Marlon Brando is one of America’s most famous actors. With a career that spanned over 50 years, he’s regarded as one of the best actors as well as one of the most charismatic sex symbols ever known.
Brando was born on April 3, 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska. His early life was turbulent: his parents separated when he was 11, and his mother moved them to California for two years until they reconciled, settling in Illinois. Brando’s mother was an actress and an alcoholic while his father was a manufacturer of feeds and pesticides.
Brando was a rebel from the beginning. One day, he rode his motorcycle through Libertyville High School, and the school reacted by expelling him. At 16, he was sent to the Shattuck Military Academy. There, he found he had a talent for theater. However, during his last year, he was caught sneaking off campus twice, and the faculty voted to expel him. His fellow students supported him and he was eventually invited back the next year, but he declined. Instead, he headed to New York City to join his sisters.
He studied at the American Theatre Wing Professional School where he learned the Stanislavski system, a special acting approach. In New York, he was in various plays until 1947, when he starred in the play that made him famous: A Streetcar Named Desire. His acting techniques in that play gave rise to the model for method acting.
In 1950, Brando appeared in his first film The Men, and he prepared for his role by staying in a hospital bed for one month. From 1951 to 1954, he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for Tennessee William’s film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, Julius Caesar, and On The Waterfront, winning for his role as Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. From 1951 to 1953, Brando won the BAFTA award for three consecutive years. In 1953, he also starred in The Wild One, and the image of Brando on his motorcycle became iconic. The 60s were busy for him, he appeared in Mutiny on the Bounty, One-Eyed Jacks, The Chase, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Burn!
In 1972, he took the title role in The Godfather, a landmark film that solidified Brando’s reputation as one of the greatest actors ever. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor, but infamously turned it down. True to form, he sent a Native American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather to explain to the academy that he wouldn’t accept the award because he objected to the treatment of Native Americans on film. In 1973, Brando starred in Bernando Bertolucci’s steamy Last Tango in Paris, where his masterful performance earned another nomination for Best Actor Oscar.
His later career was rater uneven. He played Superman’s father in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. By 1980, Brando mostly retired from acting although he did take a supporting role in some movies. His last real movie was The Score, co-starring Robert De Niro.
On the other side of the camera, Brando was an avid humanitarian. He fought for political causes like civil rights and Native American rights though he was known for being over-the-top whilst doing it. Captivated by Tahiti, he bought one of its islands.
Unsurprisingly, Brando married many times and had many affairs, even claiming he had a long-term affair with Marilyn Monroe. In 1957, he married actress Anna Kashfi and they had a son, Christopher, the very next year. Divorcing her in 1959, Brando married a Mexican actress name Movita Castaneda in 1960, but they divorced two years later. They had two children: Miko, born in 1961, and Rebecca, born in 1966. He then met a Tahitian woman, Tarita, and married her in 1962. They also had two children: Simon, born in 1963, and Taria, born in 1970. He had another son, Stefano, in 1967 by an unknown mother, and three children with his housekeeper Maria: Ninna, born in 1989, Myles, born in 1992, and Timothy, born in 1994. His adopted children were Petra, born in 1972, Maimiti, born in 1977, and Raiatua, born in 1982.
Brando also struggled with his weight. He passed away on July 1, 2004, aged 80, of respiratory failure caused by pulmonary fibrosis. When he died, he had congestive heart failure and liver cancer. He was going blind as a result of diabetes.
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