Marlon Brando was born on April 3rd 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska. Both his parents were possibly descended from Irish immigrants although some sources mention a Dutch heritage. In 1935 his parents separated for a time and Brando went to live in Santa Ana, California with his mother and two sisters. The family were reconciled in 1937, however, so he spent most of his formative years in the family home set up near Lake Michigan in Libertyville, Illinois.
In 1940 he spent a short time at Shattuck Military Academy in Fairbult, Minnesota from where he was expelled for insubordination. His interest turned to acting and, in 1943, he enrolled at the New School for Social Research in New York to study drama. It was here that he learnt 'method' acting from Stella Adler, a former pupil of Konstantin Stanislavsky who encouraged actors to play their parts according to their own emotions.
By 1944 Brando was ready to take to the stage. His first appearance was as Jesus in the Gerhart Hauptmann play Hannele, closely followed by a two-year run in I Remember Mama, a Broadway musical adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein from the play by John Van Druten. It was in 1946, affected by his part in A Flag is Born1 and the various reports of Nazi concentration camps, that he first showed an interest in politics and human rights and joined the American League for a Free Palestine.
His powerful on-stage presence brought him to the attention of many of the big names in the theatre and cinema world. In 1947 his name was put forward by Elia Kazan as the actor best-suited to play the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, written by Tennesse Williams. This spurred him on to try to break into films and he made his first film, The Men, in 1950.
Capitalising on his success in the stage play, he then starred in the film version of Streetcar in 1951 and made Viva Zapata! in 1952. It was for this film he first won critical acclaim, winning the Best Actor Award at Cannes and the Best Foreign Actor award in Britain.
Although he is mentioned in the year 1951 in We Didn't Start the Fire, his biggest hits came much later. From 1953-55 he made a string of hits; The Wild One, On the Waterfront and Guys and Dolls, winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Terry Malloy in Waterfront. He then tried directing, making One-Eyed Jacks in 1961 and, also in this year, starred as Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty. The rest of the films he made in the 60s were lacklustre as he concentrated on his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.
He burst back into the spotlight in the 70s, playing Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather and bagging his second Oscar. He declined to attend the presentation evening and sent a Native American Indian, Sasheen Littlefeather, to speak on his behalf.
'To his great regret Marlon Brando feels unable to accept his award. The reasons lie in the treatment of the Indian in TV and the movies in this country, and in the recent events at Wounded Knee.'
He also, during this time, made Burn!, The Nightcomers, Last Tango in Paris and played the cameo role of Major Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
He was absent from stage and screen for most of the 80s but returned to parody his 'Godfather' role in 1990 in the film The Freshman. 1994 saw the publication of his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me and he continues acting to this day. Though mostly taking cameo roles or appearing as himself, he still commands fees in excess of $1,000,000 per performance. Notably, he received more money for his minor part as Jor-El in Superman2 than Christopher Reeve did in the title role.
Now a famous recluse he has been married three times and fathered nine children. His oldest son was released from jail in 1996 after serving time for murdering his sister's girlfriend and his daughter, Cheyenne, committed suicide in 1995.
He has been acknowledged as one of the greatest actors ever, coming 12th in Entertainment Weekly's Top 100 Entertainers of All Time3 poll. He is also well-respected in the field of human rights being a strong campaigner for both the Civil Rights Movement and Native American Indians. As he commented himself:
'There's a line in the picture4 where he snarls, "Nobody tells me what to do." That's exactly how I've felt all my life.'
Marlon Brando, Portraits and Film Stills 1946-1995