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Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando

  • Julius Caesar (1953) August 11 (ET) - Reminder REMINDER
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Also Known As: Marlon Brando Jr. Died: July 1, 2004
Born: April 3, 1924 Cause of Death: lung condition
Birth Place: Omaha, Nebraska, USA Profession: Cast ... actor producer director elevator operator
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BIOGRAPHY

Widely regarded as the greatest actor of his generation, Marlon Brando crafted several of the most iconic characterizations in the history of cinema, a legacy that remained undiminished, despite the heartbreaking trajectory his personal life took in later years. One of Hollywood's earliest "method" actors, Brando leapt from the New York stage to film notoriety with his electrifying portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowalksi in director Elia Kazan's adaptation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). The roles that followed - in films such as "The Wild One" (1953) and "On the Waterfront" (1954) - were primeval displays of the human condition, never before seen quite that raw on film, that would go on to inspire future acting giants such as Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. While still in demand with the studios, Brando's success at the box office gradually began to decline, even as stories of his eccentricities and difficult on-set behavior grew to mythical proportions. Just as it seemed the actor would be relegated to the status of Hollywood has-been, Brando enjoyed an unprecedented career rebirth with his Oscar-winning portrayal of Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972). Then, in a one-two punch, he left audiences speechless with his animalistic and explicitly sexual performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" (1973). Increasingly, Brando's professional output became sporadic, remarkable mainly for his high-priced cameo as Jor-El in "Superman" (1978) and a truly bizarre turn as the mad Col. Kurtz in Coppola's wartime opus, "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Although the later decades of his life were remembered more for a series of personal tragedies and the degradation of his once impressive physique, nothing could overshadow the scope and artistic brilliance of the body of work Brando had committed to film in a career that spanned more than 50 years.

The youngest of three children, Marlon Brando, Jr. was born on April 3, 1924 in Omaha, NE to parents Marlon, Sr., a pesticide salesman who had changed his last name from Brandeaux, and Dorothy, a local actress. While Brando was still young, the family moved to Illinois - initially, to the town of Evanston, and later to Libertyville. It was a tumultuous time for the Brando clan, marked by Dorothy's alcoholism and her brief separation from Marlon, Sr. A precocious child from a young age, Brando - a poor student who had already been held back a year - was expelled from Libertyville High School after one particularly egregious prank. Enraged, his father sent him to his alma mater, Shattuck Military Academy in Minnesota, in the hopes that it would straighten the boy out. By most accounts, it did not. Although he excelled in the academy's drama program, the young Brando continued to clash with authority, a tendency that led to a near expulsion before he ultimately decided to drop out altogether. When his attempt to join the Army failed to pan out - a trick knee from a football injury rendered him 4-F status - the 19-year-old Brando chose to follow his sisters to New York City in 1943. He began studying at the Dramatic Workshop at the New School as well as with the Actors Studio. It was during this time that Brando worked with legendary acting coach Stella Adler and became indoctrinated in the acting method of the Stanislavski System - an approach that utilized emotions and physical action rather than more traditional stagecraft techniques.

Brando flourished under Adler's tutelage and within the year made his Broadway debut in the sentimental hit "I Remember Mama" (1944). He later co-starred opposite Katharine Cornell in "Candida" (1946) and briefly toured with Tallulah Bankhead in "The Eagle Has Two Heads" the same year. His breakthrough came with his searing portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947), directed by Elia Kazan for the stage. Although some - including co-star Jessica Tandy - took issue with the mumbled delivery of his dialogue, the role established a new order of acting intensity and made him a known quantity in the world of theatre. After making his television debut on an episode of "Actor's Studio" (CBS, 1948-1950) in 1949, Brando's first film was Fred Zinnemann's "The Men" (1950), in which he gave an against-type performance as an embittered, paraplegic war veteran struggling for dignity. Kazan's film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) followed, forever linking Brando to the image of the sexually voracious, brutish Kowalski, and making him one of the first "new generation" actors to achieve full-fledged stardom. His impassioned screaming of "Stella!" also became an iconic moment on film - remarkable for an actor just beginning his career. The role earned him the first of four consecutive Best Actor Academy Award nominations. He followed with a pair of impressive, individualistic performances as a Mexican revolutionary in "Viva Zapata!" (1952), and as Marc Anthony in Joseph L Mankiewicz's adaptation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" (1953).

Brando's status as a newly minted film star was confirmed with the release of "The Wild One" (1953), a motorcycle melodrama, which set the tone for future tales of youth rebellion and established the leather jacket as de rigueur for tough guys everywhere. With his simmering portrayal of anarchic gang leader Johnny Strabler, both the actor and character instantaneously became movie icons to a generation. Brando went on to earn a richly-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his multi-layered performance as a conflicted ex-prize fighter torn between his connection to a corrupt union official and pangs of guilt after witnessing a murder in Kazan's gritty masterpiece "On the Waterfront" (1954). For the second time in three years, Brando scored another iconic film moment with his backseat speech lamenting that he "could've been a contender " Enjoying unprecedented box-office and critical success, the young actor had, in less than five years, become one of the most influential performers in Hollywood. Never one to do the expected, he followed with a series of unconventional roles in his subsequent projects. He raged as the little conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte in the historical biopic "Desiree" (1954), tried his hand at musicals as a smarmy singing gambler in "Guys and Dolls" (1955), and played a Japanese interpreter in "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (1956). Other notable roles included a turn as a Korean War pilot in love with a Japanese entertainer in Joshua Logan's "Sayonara" (1957) - for which he received yet another Best Actor nomination - portrayed a sympathetic Nazi officer in "The Young Lions" (1958), and played an enigmatic drifter in the steamy melodrama "The Fugitive Kind" (1960).

By the dawn of the 1960s, Brando had gained a reputation as being not only exceptionally talented, but exceedingly difficult, especially when it came to working with directors. Initially slated as a project for director Stanley Kubrick, the revenge western "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961) became Brando's sole directorial effort after he and Kubrick parted ways because of creative differences. Tales of bad behavior abounded on the set of the remake of the nautical adventure "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962). In addition to claims that his antics caused the production to run over schedule and budget - as they had on "One Eyed Jacks" - Brando raised eyebrows with his insistence on giving his character of 1st Lt. Fletcher Christian a decidedly effete British accent. Working steadily, despite his eccentricities, he appeared as a U.S. diplomat in "The Ugly American" (1963), as a scheming gigolo in the comedy "Bedtime Story" (1964), and as a sheriff charged with capturing escaped convict Robert Redford in "The Chase" (1966). Having accumulated tremendous wealth by this time, Brando, who had fallen in love with the island nation of Tahiti while filming "Bounty," purchased the island of Tetiaroa in 1967. He would later open a hotel on the island with his third wife, Tarita Teriipia - his love interest in "Bounty" - which they would operate for nearly 25 years. Despite complex performances as a repressed gay military officer in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967) and as a 19th Century mercenary in "Burn!" (1969), Brando's films increasingly met with indifference from audiences. By the end of the decade the former box office titan had been reduced to a marginalized presence on the cinematic landscape.

It was not until Francis Ford Coppola cast Brando - in the face of fierce studio resistance - in the title role of "The Godfather" (1972) that he regained his once vaunted stature. His inventive and nuanced turn as the aging mafia boss Don Corleone set the tone for the entire film, received nearly universal critical praise, and earned him a second Oscar for Best Actor. Ever the eccentric, Brando became only the second actor to refuse to personally accept an Academy Award - George C. Scott had been the first - when he sent purported Native American Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, who then read from a prepared statement by the actor decrying America's ill-treatment of its native population. It was later revealed that Miss "Littlefeather" was in fact an actress named Maria Cruz. He followed with a riveting method performance as a self-destructive American in Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial "Last Tango in Paris" (1972). The sexually-charged film earned an X-rating at the time of its release due to its raw depictions of eroticism, and garnered Brando his seventh Best Actor nomination for his uncompromising portrayal. After a four-year hiatus, he next appeared in Arthur Penn's Western deconstruction "The Missouri Breaks" (1976), opposite Jack Nicholson. As Brando's follow-up to "Godfather" and "Last Tango," the unconventional film was perhaps a victim of unreasonably high expectation when it failed at the box-office. In his later years, the actor stated that many of the films that followed were merely jobs he accepted for the financial compensation. His brief cameo - for which he commanded the staggering sum of $3.7 million - as Jor-El, the father of "Superman" (1978) in Richard Donner's superhero spectacular bore the claim out.

Brando made a rare television appearance with an Emmy-winning cameo as American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell in "Roots: The Next Generation" (ABC, 1979), before returning to theaters in one of the last truly memorable performances of his illustrious career. As Col. Kurtz, the dark heart of Coppola's hallucinogenic war drama "Apocalypse Now" (1979), Brando was simultaneously terrifying, riveting, and utterly insane. At the height of his professional eccentricity, the actor engaged in a legendary game of cat-and-mouse with his frantic director when he arrived weeks late for filming, grossly overweight, and having personally rewritten his scenes. In spite of this, Brando went on to deliver one of the most compelling and avant-garde performances of his career. Although it met with mixed reviews upon initial release, over the passage of time the film would be regarded as one of the most important films about the Vietnam War ever made. Brando went on to team with fellow Oscar snubber George C. Scott for the turgid corporate thriller "The Formula" (1980), before taking a break from film for several years. Upon his return, Brando earned a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his engaging performance as a crusty South African civil rights lawyer in Euzhan Palcy's "A Dry White Season" (1989).

The next decade began with tragedy for Brando and his family. In May of 1990 after an alcohol-fueled altercation, his eldest son, Christian, shot and killed Dag Drollet, the Tahitian boyfriend of his half-sister, Cheyenne. Following a trial that saw a tearful Brando admitting to having failed as a father, Christian pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and spent the next five years in a California state prison. Juxtaposed against the calamity of his personal life, Brando impressed critics and audiences with his comic send-up of Don Corleone in the lightweight romp "The Freshman" (1990) alongside a youthful Matthew Broderick. He kept a low-profile for much of the duration of his son's incarceration, but reappeared as a complacent psychiatrist in the romantic comedy "Don Juan DeMarco" (1995), opposite Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp; with the latter playing a delusional young man who claims to be the legendary lover. With Christian's release from prison only a year away, reverberations from the horrific events of the past continued when Cheyenne, still despondent over the death of Drollet and diagnosed with schizophrenia, hung herself at her mother's home in Tahiti in 1995. Still reeling from his daughter's suicide, Brando's experience on the set of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996) was, understandably, not a happy one. Compounding the problems were the reprehensible behavior of co-star Val Kilmer, last minute changes in the cast and crew, and constant delays due to a script that was being rewritten in the midst of filming. Not surprisingly, the completed film was met with disastrous reviews, bombed at the box-office, and earned the revered thespian a "Razzie" Award for Worst Supporting Actor.

Brando's last original screen outing was in the routine heist thriller "The Score" (2001), as a past-his-prime "fence" opposite acting heavyweights of subsequent generations Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. Having been morbidly obese since the 1990s, Brando's health continued to deteriorate due to a host of infirmities, including diabetes, liver disease, and congestive heart failure. On July 1, 2004 he died in Los Angeles from respiratory failure brought on by pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 80. However, the world would be given one last performance by the actor when footage shot during Richard Donner's "Superman" films - some never before seen - was utilized for an appearance of Brando as Jor-El in director Bryan Singer's relaunch "Superman Returns" (2006). Another project which Brando had been collaborating on up until a week before his death, "Citizen Brando" - originally titled "Brando and Brando" - was completed in 2006 as a homage to the late actor.

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