Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Marlon Brando's talent for performing developed early, as a way to distract his alcoholic mother (an actress) from the bottle. His impressions and ability to stay in character impressed his friends and family, and after his sister went to study acting in New York, her younger brother followed. A devoted student of Stella Adler and the Stanislavsky system, Brando worked to fully embody his roles, both psychologically and physically. The erratic behavior encouraged by the system caused many to distance themselves from the young actor, but as he developed, Brando began to turn in some revelatory performances. In 1946, Brando starred in the Broadway production of "Truckline Café," which earned him the title of "Most Promising Young Actor" by the New York Drama Critics. The play was also his first professional collaboration with legendary director and producer Elia Kazan. The two collaborated again on Broadway, with Kazan directing and Brando starring in Tennessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1947. Brando's first screen appearance came in "The Men" (1950). The next year he reprised his role as Stanley Kowalski in the filmed version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) also directed by Elia Kazan. His performance was electric, earning Brando his first Academy Award nomination, and immediately vaulted him to the status of screen idol. Two years later he starred in the iconic motorcycle drama "The Wild One" (1953). He was nominated for another Academy Award for Best Actor in 1952 for his performance in "Viva Zapata" (1952), the next year for his performance as Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar" (1953). Brando and Kazan had another successful collaboration in "On the Waterfront" (1954). The film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards (with three actors from the film nominated for Best Supporting Actor), and won eight, including Brando for Best Actor. Brando took a swing at a musical when he starred with Jean Simmons in "Guys and Dolls" (1955). Although his singing was routinely panned, the film was a financial success. He directed "One Eyed Jacks" (1961), a western in which he also starred, taking over the reins from Stanley Kubrick at the behest of the studio. Through the 1960s Brando continued to star in films, but none lived up to the promise of his early career. In 1972, Brando put in yet another iconic performance as the title character in "The Godfather" (1972), directed by Francis Ford Coppola and frequently considered one of the best films of all time. The performance earned him another Academy Award for Best Actor, which he famously declined to accept in person, instead sending a Native American rights activist in his place. The next year, Brando gained high marks for his performance in the controversial "Last Tango in Paris" (1973), and earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Brando played a small supporting role in "Superman: The Movie" (1978), earning nearly $4 million, making him the highest paid actor of all time per minute of screen time up to that date. The next year, he reunited with Coppola and starred in "Apocalypse Now" (1979), a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and one of the most memorable filmed portrayals of the Vietnam War. Brando continued to act in films, but never regained his former luster, although he turned in a memorable comic performance in "The Freshman" (1990), playing a lighter version of his character from "The Godfather" to much acclaim. In failing health for a number of years, Brando died in 2004, heralded as one of America's most influential cultural icons of the 20th Century.