Marlon Brando once said, "An actor's a guy who, if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening." He has portrayed many iconic roles in great as well as mediocre movies. He even directed a western called One-Eyed Jacks.
Marlon Brando was born on April 3, 1924, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Marlon Brando Sr. and Dorothy Pennebaker. His father was a salesman while his mother was an actress. By the time he was eleven years old, his parents had already separated. Dorothy, along with young Marlon and his sisters in tow, went to her mother's house in Illinois.
Religion had an unusual influence on Marlon Brando. Although he studied Christianity, which was the faith of his grandmother, he never took it seriously. Instead, he became an atheist. Many years later, when he had to stand as witness during his son Christian Brando's murder trial, Marlon would not swear a religious oath.
Mimicry was one of the many gifts that God had bestowed upon Brando. Discipline, however, was not one of his assets. He was expelled from a number of schools. He eventually decided that he was going to become an actor, and he joined the American Theater Wing Professional School, New School, and the Actors' Studio. But his growth as a student of acting happened when the famous acting coach Stella Adler took him under her tutelage. He also mastered the method acting approach at Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio.
Marlon Brando chose the Broadway route to Hollywood. He starred in the 1944 drama, I Remember Mama. It was his portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in Elia Kazan's 'Streetcar Named Desire' in 1951 that got him his first Oscar nomination. He exploded on the world stage in the next three years when he got Oscar nominations for his roles in Viva Zapata!, Julius Caesar, and On the Waterfront. He finally broke the Oscar jinx with a winner in On the Waterfront. It is a movie that is considered to be a timeless masterpiece. His portrayal of Terry Malloy is used in acting schools all over the world to teach students acting. It was a mix of method acting and clever improvisation. The Kazan and Brando combination had worked like magic.
It was the movie, Mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty that changed Marlon Brando's life forever. The movie was shot in Tahiti, and Brando could not get enough of the people there. He was besotted with two things, the heroine of the movie and an island called Tetiaroa. He purchased a ninety-nine year lease on the island. He promptly divorced his second wife and married the heroine. Her name was Tarita Teriipia. He wanted to convert Tetiaroa into an environmental friendly resort. He built a multi-purpose hotel on the island, which is still in existence.
These activities however could not take away from the fact that his career was in decline after the initial success. Marlon Brando always had a reputation of being a difficult star, but now almost all his movies were going over budget. Directors would quit because of Brando's moodiness on the sets. During this period, his movies were tanking at the box office. His personal life, as always, was in turmoil. In 1957, he married Anna Kashfi, but he did not even know her true nationality. He thought that she was East Indian, when she was Welsh. He later married Mexican actress Movita Castaneda, who was sixteen years older than him, but he left her for his Tahitian bride.
Marlon Brando's career was in the doldrums, his fans had deserted him, and critics had written him off as a washed-up star. With his back against the wall, Brando fought back. Francis Ford Coppolla was casting for the part of Don Vito Corleone for the movie 'Godfather'. Marlon Brando dyed his hair with shoe polish and stuffed tissue paper in his mouth to audition for the part. The rest is history. He received the Oscar, and in true Brando style, turned it down by sending a Native American actress to give reasons for his refusal.
Post Godfather, he came up with another sterling performance as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and in Bernardo Bertulloci's Last Tango in Paris. He received another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor in A Dry White Season.
Marlon Brando is believed to have fathered at least eleven children. They include children not born out of his three marriages. His children have also proven to be as controversial as their father. In 1990, his son Christian shot dead the lover of his half-sister. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. Marlon Brando died at the age of eighty of lung failure on July 2, 2004.