Michael Caine hit the nail right on the head when asked about his feelings on Brando’s protest at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 in support of the American Indians Movement (AIM). ‘I think if the man wants to make a gesture, I agree entirely with what he did. But I think he should have stood up and done it himself instead of sending some poor little Indian girl to take the ‘boos’. And if you’re going to make a humanitarian gesture, I think the man who makes $2 million playing the leader of the Mafia should at least give half of it to the Indians.’ Sending Sacheen Littlefeather (not her real name then) was indeed pretty spineless of Brando, yet not unexpected by those who knew him.
Brando lost a lot of friends on Larry King Live one evening as well, when he launched into a diatribe directed at the ever present Jewish influence in Hollywood. The ensuing uproar resulted in Rabbi Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and Museum of Tolerance meeting privately with the actor to discuss the outburst. The Rabbi soon announced to the press that, ‘Marlon Brando is not an anti-Semitic’. The actor had told him he was sorry, and had even shed a few tears of remorse during their meeting. Someone less trusting than the worthy Rabbi might effectively argue that it would be no great stretch for one of the century’s most accomplished screen actors to mumble an apology, accompanied by a tear or two for effect.
Then there was the night the Academy Award winning star guested alongside Zsa Zsa Gabor on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. Brando had been swigging straight vodka before and during the show, and was clearly smashed out of his skull when he leaned across Zsa Zsa and said to Carson: ‘Do you know what I want to do with that girl, Johnny? I want to fuck her!’ He then turned to the lady in question. ‘Zsa Zsa,’ he slurred’, ‘a man can only do one thing with you: throw you down and fuck you!’ Although the offending words were ‘bleeped’, viewers were left in no doubt about what was said. This time there was no convenient rabbi to apologize on Brando’s behalf, so he chose simply to pretend the whole thing never happened. Clearly, such oafish behaviour on national television was indicative of someone who felt society’s standards of decency did not apply to him.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Right from the moment he arrived in Hollywood Brando was treated as a superstar. Not only was he lauded by his contemporaries as the herald for a new style of ‘kitchen sink’ acting, unlike anything seen before, but he pretty much considered himself to be larger than life, God’s gift to the industry so to speak. He had said farewell to Broadway in 1949 and by 1951 his performance in A Streetcar Named Desire had turned him into an instant legend, something contemporaries say he readily accepted without so much as a shred of humility.
The title of the western drama, One-Eyed Jacks (1961), was his idea, thought up while he, director Stanley Kubrick, and others were playing cards. The jacks in profile appeared to be hiding one half of their intentions, he said, much like the protagonists in the movie. As if to prove his point, he then squeezed Kubrick out of the picture altogether, so that he could direct it himself. He also chose most of the cast. Kubrick had wanted Spencer Tracy for the role of Dad Longworth, Brando’s character’s nemesis, but the new director signed instead the more pedestrian Karl Malden for a massively over-priced fee of $400,000. Years later Malden would describe his luxurious West Los Angeles home as, ‘the house that Jacks built’. What did Brando care? It wasn’t his money.
The females in the film were also hand-picked by him. They included a former but aging lover, Katy Jurado, and a current, much younger one named Pina Pellicer (she plays Malden’s daughter in the film). At one stage it looked as if another of his former conquests, the beautiful but talentless France Nuyen of South Pacific fame, was to play the role that eventually went to Jurado. Kubrick was appalled. ‘She can’t act!’ he snapped. Brando merely shrugged. She was undeniably a stunner, he said, ‘and great in bed’. The lady opted not to renew their acquaintance. Throughout the shooting of the picture bi-sexual Pina was sleeping with Brando, but also seeing other women at the same time. An extremely timid and sensitive girl, she had already slashed her wrists once before, in an unsuccessful suicide attempt when she was 17. Brando was aware of her highly fragile nature, yet he bedded her for the duration of the shoot; then promptly ditched her. Three years later she took her own life. She was 29.
Pina Pellicer in One-Eyed Jacks
Once he took over the reins of One-Eyed Jacks there was no holding Brando back. His extravagances with studio money were at times idiotic. For example, he kept the crew idle for weeks on end (at a cost of $50,000 a day), waiting for waves that were more photogenic than those that rolled in the day before! His excesses were so blatant and pointless that he would never again be given unlimited control of a feature budget. The picture chewed up a staggering (for the time) $6 million as his ego ran riot. He couldn’t care less. After all, who ever said genius came cheap? The picture met with mixed reviews and lost money.
Brando’s first marriage was to actress Anna Kashfi in 1957, but it ended after two years, some say because he discovered she was not of Asian – Indian descent as she had led him to believe. She was really born in Wales, of Irish-Catholic extraction. Mexican actress Maria ‘Movita’ Castenada, billed as Movita for her role as Tehanni in the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, became the second Mrs Brando in 1960. She was just eighteen when she portrayed Midshipman Byam’s wife in 1935. By the time she met and wed Brando she was 43. The union lasted just two years.
Brando immediately took Tahitian beauty Tarita Teriipia as wife number three. She was a 21 year-old from Bora Bora who was discovered washing dishes at a resort in Papeete, Tahiti, and thrown into the role of Maimiti in the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. Although she signed a contract with MGM, Tarita never made another movie. Brando forbade her to. This was to be Brando’s final marriage and it lasted about ten years. All three of his wives were pregnant at the time of their weddings. Three of his many children born out of wedlock were to his maid Christina Maria Ruiz.
It is difficult to find anything really nice to say about this man, other than reiterating the opinion of many who say he was the finest actor ever to appear in movies. On the screen he certainly projected a kind of magnetism in his early films, but it faded rather quickly, and in the end he was little more than an over-rated, overweight, mumbling character actor, better than some and not as good as others. His Oscar-winning portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) was, in my opinion, workmanlike, but scarcely worthy of the multitude of accolades piled upon it.
He used cue-cards in many of his later movies because he could not be bothered learning lines. And he was greedy. After being paid far more for his cameo in Superman (1978) (pictured below) than was paid to Christopher Reeve in the title role, he later sued for a percentage of the picture’s profits as well. Whenever he was asked in his later years why he kept making movies, his mealy-mouthed reply was always that he was raising enough money to make the ‘definitive’ movie about Native Americans. Of course, he never made it. He never even started it.
In 1990 his son Christian killed the Tahitian fiancé of his half-sister Cheyenne. In an interview later with Paris Match, Cheyenne caused a sensation when she accused her father of sexually molesting her when she was a young girl. Brando’s response to this was to have her sent to French Polynesia to be treated for chronic depression. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, she attempted suicide with pills, which resulted in her losing custody of her little boy. In 1995, at the age of 25, Cheyenne hanged herself in her mother’s home. Neither her father nor her brother could find the time or the compassion to go to Tahiti for her funeral.
After Brando’s death in 2004, his ashes were scattered in Death Valley with those of his lifelong friend and lover, actor Wally Cox (pictured above), star of the 60’s TV series ‘The Adventures of Hiram Holliday’. Cox had died many years earlier in 1973 at the age of 48. Brando had kept his friend’s ashes hidden since then (appropriately enough) in his closet.