Late Marlon Brando Remembered As a Genius
LOS ANGELES – The words are pretty simple: “Stella!” and “I coulda been a contender …” or even “The horror … the horror …” But these lines, when spoken by the late Marlon Brando, revolutionized the way actors behaved onscreen and ignited a generation of performers to unleash their inner passion before the cameras.
Brando, who died at age 80 on Thursday, revolutionized Hollywood’s image of a leading man playing street-tough, emotionally raw characters in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront” and then revived his career a generation later as the definitive Mafia don in “The Godfather.”
“I was shocked and deepy saddened at the loss of the greatest acting genius of our time. What will we do without Marlon in this world?” said his “Godfather” co-star Al Pacino, one of the generation of stars influenced by his work.
Al Martino, who got shaken around by Brando as the singer Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather,” said the actor was more than kind to him, especially since Martino lacked acting experience. But that didn’t mean he went easy on the crooner.
“The method actor in Brando almost brought me to my knees. He slaps me and I tell you, my teeth shattered,” Martino said.
Brando was the bridge between the heroic and upstanding screen purity of earlier stars such as Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda and a generation of conflicted anti-heroes played by the likes of Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman.
“He influenced more young actors of my generation than any actor,” longtime friend and “Godfather” co-star James Caan said Friday. “Anyone who denies this never understood what it was all about.”
The reclusive Brando died of lung failure at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at UCLA Medical Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Roxanne Moster.
“Marlon would hate the idea of people chiming in to give their comments about his death. All I’ll say is that it makes me sad he’s gone,” “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola said Friday.
Brando’s attorney, David J. Seeley, said funeral arrangements would be private.
For generations of movie lovers, Brando was unforgettable ó the embodiment of brutish Stanley Kowalski in 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” famously bellowing “STELLA!” at his estranged love with a mix of anguish and desire.
Then came his mixed-up, washed-up boxer Terry Malloy of 1954’s “On the Waterfront,” who laments throwing fights for his gangster brother with the line, “I coulda been a contender … I coulda been somebody …”
The key to Brando’s craft was Method acting, a practice learned at Stella Adler’s renowned Actors Studio in New York. The technique eschewed grandiose theatricality in favor of a deeper psychological approach, often through near-continuous rehearsal that led many actors to behave like their characters even when offstage.
Brando’s personally combative nature only increased as he grew older. It might best be defined by his line from 1953’s “The Wild One,” in which Brando, playing a motorcycle gang leader, was asked what he’s rebelling against.
“Whattaya got?” was his character’s reply.
While his early roles were marked by an overt, almost predatory, sexuality that made him a rebellious film icon, Brando let his good looks fade as he gained weight and became increasingly reclusive in later years.
He was pushy, difficult, temperamental and demanding ó and his preference for repeated takes came to be regarded as excessive and costly.
Even though the studios had written off the star in the early 1970s, he went on to create the iconic character of Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather,” which reinvigorated his career and earned him his second best-actor Oscar.
His first came years earlier for 1954’s “On the Waterfront,” and Brando showed up in a tuxedo and graciously accepted it.
But his stunt at the 1973 Oscar ceremony cemented his status as one of the movie industry’s most bizarre talents. Brando sent a woman who identified herself as Sasheen Littlefeather to reject his “Godfather” trophy on his behalf and read a diatribe about Hollywood’s poor treatment of American Indians.
It was roundly booed ó and torpedoed much of the comeback good will his performance had earned among studio honchos.
Regardless of his personal peculiarities, nothing could diminish Brando’s reputation as an actor of startling power and invention.
Brando’s private life was tumultuous. His three wives were all pregnant when they married him. He fathered at least nine children.
His family life turned tragic with his son’s conviction for killing the boyfriend of his half-sister, Cheyenne Brando, in 1990. Five years later, Cheyenne committed suicide, never having gotten over her depression and the killing.
The native of Omaha, Neb. moved around the country throughout his youth. He was constantly being reprimanded for misbehavior at school, and had a talent for playacting, both in elaborate pranks and in plays and recitations.
He took up the study of acting at 19 and appeared in numerous stage shows. His first film was director Stanley Kramer’s “The Men” in 1950. To research the story of paraplegic war veterans, he spent a month in a veterans hospital.
His impact on screen acting was demonstrated by Academy Award nominations as best actor in four successive years: as Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951); as the Mexican revolutionary in “Viva Zapata!” (1952); as Marc Anthony in “Julius Caesar” (1953); and as Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront” (1954). Besides his win for “The Godfather,” he also had Oscar nominations for “Sayonara” (1957), “Last Tango in Paris” (1973) and “A Dry White Season” (1989).
Although he remained a leading star, Brando’s career waned in the 1960s with a series of failures. Then came 1972’s “The Godfather,” which became an overwhelming critical and commercial success.
Brando’s jowly, raspy-voiced Corleone became a film icon, down to the subtlest mannerisms: the Mafia chief stroking a cat sweetly as he plotted violence, the contemplative brush of fingers against his bulldog jaw.
He maintained a working relationship with Coppola, who chose him for another memorable role, the insane Col. Kurtz in 1979’s “Apocalypse Now,” who uttered the line “The horror … the horror …’
Most of his later films were undistinguished. A hundred pounds heavier, he hired himself out at huge salaries for such commercial enterprises as “Superman” and “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery.”
But the ceaseless spotlight never made him conform.
“I am myself,” he once declared, “and if I have to hit my head against a brick wall to remain true to myself, I will do it.”
Late Marlon Brando Remembered As a Genius