Marlon Brando insisted that he had done nothing special. In his view acting was a trade like plumbing or baking. The only difference was that he played characters instead of unclogging drains or kneading loaves of bread. This was not false modesty; he believed what he said. But what he believed was untrue."
~Stefan Kanfer (opening passage from Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando)
Today would have been Marlon Brando's 88th birthday. I thought I'd mark the occasion with a little post and video link because, really, the man was an artist -- and my favourite actor. Ever.
I became a fan of his eight years ago -- in 2004, the year of his death. Months before he passed away I saw The Godfather for the first time. Up until that point, Brando had been little else to me other than some strange, reclusive actor that was super-famous once. Not only did I wind up absolutely loving the film but I was struck by how Brando had an almost unnatural ability to command the screen and steal every scene. A couple weeks later I watched A Streetcar Named Desire. Then The Wild One. Then On the Waterfront. Followed by Last Tango in Paris. I have since seen the majority of his films (with the exception of the couple of his more obscure, hard-to-track-down titles).
After reading Stefan Kanfer's biography in 2008, I realized that Brando was so much more interesting than even his craziest character incarnations. He used the Method when performing, well before it was mainstream. He was an activist at heart, battling racial segregation in America in the 1960s and providing a public voice for struggling First Nations actors. He remained loyal to family and friends who stuck by him through thick and thin, including maintaining long-term friendships with neighbours Jack Nicholson and Michael Jackson. He had plenty of Hollywood rivals, including an ongoing feud with Frank Sinatra. He had volatile relationships with women, marrying three times and fathering (at least) 10 children. He never abused drugs or alcohol, yet often fell prey to his weakness for food.
If you haven't read it already, I'd recommend Kanfer's biography or even Brando's own 1994 autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me, although I've only read snippets of it online because it's out of print.
So, happy birthday to my favourite actor. As film historian Molly Haskell once wrote, "there is only one Brando."
The famous hour-long 1994 Larry King interview.