to protect an escaped inmate from the lynch law of the bigoted inhabitants. Because of the political dimension of the plot, Brando had a strong personal interest in the film project, and even beyond that, the conditions for producing an interesting film were actually favorable: in addition to Brando, such unconventional young talents as Jane Fonda, Robert Redford and Angie Dickinson appeared in A Man Is Hunted; in addition, director Arthur Penn was known for the fact that his films had little to do with the mainstream.

During filming, which took place in the spring and summer of 1965, Penn treated his actors with great respect, and Brando provided him with many interesting ideas in return. Despite the great commitment of all involved, however, the film was considered a partial failure; above all, it proved dramaturgically difficult to combine the criticism of the hypocrisy of the small-town bourgeois with the action elements of the film into a consistent overall concept. The film lost further coherence when Spiegel had it hastily cut without consulting the rest of the team. Brando was very unhappy with the finished film, which premiered in February 1966.

The third film Brando had to star in as part of his contract with Universal was Southwest to Sonora (original title: The Appaloosa), a western in which Brando was to play a white settler chasing a Mexican bandit who stole his horse. The script was immature and Brando accepted the role only because he needed the salary. Filming, which took place in August 1965 in St. George, Utah and Wrightsville, California, was strained by tensions between Brando and director Sidney J. Furie. After the premiere in September 1966, both received poor reviews. Brando was accused of delivering a caricature of a rough loner in the character of Matt Fletcher, thus crossing the artistically delicate line into self-parody. In her essay Marlon Brando: An American Hero, Pauline Kael complained that Brando had degenerated from a rebel into an eccentric out of disappointment over the course of his career and the lack of artistic challenges.

In the Universal comedy The Countess of Hong Kong, Brando was to play an American ambassador in whose ship”s cabin a Russian countess fleeing forced prostitution seeks refuge as a stowaway. Brando was initially excited about the film project because one of his greatest idols – Charlie Chaplin – was to direct it. However, during filming at London”s Pinewood Studios, which began in January 1966, tensions arose between Brando and his partner Sophia Loren. Even more consequential were conflicts that also arose between Brando and Chaplin.

While Brando needed a lot of room for improvisation in front of the camera, Chaplin was a meticulously planning choreographer who gave his actors very precise instructions. Brando was extremely loathe to imitate what he was given. Since the 76-year-old Chaplin was such a venerable institution, Brando complied but delivered a leaden and lifeless interpretation of his role, which critics resented greatly after the American theatrical premiere in March 1967. The Countess of Hong Kong is considered one of Brando”s worst films and was also the swan song of Chaplin”s career.

In the early 1960s, Warner Bros. had begun planning for the adaptation of Carson McCullers” novel of the same name. At first, preparations were repeatedly postponed. One of the reasons was the explosive subject of the film: Alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Brando was to play in it the role of an American officer who wrestles with his repressed homosexuality and kills his wife”s sexually ambivalent admirer at the height of the conflict. Mirror Image in the Golden Eye was to become the first film in Hollywood history to deal explicitly with the subject of homosexuality. Fearing that his already tarnished image would be further damaged, Brando was initially reluctant to accept the role. However, he then realized that portraying this extremely complex character gave him the opportunity to revive his talent, which had been untapped for years.

During filming, which began in Rome in the fall of 1966, it turned out to be a stroke of luck that John Huston was directing: a man who was used to giving his actors as much freedom as possible in front of the camera. Brando was completely absorbed in the role and worked out the complexity of the character – Penderton”s repressed sexuality, his smoldering anger and latent violence – with precision. Upon its release in October 1967, the film was received coolly by audiences and critics, but Huston considered the ambitious work one of his best.

The next film Brando starred in, the bizarre sex farce Candy, was not a worthless project from the start. Terry Southern, who wrote the novel, had previously co-written the screenplay for Kubrick”s award-winning film Dr. Strangelove and How I Learned to Love the Bomb, among others, and screenwriter Buck Henry had recommended himself through his involvement in the film The Graduate. The production team wanted the lowbrow film to be fun, imaginative, and contain subversive moments.

The script included a number of cameo appearances by famous stars, including James Coburn, Walter Matthau, John Huston, Charles Aznavour, Richard Burton and Brando, who played the role of a sex-addicted Indian guru. During the filming, which took place in the winter of 1967

The low-budget thriller The Night of the Following Day was the fifth and last film Brando had to star in to fulfill his obligation to Universal. Wearing a blond wig and a black T-shirt, he played the kidnapper of a young heiress who is morally purged at the last moment and saves the victim from his accomplices (portrayed by Richard Boone and Rita Moreno).

Filming took place in Brittany in the fall of 1967 and suffered from the inexperience of the screenwriter and director, Hubert Cornfield, who had no viable directorial concept and, under pressure from Brando, was eventually fired and replaced by Boone. After its U.S. premiere in January 1969, The Night the Following Day was panned by critics for its weak acting performances, and Brando managed to so downgrade his reputation with this film that now none of the major film studios in Hollywood wanted to employ him anymore.

In 1968, Alberto Grimaldi, who would emerge shortly thereafter as the producer of major films by Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, offered Brando the lead role in the Italian-French co-production Queimada. Grimaldi envisioned Brando for the role of Sir William Walker, an envoy for the British government who is tasked with inciting a slave revolt on a fictional Caribbean sugar cane island in the 19th century in order to oust the Portuguese colonial power in favor of the British. Since the explicit political message of the script suited Brando very well, and the director, Gillo Pontecorvo, was an experienced expert in political films, the project should have been well under way.

However, the shooting, which began in November 1968 in Colombia, suffered from a whole series of plagues and problems. The work of the filming crew was hampered by insects, heat, spoiled food and diarrhea, plus a constant threat of raids by armed robbers. Pontecorvo proved to be a tight director who stuck closely to the script, which was incompatible with Brando”s working style and spoiled his enjoyment of the film. Brando finally stopped work, went home, and demanded that work continue on another, more tolerable location. In July 1969, the shooting team moved to Morocco, where Queimada could be finished shooting after Brando”s return.

The delays and the change of location caused high costs, however, and Grimaldi later sued Brando for 700,000 dollars in damages. After the premiere, which took place in Italy at the end of 1969 and in the U.S. in October 1970, the press criticized the hero Brando portrayed in the film as too conventional. Nevertheless, Brando found Queimada wonderful and praised it as his best film to date.

In the British low-budget film The Hole in the Door, a psychological thriller whose plot is set in 1900 on a lonely English country estate, Brando participated because he needed money and had no other choice. In it Brando played the role of a four-legged gardener who maintains a sado-masochistic relationship with the beautiful governess (Stephanie Beacham) and with this unpleasant example sows the seeds of evil in the two orphans growing up in the house, which eventually leads to a double murder.

The shooting took place at the beginning of 1971 near Cambridge, England. Since the script was second-rate and director Michael Winner was devoid of artistic ambition, Brando developed no interest in his role and played it without commitment, but behaved in an exemplary cooperative manner during the shooting – quite contrary to his usual habit – since Paramount had chosen him with great skepticism in the meantime for the film The Godfather and Brando knew that his behavior during the shooting for The Hole in the Door was being watched quite closely.

The Godfather (1971-1972)

In early 1969, Mario Puzo published his Mafia novel The Godfather. In September 1969, Paramount decided to make a film version of the bestseller and commissioned Puzo to write the screenplay. Since a Mafia film released shortly before – Assassination with Kirk Douglas – had flopped, Paramount initially intended to make only a low-budget film and chose as director the young and until then hardly known Francis Ford Coppola, who was recommended for the project not least because he had Italian ancestors and promised a sense for the special color of the film. In the course of the production preparations, however, Coppola proved to be a man with assertiveness and an independent directorial concept, who, among other things, pushed through a fundamental reworking of the screenplay. Puzo had already suggested to Brando at the end of 1969 that he play the role of Mafia boss Don Vito Corleone, but Brando initially doubted whether he could convincingly portray a 65-year-old man. Coppola also wanted Brando and finally prevailed with his decision in February 1970 against Paramount”s resistance.

Shooting of The Godfather, which Coppola wanted to take place in New York and the surrounding area, began in March 1971. Since it was Coppola”s idiosyncrasy to readily take up suggestions made by his actors during the shoot, the collaboration between Brando and Coppola was trusting and fruitful. The director and his leading man also agreed that The Godfather was not primarily a Mafia film, but was about American capitalism, which allows organized crime because it benefits itself. The role of the Mafia godfather suited Brando exceptionally well; the themes of power and control had preoccupied him all his life, and the basic idea for the characterization of Don Vito, which he followed from then on like a red thread, came to Brando while listening to voice recordings of the (real) gangster Frank Costello, who had a surprisingly high voice. Brando and Coppola understood that really powerful people don”t need to be loud, and Brando played the Don in a high, fine, asthmatic voice. Brando”s Godfather was a multi-layered character: a mercilessly murdering monster, a man of middle-class values, a loving grandfather, a mortal old man in a hard shell of power and control. The problem of aging the 46-year-old Brando by twenty years for the camera was helped by makeup artist Dick Smith, who had shortly before made up 32-year-old Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year-old old man for the film Little Big Man.

Brando”s contract with Paramount provided for a profit share in addition to a $50,000 fixed fee, which Brando renegotiated when he was in acute need of money in the summer of 1971 and exchanged for a one-time payment of $100,000. This decision later proved unfortunate, for after the film”s premiere on March 15, 1972, the response from audiences and critics was overwhelming, and within the first 26 days alone The Godfather, which had cost $6.2 million to produce, grossed $26 million.

Brando did not accept the Oscar he was to receive for his portrayal of “The Godfather” on March 27, 1973. Instead, the Native American and actress Sacheen Littlefeather, whom he had sent to the Oscar ceremony as a spokesperson, explained that Brando wanted to use this gesture to draw attention to the suppressed civil rights of the Indians and especially to the protests that had been taking place in Wounded Knee since the end of February.

The Last Tango in Paris (1972)

In 1972, for acute financial reasons, Brando agreed to participate in a Paramount production to be called Child”s Play, about two teachers (Marlon Brando and James Mason) of an exclusive Catholic boarding school whose rivalry leads to dramatic events. During filming, which began in New York in the fall of 1972 and was directed by Sidney Lumet, Brando demanded that the script be rewritten and that filming be done in a different location, whereupon producer David Merrick summarily fired Brando and replaced him with actor Robert Preston.

During 1971, Luigi Luraschi, head of Paramount in Rome, and 31-year-old director Bernardo Bertolucci developed the concept for the Italian-French film that later became famous under the title The Last Tango in Paris. The screenplay was written to Marlon Brando”s liking, but Brando signed the contract only in November 1971 after negotiations with Alberto Grimaldi, who wanted to co-produce the film. Since the production of Queimada, Grimaldi had been claiming high damages from Brando, which he offered to drop if Brando took over the role.

The Last Tango in Paris tells the story of a disillusioned and desperately lonely man, filled with world-weariness, who, after the death of his wife, becomes obsessed with a beautiful student (Maria Schneider) with whom he has anonymous sex in an empty apartment, dominating and subjugating her. Although The Last Tango in Paris was later praised as a masterpiece of erotic cinema, Bertolucci was not concerned with eroticism, but with showing a man in sexual obsession, isolation, grief, pain and despair.

The ten-week shoot took place in Paris and began in February 1972. Bertolucci used the script only as a rough guide intended to put Brando in the right mood to draw from his own emotional reservoir in the spirit of method acting. Bertolucci gave Brando wide latitude to improvise-whole scenes of the film are improvised-in which the protagonist”s state of mind is explored in an almost clinical manner. As in the best of his earlier films, Brando gave the character of Paul an extreme complexity and a brokenness under which a deep existential dilemma became apparent. Paul used sex as a weapon to vent his subliminal seething rage and to exact revenge on social conventions; alongside this, however, he showed moments of tenderness and pain that contrasted disturbingly with his hatred of women. The Last Tango in Paris was a very intimate film, in which Brando revealed more of his personality than in any other film.

After its premiere, which took place on October 14, 1972 at the New York Film Festival, the film was enthusiastically acclaimed by critics. However, prompted by its sexual explicitness, a public controversy arose that the producers had not anticipated. For example, while film critic Pauline Kael judged The Last Tango in Paris to be “the most gripping erotic film ever made,” Italian authorities found the film obscene and filed suit against Grimaldi, Bertolucci, Brando, and Schneider, which was eventually dismissed by the court.

As a result, when the film was not released until early 1973, the audience”s expectations were greatly inflamed. Opinions then varied widely; many viewers and critics found the film pornographic; others, comparing it to real porn, found it boring. The Last Tango in Paris was particularly sharply condemned by feminist critics. However, the production costs of $1.4 million were offset by box-office receipts of $45 million; Marlon Brando earned at least $4 million from the film. Two of the most prestigious American critics” associations – the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle – awarded his acting performance with their top prize.

Late films (1975-2001)

After the tremendous success of The Godfather and The Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando could actually have chosen any role that interested him artistically. Instead, he began to limit himself to cameo appearances, some of which he paid extremely well for – something the critics resented very much. A considerable part of this income went into the coffers of the experts who advised Brando on the project planning on Tetiaroa (see below). The first film in this series was the Arthur Penn-directed western Duel on the Missouri, in which Brando was to play a brutal bounty hunter alongside Jack Nicholson.

During filming, which took place in Montana in the summer of 1975, it proved to be a problem that the script was still full of inconsistencies. Brando tried to make improvements to the script, but was finally so unnerved by the lack of control that director Penn exercised over the production that he began to cross-act on the set – as he had done in previous similar cases – playing the role of Clayton as an eccentric, speaking with an Irish accent and stealing the show from the other participants with little gags that actually had no relation to the film.

For his participation, Brando had agreed to a fixed fee of $1.25 million in addition to a share of the profits – an unusually high amount at the time. Duel on the Missouri, which premiered in May 1976, was an artistic and commercial failure, but is considered to be the film in which Brando showed a remnant of originality and brilliance for the last time.

In 1975, Francis Ford Coppola was preparing the film adaptation of Joseph Conrad”s novel Heart of Darkness, which was to be adapted with an authentic account from the Vietnam War written by U.S. officer Robert B. Rheault. Coppola was both producer and director and wanted to create his masterpiece with Apocalypse Now. In order to create an anti-war film out of the material, the originals had to be reworked and the accent shifted from Rheault (in the film: Kilgore, portrayed by Robert Duvall) to Kurtz: the character Coppola wanted to cast with Marlon Brando.

Kurtz was a colonel in the U.S. armed forces who, driven by perfectionism and an absolute will to act, breaks down at the helpless and uncoordinated military operation of the U.S. Army. His boundless hatred and frustration towards the general war situation and the leadership of the U.S. armed forces eventually even lead him to turn his back on his family and his military duties. In the jungles of Cambodia, he wages war according to his own laws with the help of deserters and the indigenous population, who worship him as a “deity” and obey every order, no matter how inhumane.

After much hesitation, Brando agreed to take the role in February 1976 for a fee of $3.5 million. When filming, which had begun in the Philippines in March 1976, unexpectedly dragged on, Coppola ran into financing difficulties and renegotiated with Brando. He settled for a fixed fee of one million dollars, but was now to receive a share of the profits. When Brando, who had not been needed on the set until then, arrived in the Philippines in October 1976, Coppola was dismayed by his physical appearance. Brando had already been struggling with his weight since the shooting of Heavy Boys – Light Girls, but by now he weighed more than 110 kg and was also in poor health.

While Brando was keen to conceal his corpulence in front of the camera, Coppola then suggested that, on the contrary, he use it to characterize the character and portray Kurtz as a sybarite. Eventually they agreed that Kurtz should be filmed as a six-foot-tall giant of almost mythical proportions. Even after this compromise, however, Brando and Coppola remained at odds over Kurtz”s character. While Brando wished to play Kurtz as a soldier who turns away from war after realizing his personal guilt in it, Coppola absolutely did not want to make a film on the theme of war guilt; he had in mind instead to characterize Kurtz as a down-and-out, hulking jungle hermit gone mad.

Work with Brando was completed in October 1976, but further shooting dragged on until May 1977. After an equally lengthy post-production, a workprint was available in May 1979, which could be shown at the Cannes International Film Festival, where it won the Palme d”Or – along with Volker Schlöndorff”s The Tin Drum. In August 1979, Apocalypse Now was also released in the U.S., with critics mostly having few words to say about Brando”s performance. However, the film recouped its high shooting costs of nearly $27 million (not including post-production) in a short time. Since Brando believed he had been deceived by Coppola about the amount of revenue, he instigated a lawsuit, which was decided in his favor in 1984.

In December 1976, Brando signed a contract with producer Alexander Salkind in which he agreed to star in the two comic book adaptations Superman and Superman II. The shooting of both films took place at the same time, and for Brando the only twelve days of work began in March 1977 at Shepperton Studios in London. In flowing robes and solemnly declamatory tone, he played the father of the title character (portrayed by Christopher Reeve), who comes from the planet Krypton. Brando had no artistic interests in the film and had only agreed to play the role for a fee of 3.7 million dollars (adjusted for inflation, this would be about 11 million dollars today). Salkind had also promised him a share of the profits.

After its theatrical release, which took place in December 1978, Superman grossed $64.4 million in the first 31 days alone. Critics praised the production, but objected to the high fee Brando had received for his mere 15-minute screen appearance. Brando, meanwhile, soon got the impression that Salkind was deceiving him about the real box-office receipts and filed a lawsuit, whereupon Salkind stopped using the scenes that had been shot with Brando for Superman II. It was not until 1982 that Salkind and Warner Bros. conceded Brando a share of the profits, estimated at 10 to 15 million dollars. The scenes with Brando not used in Superman II could only be seen in a video version released in 2006.

In the early summer of 1978, Brando offered Alex Haley to play a small role in the television series Roots – The Next Generations. The producer of the series then suggested giving Brando the small role of American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell, which Brando liked because this role cast him against his type. The shooting of episode 7, in which Brando participated, took place in December 1978. The season was broadcast in the United States from February 1979. In September 1979, Brando was awarded an Emmy for his small appearance.

Brando had already announced his participation in the MGM film The Formula in September 1977, but production was delayed and did not begin until December 1979. For a fee of three million dollars and a share of the profits, Brando played the role of an oil baron who tries to suppress an invention that would make oil superfluous. Alongside Oscar-winner George C. Scott and directed by John G. Avildsen, Brando played the fat, aging tycoon with a hearing aid that he actually used on the set to have his lines recited. Brando never liked to rehearse dialogue, and The Formula was the first film in at least a decade in which he did not use crib sheets. After its theatrical release in December 1980, the film was poorly received by audiences, and critics also found it bleak, confusing, and boring.

In the years from 1981 to 1983, Brando turned down several film roles despite considerable offers of pay; among others, he had been supposed to portray Pablo Picasso, Al Capone and Karl Marx. In 1982, together with director Donald Cammell, Brando made plans for an adventure film set in Polynesia, Fan Tan, from which, however, he withdrew before the project could be realized. During the same period, he gave acting lessons – for the only time in his career; his student was pop singer Michael Jackson, who greatly admired Brando and gave him a small role in his 2001 music video You Rock My World. Just like Fan Tan, three other film ideas Brando was working on between 1984 and 1988 (Jericho, Sand Creek Massacre, The Last King) were eventually abandoned.

In early 1988, Brando signed his first film contract after an eight-year break from filming. In the apartheid drama White Time of Drought, produced by Paula Weinstein, he played the role of a South African lawyer fighting on the side of opponents of racial segregation, alongside Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman and Susan Sarandon. Filming, which took place in London, was directed by Euzhan Palcy, who became known as Hollywood”s first woman director of color. Since little money was available for the committed film, Brando was willing to participate for a fee of only $4,000, which, moreover, he planned to donate to an anti-apartheid organization. White Time of Drought was released on September 22, 1989 and earned Marlon Brando an award (at the Tokyo International Film Festival) and an Oscar nomination for the last time in his career.

In late August 1989, Brando signed with TriStar for a role in Andrew Bergman”s film comedy Freshman. In this film, Brando was to portray a shady New York businessman who “adopts” an unsuspecting student (Matthew Broderick) and introduces him to the world of professional crime. Having made almost only cameo appearances since 1975, the role of mobster Sabatini was bigger in scale and was intended to give Brando a comeback.

However, during filming, which took place in New York and in Toronto and began in June 1990, Brando and the film”s producers clashed, and the quality of the film ultimately suffered. After the release of Freshman in July 1990, the critics – who obviously wanted to encourage Brando”s comeback – praised the lightness and playfulness with which Brando had parodied the character of the “Godfather”, but at the box office Freshman was less successful than hoped.

When his son Christian was on trial for murder in 1990 and his daughter Cheyenne fell seriously ill, Brando again needed a lot of money for lawyers, private detectives, bodyguards, plane tickets and doctors. When Alexander and Ilya Salkind offered him a cameo appearance in the Spanish-British-American adventure film Christopher Columbus – The Explorer in November 1991, he readily accepted. Filming with Brando took place in Madrid in January 1992. The director was John Glen. Georges Corraface, Tom Selleck, Rachel Ward and Catherine Zeta-Jones played the leading roles in this adventure film, which was slammed by critics as “monumentally boring” after its theatrical release in August 1992.

In February 1994, Brando signed contracts with New Line and with Coppola”s American Zoetrope for a role in Jeremy Leven”s romantic comedy Don Juan DeMarco. Alongside Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway, he was to play an aging psychiatrist whose last patient is a young man who thinks he is the famous seducer Don Juan. The clou of the story lies in the fact that it is not the doctor who “cures” the patient, but conversely the patient who revives the romance that has almost perished in the doctor”s life. Don Juan DeMarco was released in the U.S. in April 1995 and was well received by audiences. Less for Brando, the film was more a vehicle for Depp, who won the 1996 London Critics Circle Film Award for his performance.

Brando then appeared again for New Line in the film DNA – The Island of Dr. Moreau, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by H. G. Wells. Alongside David Thewlis and Val Kilmer, Brando played a scientist in this science fiction film whose attempts to combine human DNA with animal DNA produce unmanageable beasts. During filming, which was directed by John Frankenheimer in Australia and began in September 1995, Brando”s work was overshadowed by grief for his daughter Cheyenne, who committed suicide that spring. Reviews for the film, which was released in August 1996, were scathing.

In 1996 Brando appeared for the second time in a film with Johnny Depp, who this time not only collaborated on the screenplay but also directed it himself: The Brave. Brando played a rich white snuff film producer in this film produced by Jeremy Thomas, whose title means “The Brave”, who offers an Indian living in miserable conditions $50,000 if he will let himself be tortured and killed on camera; however, the allegorical film does not show the death of the Indian, but the last seven days of his life.

Already since the 1950s, Brando had repeatedly made plans for the production of a socially critical Indian film, which, however, had always failed; the film The Brave represents the late realization of this plan. Filming took place in September 1996 in Los Angeles and Ridgecrest, California, and Depp was the first director since Bertolucci with whom Brando enjoyed a harmonious and trusting collaboration.

The Brave premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 10, 1997, and was nominated for the Palme d”Or. However, the critics – especially the American ones – rejected the film, which caused Depp not to agree to marketing it in the US. To this day, The Brave is only available to American audiences as an import video.

In 1998, Brando was in front of the camera in the Canadian province of Québec for a film production of the small Filmline International, directed by the internationally little-known French-Canadian Yves Simoneau. Free Money (German meaning of the title: Kostenloses Geld) was a black film comedy about an unscrupulous prison warden (Brando) who forces two good-for-nothings into a marriage with his two daughters and pressures them into robbing a train to raise money for their escape. Although Brando was joined by such highly talented actors as Charlie Sheen, Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland, Free Money is considered one of his weakest films. Premiered in Singapore on December 3, 1998, the film was never released in the United States.

Brando took on his last film role in 2000. Like Free Money, The Score was also filmed in Québec. The film was directed by Frank Oz, who had become known in the 1970s as co-creator of The Muppet Show. The Score (the title means something like “coup” or “ding” in the German sense of “turning things”) was a heist movie about an aging master thief (Robert De Niro) who is persuaded by his former partner (Brando) to steal a precious ancient royal scepter. Much of the dialogue between Brando and De Niro, who had much in common as actors, was improvised. Edward Norton and Angela Bassett appeared in other roles.

When The Score premiered in July 2001, most critics were disappointed that the film didn”t quite live up to the promise of its high-profile cast. Reports made the rounds that Brando had refused to appear on the set while director Frank Oz was present.

Last plans and death

In the spring of 2004, Brando was in negotiation with Tunisian director Ridha Behi. Behi wanted to direct a feature film titled Brando and Brando, which would be about a young Tunisian chasing his American dream – embodied by Marlon Brando. Brando was to play himself in this film. However, Brando soon became unavailable, so Behi decided to rewrite the script and use it for a semi-documentary film that would be titled Citizen Brando. The film was to premiere in 2007, but this was postponed until 2010.

Marlon Brando, who had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis for some time, died of respiratory failure at UCLA Medical Center, a Los Angeles hospital, on July 1, 2004, at the age of 80. He was cremated four days later at an unknown location in Los Angeles surrounded by his closest relatives.

Under the supervision of Tarita Tumi Teriipaia, Maria Christina Ruiz, her sister Angela, and Brando”s children Miko, Teihotu, and Tuki, half of Brando”s ashes were scattered in the wind in Death Valley. Tarita took the other half and scattered them in a lagoon on Tetiaroa in 2005.

Private life

Marlon Brando was considered sexually very active and had countless short and long-term affairs with women (including, for example, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Joanne Woodward, Pier Angeli, France Nuyen, Ursula Andress, Katy Jurado) and, according to his own information, also with men. Brando maintained more lasting relationships with Stella Adler”s daughter Ellen and the actresses Rita Moreno and Jill Banner, among others. On October 11, 1957, he married actress Anna Kashfi, but she filed for divorce just one year later. For the custody of their son Christian, born in May 1958, Brando and Kashfi engaged in a legal battle that lasted until 1974.

On June 4, 1960, Brando married – unnoticed by the press – the Mexican-American actress Maria “Movita” Castenada, who filed for divorce in June 1967. During the marriage two children (Rebecca) were born, but their paternity is disputed. For 43 years, until his death, Brando was with Polynesian dancer Tarita Tumi Teriipaia and had two children with her, Teihotu and Cheyenne.Brando also had three children together (Ninna Priscilla, Myles Jonathan, Timothy Gahan) with his Guatemalan housekeeper Cristina Ruiz. For decades, Brando had close friendships with make-up artists Phil and Marie Rhodes, film producer George Englund, and actors Wally Cox and Christian Marquand.

The atoll of Tetiaroa, 42 km north of Tahiti, had been in Brando”s possession since 1967. He discovered its beauty at the end of 1960 during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty. Plans to establish a colony for artists and intellectuals, a lobster farm and a hotel complex on the archipelago were pursued by Brando at great financial expense, but proved unfeasible in the mid-1970s. Brando also devoted much time on Tetiaroa to his hobby, amateur radio. As Brando only learned in 1995, Tetiaroa was affected by the underground nuclear weapons tests that France had been conducting since 1966 in the area of Mururoa Atoll, 1225 km to the southeast.

The worst event for Marlon Brando was the manslaughter committed by his son Christian on the boyfriend of his pregnant daughter Cheyenne (Christian”s half-sister). The incident occurred in Brando”s Beverly Hills home on May 16, 1990. Cheyenne, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia a short time later, hanged herself in 1995. Christian died of pneumonia on January 26, 2008.

Civil Rights Movement

Marlon Brando”s political commitment was initially to the American civil rights movement. He repeatedly announced publicly that he would retire from the film business to devote himself entirely to this political work. In the summer of 1963, he and several other fellow actors – including Paul Newman and Burt Lancaster – organized the work of civil rights activists to support Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he led in Hollywood. His friend Harry Belafonte was a close associate of King. Brando used his celebrity to raise funds and promoted the goals of the civil rights movement at demonstrations. Among liberals, Hollywood was considered a stronghold of racism; Brando and his comrades-in-arms called for a comprehensive reform of the television and film business with the goal of giving blacks and members of other minorities in Hollywood equal opportunities for work and self-expression.

In early 1968, Brando also made contact with the Black Panther Party, whose program and militancy initially intrigued him. When, shortly after King”s assassination in April 1968, Panther member Bobby Hutton was shot dead by Oakland police, Brando gave a television interview in which he classified the incident as a politically motivated murder. The police then initiated a damage suit against Brando, which was dismissed by the highest court three years later. As the Panthers” political program became increasingly radical, however, Brando broke off contact with them just a few weeks after the interview, a move that went unnoticed by the public, which continued to associate his name with the Panthers. Brando instead professed King”s principle of nonviolence and, after the shooting of Robert Kennedy, joined, among others, a committee of Hollywood actors that advocated gun control.

Civil rights struggle of the Indians

Already during his involvement in the civil rights movement, Brando”s attention had also turned to the political struggle of the Indians, and he used his celebrity to raise funds and draw attention to some of their political actions. In March 1964, Brando participated in a protest – a fish-in – in Washington state, where Puyallup Indians demanded their fishing rights, guaranteed by treaty in the 19th century.

A protest action by the American Indian Movement (AIM), whose members occupied the village of Wounded Knee, located in the bitterly poor Pine Ridge Reservation, in February 1973, brought Brando worldwide attention when, referring to these events, he refused the Oscar he was to receive for the film The Godfather. Brando stayed away from the occupation itself, which did not end until May, but participated in the subsequent court proceedings as an observer, thereby providing high-profile support for the occupiers, including charismatic AIM spokesmen Dennis Banks and Russell Means.

Brando also repeatedly supported the work of the AIM with his own funds; in the hope of finding imitators, he also signed over part of his private land holdings to the American Indian Development Association in late 1974.

In late January 1975, Brando participated in the protest action of a group of Menominee Indians who had been occupying an Alexian monastery in Gresham, Wisconsin, since New Year”s Day. During this action, he came into conflict with the violent occupiers he had intended to support and became so disillusioned in his involvement that he gradually withdrew from AIM activities from 1976 onward. Brando made the headlines one last time in connection with the AIM when he supported activists Dennis Banks and Leonard Peltier, who were hunted by the FBI in the summer of 1975 after another shooting on the Pine Ridge Reservation and sought refuge in Brando”s home.

Countless actors have modeled themselves on Marlon Brando”s acting style, including Rod Steiger and Ben Gazzara. The actor who most ardently emulated Brando”s role model was James Dean. Brando was originally slated for his second film role (in … for they know not what they do) – and like the young Brando, Dean has impressed himself on audiences as a performer of brooding, rebellious, inarticulate young men. Richard Burton also studied Brando”s acting style very closely. At the beginning of his career, Paul Newman had to fight the stigma that he was just a copy of Marlon Brando. Jane Fonda, who met Brando during the filming of A Man Being Hunted, was deeply impressed by his combination of artistry and political commitment and felt that he was the archetype of an artist engagé.

Robert F. Smallwood published a play about Marlon Brando (Brando, Tennessee, & Me. A Play) in 2006. A poem about Brando entitled Omaha Light was written by Scott Wannberg. Brando is also mentioned in numerous pop and rock songs, such as It”s Hard to be a Saint in the City (Bruce Springsteen, 1973), Is This What You Wanted? (Leonard Cohen, 1974), China Girl (Iggy Pop, 1977 and David Bowie, 1983), Pocahontas (Neil Young, 1979), We Didn”t Start the Fire (Billy Joel, 1989), Vogue (Madonna, 1990), Gangster Moderne (MC Solaar, 1997), Eyeless (Slipknot, 2000), The Ballad of Michael Valentine (The Killers, 2004), Back to Tupelo (Mark Knopfler, 2004), Kings For A Day (Tak Matsumoto Group, 2004), Advertising Space (Robbie Williams, 2005), Amsterdam (Mando Diao, 2006), Rhododendrons (Bloc Party, 2007) and Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I (R. E.M., 2011). New Zealander Russell Crowe, who worked as a rock ”n” roll singer in his homeland before his film career in Hollywood, among other things, released a single during this period titled I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando (1980). Elton John released a song Goodbye Marlon Brando in 1988.

In the song Eyeless by Slipknot, the lyric line “You can”t see California without Marlon Brando”s eyes” is used in the chorus.


Marlon Brando is – along with Joanne Woodward, Jack Lemmon, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor – the most awarded US film actor of his generation.

There is a star dedicated to the actor on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 1777 Vine Street).

German dubbing voices

Among the actors who lent their voices to Marlon Brando in the German dubbed versions are:

Movies about Marlon Brando (selection)


“Er hatte nicht nur einen Standard der Schauspielerei geschaffen, sondern auch einen Stil, was bedauerlich war, da danach jeder wie Marlon Brando schauspielern wollte.” (Robert Lewis, Mitbegründer des Actors Studio, über Marlon Brando)

“Monty wusste die ganze Zeit, was er tat – nicht, dass er nicht voller Emotionen und Gefühle war, aber er ging intellektuell vor. Marlon handelte aus einer angeborenen emotionalen Kraft heraus. Es wurde nicht einstudiert, es passierte einfach.” (der Schauspieler Kevin McCarthy über Montgomery Clift und Marlon Brando)

“Er war von Natur aus brillant, aber es war alles verstreut, fast so, als hätte man ihm schon früh gesagt, dass er ein Nichts und wertlos sei. Doch seine Arbeit war so schön und so rein, dass es keine Erklärung dafür gab, woher sie kam. Er liebte die Schauspielerei immer noch nicht, er liebte das Theater nicht und er respektierte sein eigenes Talent nicht, aber seine Gabe war so groß, dass er sie nicht beschmutzen konnte. Er konnte zunehmen, er konnte sagen, es sei alles Scheiße, aber er konnte es nicht zerstören.” (die Schauspielerin Julie Harris über Marlon Brando)

“Brando”s Kowalski, when he brutally brushed aside the bourgeois extravagance of Blanche DuBois, produced in the process a small excess of brutality that was not purely violent humanity. Rather, there was something weepy mixed into the violent early on, and something sadistic mixed into the weepy. The motorcycle rocker Johnny is not only of indomitable pride but also full of self-pity; he is an outlaw who rejoices in the ugliness of the bourgeois society that makes him an outsider. Thus sadism and masochism work hand in hand: because he suffers, he is also allowed to dish out evil. It increases his feeling of being alive that he feels the baseness of the common man at his back. The character, fed from many sources, noble and dull, was in general probably the greatest innovation he introduced into Hollywood”s slick hero genre; it was by no means only the merely animal, bodily and instinctive that film critics later praised.”




Further literature


  1. Marlon Brando
  2. Marlon Brando
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