An enigmatic genius whose creative work transformed an entire art form, Marlon Brando continues to inspire new generations of actors. Yet despite the tremendous emotional depth Brando reveals in his performances, he has kept his personal life a closely guarded secret.
Born April 3, 1924, Brando's nickname was "Bud." His mother, Dorothy, was active in Nebraska theater, and was the woman who got Henry Fonda to try his luck at the thespian life. Brando's home life was unhappy. His father was an alcoholic and an adulterer, and his mother turned to the bottle herself in response. Though young Marlon felt abandoned by Dorothy, she did manage to instill in him a love of music, nature, and the theater.
The rebellious young Brando was sent to, and soon expelled from, the Shattuck Military Academy. He traveled to New York City, and despite his initial lack of interest in acting, the theater soon proved to be his calling. When he enrolled in the New School's Dramatic Workshop, his famed teacher Stella Adler introduced him to Stanislavsky's "Method", an approach that values emotional honesty and verisimilitude in performance above traditional stagecraft. At the Actors Studio, Method mentor Lee Strasberg also nurtured Brando's monumental talent, preparing the powerhouse actor for his breakthrough role as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (playing some performances with a broken nose after sparring with understudy Jack Palance). Hollywood was impressed, and soon Brando, together with most of the original cast, re-created his role in the film version of Streetcar (1951) to wide acclaim.
From his star turn in "Streetcar", Brando went on to The Wild One in 1954, earning his first Oscar® nomination and counterculture celebrity. Brando's explosive emotional intensity was stifled by the big screen, and he was displeased with his Oscar®-winning portrayal of Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan's On The Waterfront (1954), even though it sealed his reputation as an American icon. Says Brando of his famous "I could've been a contender" scene: "People spoke about that, 'Oh, my God, what a wonderful scene, Marlon, blah blah blah blah.' It wasn't wonderful. Everybody feels a sense of loss about something. That was what touched people. It wasn't the scene itself. There are some scenes, some parts that are actor-proof." During On The Waterfront, Brando made forays into improvisation, a technique he embraced for the rest of his career.
During the 1960's, Brando's career slowed down as his political activity revved up. He spent time with Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers while researching Burn! (1969) and took up the Native American cause. In rejecting his Oscar® for The Godfather (1972), Brando cited Hollywood's indifference to the plight of Native Americans as his reason for not accepting the Oscar®, which he called "a door prize." Brando describes his controversial role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris (1973) as "the first time I have felt a total violation of my innermost soul," and after his tortured performance in this masterpiece he distanced himself from his art. Since then, he has primarily appeared in character and cameo roles, notably in Apocalypse Now (1979), The Freshman (1990), and Don Juan DeMarco (1995). After penning his autobiography, "Songs My Mother Taught Me," Brando appeared in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), The Brave (1997), Free Money (1998), and The Score (2001), which teamed him with fellow Method actors Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.
Marlon Brando died on July 2nd, 2004. No cause of death has been announced yet.