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Marlon Brando


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[edit] Early work

Brando used his Stanislavski System skills for his first summer-stock roles in Sayville, New York on Long Island. His behavior got him kicked out of the cast of the New School's production in Sayville, but he was discovered in a locally produced play there and then made it to Broadway in the bittersweet drama I Remember Mama in 1944. Critics voted him "Broadway's Most Promising Actor" for his role as an anguished veteran in Truckline Café, although the play was a commercial failure. In 1946 he appeared on Broadway as the young hero in the political drama A Flag Is Born, refusing to accept wages above the Actor's Equity rate because of his commitment to the cause of Israeli independence. [5] [6] Brando achieved stardom, however, as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan. Brando sought out that role, driving out to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Williams was spending the summer, to audition for the part. Williams recalled that he opened the screen door and knew, instantly, that he had his Stanley Kowalski. Brando's performance revolutionized acting technique and set the model for the American form of method acting. This approach to a role was never seen before and all similar roles mirror Brando's.

Afterward, Brando was asked to do a screen test for Warner Brothers studio for the film Rebel Without A Cause,[7] which James Dean was later cast in. The screen test appears as an extra in the 2006 DVD release of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Brando's first screen role was as the bitter paraplegic veteran in The Men in 1950. True to his method, Brando spent a month in bed at a veterans' hospital to prepare for the role.

[edit] Rising to the top

He made a strong impression in 1951 when he brought his performance as Stanley Kowalski to the screen in Kazan's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for that role, and again in each of the next three years for his roles in Viva Zapata! in 1952, Julius Caesar in 1953 as Mark Antony, and On the Waterfront in 1954. These first five films of his career established Brando as perhaps the premier acting talent in the world, as evidenced in his winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role three consecutive years, 1951 to 1953.

Brando as Emiliano Zapata in a trailer for the 1952 film Viva Zapata!

Brando as Emiliano Zapata in a trailer for the 1952 film Viva Zapata!

In 1953, he also starred in Lee Falk's play Arms and the Man. Falk was proud to tell people that Marlon Brando turned down an offer of $10,000 per week on Broadway, in favor of working on Falk's play in Boston. His Boston contract was less than $500 per week. It would be the last time he ever acted in a stage play.

Brando became a hero for the younger generation by playing motorcycle rebel Johnny Strabler in 1953's The Wild One. He created the rebel image for the rock-and-roll era[citation needed]. Brando's explosive screen presence exuded a raw sexuality that drew repeat ticket purchases among female theater goers of all ages. Theater managers related accounts of sold out weekday matiness where small children ran up and down the aisle making motorcycle noises while their mothers sat transfixed.

Director Nick Ray took the gang image from the movie The Wild One and brought it to his movie, Rebel Without A Cause, and thus emphasized Brando's effect on youth.

Aspects of the rebel culture that included motorcycles, leather jackets, jeans and the rebel image, which inspired generations of rebels, came thanks to that film and Brando's own unique image and character. The sales of motorcycle related paraphernalia, leather jackets, jeans, boots and t-shirts skyrocketed throughout the country.[8] The film had a similar effect on overseas audiences. Local authorities and religious figures lamented the effect it was having on the youth of their respective countries.

Under Kazan's direction, and with a talented ensemble around him, Brando won the Oscar for his role of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. For the famous I coulda' been a contender scene, Brando convinced Kazan that the scripted scene was unrealistic, and with Rod Steiger, improvised the final product.

Brando followed that triumph by a variety of roles in the 1950s that defied expectations: as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, where he managed to carry off a singing role; as Sakini, a Japanese interpreter for the U.S. Army in postwar Japan in The Teahouse of the August Moon; as an Air Force officer in Sayonara, and a Nazi officer in The Young Lions. Although he won an Oscar nomination for his acting in Sayonara, his acting had lost much of its energy and direction by the end of the 1950s.

In the 1960s Brando starred in films such as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962); One-Eyed Jacks (1961), a western that would be the only film Brando would ever direct; a star-studded but unsuccessful potboiler The Chase (1966), in which he played an uncorrupted Texas sheriff; Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), portraying a repressed gay army officer, and Burn! (1969), which Brando would later claim as his personal favorite, although it was a commercial failure. Nonetheless, his career had gone into almost complete eclipse by the end of the decade, some say[who?], thanks to his reputation as a difficult star and his record in overbudget or marginal movies.

However, in truth, his reputation as a "difficult star", no matter how justifiably earned, was not the real reason for the downslide in his career. The fact is, as noted progressive writer Dave Zirin points out, Hollywood created what became known as the "Brando Blacklist" that shut him out of many big time roles. The reason for that blacklist was his growing activism, and his financial and moral support of the Black Panthers, Native American Rights groups and other progressive causes. [9]

His performance as Vito Corleone in 1972's The Godfather was a mid-career turning point. Director Francis Ford Coppola convinced Brando to submit to a "make-up" test, in which Brando did his own makeup (he used cotton balls to simulate the puffed-cheek look). Coppola was electrified by Brando's characterization as the head of a crime family, but had to fight the studio in order to cast the temperamental Brando, whose reputation for difficult behavior and demands was the stuff of backlot legend. However, Paramount studio heads wanted to give the role to Danny Thomas in the hope that Thomas would have his own production company throw in its lot with Paramount. Thomas declined the role and actually urged the studio to cast Brando at the behest of Coppola and others who had witnessed the screen test.

Eventually, Charles Bludhorn, the president of Paramount parent Gulf + Western, was won over to letting Brando have the role; when he saw the screen test, he asked in amazement, "What are we watching? Who is this old guinea?"

Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, but turned it down, becoming the second actor to refuse a Best Actor award (the first being George C. Scott for Patton). Brando boycotted the award ceremony, sending Native American Rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather to state his reasons, which were based on his objections to the depiction of Native Americans by Hollywood and television.

The actor followed with one of his greatest performances in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1973 film, Last Tango in Paris, but the performance was overshadowed by an uproar over the erotic nature of the film. Despite the controversies which attended both the film and the man, the Academy once again nominated Brando for the Best Actor.

His career afterward was uneven. He was paid one million dollars a week to play the iconic Colonel Kurtz in 1979's Apocalypse Now. He was supposed to show up slim, fit, and to have read the book Heart of Darkness. He showed up weighing around 220 pounds and hadn't read Heart of Darkness. This is why his character was shot mostly in the shadows and most of his dialogue was improvised. After his week was over, director Francis Ford Coppola asked him to stay an extra hour so that he could shoot a close up of Brando saying, "The horror, the horror." Brando agreed for an extra $75,000. After this film his weight began to limit the roles he could play.

In his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me, Brando describes his participation in Apocalypse Now very differently. According to Brando, the script had deviated from the book and made Kurtz a much more visible character. To restore the character's mystery (and to cut down on the amount of work he'd be required to do), Brando suggested to Coppola that Kurtz be returned in the movie to the mythological figure he was in the book. Coppola agreed to allow Brando to rewrite the script, which he did over the course of ten days. Brando also shaved his head without telling Coppola, and worked with the crew to devise lighting techniques which would emphasize his bald pate and deep set eyes, to evoke a sense of palpable danger in the character. Coppola approved all of Brando's changes, which gave the film the focus and narrative continuity it had previously lacked.

[edit] Later career

Brando then portrayed Superman's father Jor-El in the 1978 Superman: The Movie. He agreed to the role only on assurance that he was paid a large sum for what amounted to a small part, that he did not have to read the script beforehand and his lines would be displayed somewhere off-camera. It was revealed in a documentary contained in the 2001 DVD release of Superman (film), that he was paid $3.7 million for just two weeks of work.

Brando also filmed scenes for the movie's sequel, Superman II, but after producers refused to pay him the same percentage he received for the first movie, he denied them permission to use the footage. However, after Brando's death the footage was re-incorporated into the 2006 re-cut of the film, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.

Two years after his death, he "reprised" the role of Jor-El in the 2006 "loose sequel" Superman Returns, in which both used and unused archive footage of Brando as Jor-El from the first two Superman films was remastered for a scene in the Fortress of Solitude, as well as Brando's voice-overs being used throughout the film.

Some later performances, such as The Island of Dr Moreau, earned him some of the most uncomplimentary reviews of his career. Despite announcing his retirement from acting in 1980, he subsequently gave interesting supporting performances in movies such as A Dry White Season (for which he was again nominated for an Oscar in 1989), The Freshman in 1990 and Don Juan DeMarco in 1995. In his last film, The Score (2001), he starred with fellow method actor Robert De Niro.

Brando conceived the idea of a novel called Fan-Tan with director Donald Cammell in 1979, which was not released until 2005.[10] Cammell dated and eventually married actor China Kong, the daughter of Anita Loo, with whom Brando had an affair.[11]

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