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Who is Marlon Brando?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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No other actor since Marlon Brando has had such an influence on the world of acting, or on succeeding generations of actors. He is seen by some as the greatest actor of all time. Although in later life he professed contempt toward acting, Brando would continue to act in films until his death. Marlon Brando was born in 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska. A troubled child with an alcoholic, bullying father, his acting skills emerged early to combat loneliness.

Brando attended Shattuck military academy, as did his father. He was eventually kicked out for bad behavior. His biggest prank was to steal the academy bell from the bell tower and bury it. In 1943, Brando arrived in New York and enrolled in Erwin Piscaror's Dramatic Workshop. He was mentored by Stella Adler, who taught him the Stanislavsky method of acting.

Marlon Brando's big break came with the Broadway play, A Streecar Named Desire. Brando won rave reviews as the brutish Stanley Kowalski and reprised the role again in Elia Kazan's film version. Brando was praised for his realistic and natural acting. He would set the benchmark for every American actor who followed. Streetcar would give Marlon Brando the first of his eight Academy Award nominations.

Many films followed, including On the Waterfront in 1954, which some claim was his finest acting performance. The film gained him the Best Actor Academy Award. Although most people agree he revolutionized acting, Brando had his fair share of turkeys and flops. For years in his career, he was virtually unemployable. The Godfather, in 1972, was hailed as his comeback, but true to Brandos rebellious form, he declined the Oscar he won for the role.

By 1978, Marlon Brando was paid 3.7 million US dollars for what amounted to only 20 minutes of screen time in Superman. Brando's weight was becoming a problem for directors. Overeating had caused his weight to balloon. In Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola shot Brando in shadows to disguise the weight he had gained.

In his personal life, Marlon Brando would face, but not always overcome, many problems. His eldest son Christian was imprisoned for 10 years for the murder of his half-sister Cheyenne's boyfriend. Cheyenne then committed suicide at only 25. Brando was naturally devastated by these events and became a virtual recluse. He stayed either at his private Polynesian atoll, known as Tetiaroa, or in his Hollywood mansion.

For most of his life, Marlon Brando didn't consider acting a serious profession. He claimed it was just a way to meet girls. He was more passionate about his political endeavors. He was heavily involved in the civil rights marches of the 60s and the rights of the Native American Indians.

Marlon Brando was a one off, a true rebel and outsider. When he died of heart failure in 2004, at the age of 80, television and newspapers were filled with tributes for weeks. Along with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, he is a true icon of movie history.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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