The Contender

"Look, you're going to be the arbiter of what is important . . . it's going to have a little shtick, a little charm, a little of Marlon's eccentricities, we're going to lift the lid here and pull the hem of the gown up there, then we're going to talk about Indians."

—Marlon Brando, explaining his distaste for the media to aPlayboy interviewer. A little shtick

Marlon Brando died last week. Not that you probably care much. Brando's glory days were long-passed. On a recent episode of Steve Jones' Jonesy's Jukebox radio show on Indie 103.1, the former Sex Pistol asked his audience to name Brando's first film; one poor dope called in and said Apocalypse Now. For most young people today, Brando is probably best known as the obese, rambling weirdo who kissed Larry King.

A little charm

In early pictures such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando revolutionized screen acting; he mumbled, he fidgeted, he seemed to be making up his dialogue on the spot. He was real—in a way actors had never been before and have been trying to be ever since. Whether he was breaking your heart in pictures like On the Waterfront or turning your stomach with freak-show performances like in The Island of Doctor Moreau, Brando's characters were always distinctive, intense and alive.

A little of Marlon's eccentricities

The young Brando would sometimes liven up the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of I Remember Mama by picking his nose onstage. He kept a pet raccoon in a cramped New York apartment. Once he became famous, Brando's on-set pranks and tantrums became legendary; after a feud with director Frank Oz while filming The Score, a sulky Brando returned to the set without pants so he could only be filmed from the waist up. Michael Jackson called Brando "a very close and trusted friend." Did we mention Brando kissed Larry King?

Lifting the lid

Brando had complete contempt for the craft of acting. On more than one production, he was fed his lines via a radio transmitter in his ear. For one scene during his $4 million, 10-minute performance in 1978's Superman, he read his lines off baby Kal-El's diaper.

Pulling up the hem of the gown

In 1966, Brando was so wealthy he bought his own island. But a few days before he died of lung failure, news went out that he was $20 million in debt, having spent his fortune defending his son in a murder trial. Moviedom's greatest actor allegedly spent his final days in a one-bedroom bungalow, living on government benefits.

We're going to talk about Indians

Brando did everything he could think of to draw attention to the plight of Native Americans and other downtrodden people around the globe. His ceaseless activism got him arrested, shot at and ridiculed. He called acting a "paltry ambition" and would have much preferred to be remembered as a crusader for the common good than as a star. Sadly, his humanitarian efforts are already long-forgotten; but sit down tonight and watch a Brando performance, even a campy one where he reads his lines off a baby's diaper, and I guarantee you'll never forget it. The loss of an obese, rambling weirdo has left our world a less fascinating place.


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