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Marlon Brando (1924 – 2004)


Marlon Brando

Brando was one of the key figures to introduce a new, more personal approach to acting in the fifties. Although he never considered himself a Method actor, he had studied with New York teacher Stella Adler, who taught him to create impressively realistic performances by dredging up evocative past memories. As the child of alcoholic parents, he had a lot of them. He started acting at an early age to pull his mother out of frequent drunken stupors. Following his actress sister, Jocelyn, to New York in 1943, he did impressive stage work in / Remember Mama and A Streetcar Named Desire before signing to make his film debut as a paraplegic veteran in The Men (1950). He won raves for his performance, but the film that clearly carved his niche on screen was A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), in which his animalistic Stanley Kowalski menaced Vivien Leigh’s faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois. Although his naturalistic delivery was often derided as mere mumbling and his casual dress led to jokes about the “torn T-shirt” school of acting, he demonstrated his versatility as Marc Antony in MGM’s all-star version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1953). The fifties were Brando’s golden years, capped by an Oscar win for On the Waterfront (1954). By the sixties, however, indulgent on-set behavior (particularly during the filming of 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty) and offscreen excesses led to complaints that he was squandering his talent. He bounced back when young director Francis Ford Coppola fought to cast him as mafioso Vito Coreleone in The Godfather (1972). Although the studio made him test for the role, Brando went after the character with his old enthusiasm, delivering an acclaimed performance that brought him his second Oscar. He alienated the Hollywood establishment by sending a representative to decline the award as a protest against Hollywood’s stereotyping of Native Americans, but the notoriety kept him at the top of box office polls. At the same time, Brando was rapidly losing interest in acting. After a highly autobiographical performance in Last Tango in Paris (1972) and a record- setting paycheck for a glorified cameo in Superman (1978), he gradually withdrew from performing. His few returns to the screen were news, but equally newsworthy were his battles with weight and family problems. At the time of his death, he had recorded the voice of Mrs. Sour, a candy- factory owner, for the animated feature Big Bug Man (2006).

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