“Quitting acting, that’s the sign of maturity.”
One of the film industry’s most famous actors and bad boys, Marlon Brando was a mountain of a man who made his voice heard as much through activism as through his on-screen appearances. Here are some of the most interesting facts about the life of the Godfather himself.
Marlon Brando Facts
42. Many Kids
It’s no secret that Marlon Brando was a lady killer—he married three different women and had at least 11 children in his life, though some reports say he may have had as many as 17.
41. Oscar Protest
When Brando won his Academy Award for Best Actor in 1971—for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather—he wasn’t even in attendance at the ceremony. Instead, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead to give a speech on the treatment of the indigenous in Hollywood.
40. Legends Together
Marlon Brando had always dreamt about acting in a Charlie Chaplin film, so it was a pleasure for him to accept a role in the film A Countess from Hong Kong. Dreams don’t always come true, however, the two legends found it incredibly difficult to work together. It ended up as a disappointment for both men.
39. Brando Antics
When Brando showed up to set for Apocalypse Now, he weighed close to 300 pounds and hadn’t even read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the short novella the movie is based on, so he didn’t have any idea who his character was. This set the tone for the film, as director Francis Ford Coppola and Brando were at each other’s throats throughout the entire process. However, Brando’s weight gain meant that Coppola had to shoot his character, Colonel Kurtz, in the shadows to hide the actor’s bulk, which ended up adding to the magic of the psychotic villain.
38. Going Ham
During the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty, Brando was at the height of his powers, both in acting and in eating. As the production was taking place in Tahiti, Brando had planes fly in large amounts of ham and champagne specifically for him to indulge in. Because, why the hell not? You’re Marlon Brando!
37. Ripping Pants
Brando’s waistline began to balloon during the production of Mutiny on the Bounty, and he allegedly ripped 52 pairs of pants throughout filming.
36. Farts Are Funny
During production for the 2001 film The Score, Brando employed fart jokes to mess with Robert De Niro. He would hide a remote-controlled whoopee cushion around the set and unleash it whenever De Niro was close. Apparently, he was introduced to the gag machine by Johnny Depp.
35. Inspired Performance
To prepare for his performance as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando spent time at the same gym that boxer Rocky Graziano worked out at, studying the famed fighter. When production began, Bradno sent Graziano tickets, even though the boxer had no idea who he was. After seeing the performance, Graziano said: “The curtain went up and on the stage is that son of a bitch from the gym, and he’s playing me.”
In order to get out of the military draft for the Korean War, Brando declared himself a psychoneurotic. On the questionnaire, he put his race as “human” and his color as “Seasonal-oyster white to beige.”
33. Diaper Lines
Brando didn’t always memorize his lines, and later in his career he tried to get around it with alternative tactics. For Superman, in the scene where his character, Jor-El, puts an infant Superman in an escape pod, he wrote his lines on the baby’s diaper so he could read them as the scene shot.
32. Reading From Behind
For his role in Last Tango in Paris, Brando tried to convince director Bernardo Bertolucci to let him read his lines off of his costar Maria Schneider’s backside. Yeah, that one didn’t quite work, and Brando was forced to remember his lines like a normal person.
Brando initially tried to convince the producers of Superman that he only ought to voice the character of Jor-El, and that it could be played by an inanimate object like a suitcase or a green bagel. Yes, a green bagel. In the end, the studio stepped in and set things straight.
After gaining widespread fame, Brando rubbed shoulders with other untouchable A-list celebrities and became friends with many. Two of his closest friends were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Just because Brando and Burton were close, however, doesn’t mean that they didn’t pass judgment on one another. When Burton’s diary was released, it was revealed that he saw both Brando and Taylor as intelligent people who suffered from becoming too famous too young.
29. Young Bud
At a young age, Marlon Brando got the nickname “Bud,” and it stuck for life. Even into his later years, he was Bud to those close to him.
28. Opposites Attract
One of Marlon Brando’s best friends was actor and comedian Wally Cox. The two met when they were young, and though they possessed contrasting personalities, they instantly clicked. During one interview, Brando said of their friendship that “if Wally had been a woman, I would have married him and we would have lived happily ever after.” Now that’s some serious bromance.
27. Hurt by Loss
When Wally Cox died of a heart attack at just 48, Brando was absolutely devastated. After showing up unannounced at the wake, he actually took the ashes against the wishes of Cox’s widow. Brando was even said to have slept in his dead friend’s pajamas for a time.
26. Ashes to Ashes
Brando kept Cox’s ashes in his bedroom and would talk to them from time to time. After he himself died, their ashes were combined, along with those of Sam Gilman, another friend, and scattered partly in Tahiti and partly in Death Valley.
25. In Character
Marlon Brando was famous for his method acting, which meant that instead of religiously following the script, he would transform into the character he was playing, becoming them even when the cameras weren’t rolling. While his method was well known, that didn’t stop him from clashing with numerous writers and directors over it.
24. Large Appetite
To many, there were two Brandos: the youthful, dreamy hunk and the older, heavy veteran. While Brando was a heartthrob for much of his career, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t shovelling food into his mouth. In fact, he loved food so much that for a couple of decades he resorted to crash dieting before showing up to set. It became so intense that at one point his second wife, Movita, put locks on their refrigerator.
23. Growing Up Around Booze
Brando grew up in a household of alcoholics, as both his father and mother eventually joined Alcoholics Anonymous. His mother, Dodie, often had to be brought home from the bars by his father, which had a strong effect on Brando, as he revealed in his book Songs My Mother Taught Me: “The anguish that her drinking produced was that she preferred getting drunk to caring for us.”
22. Dodie’s Life
Though Dodie’s drinking affected Brando in his youth, she was known to be quite the character. Working as an actress and theater administrator, she lived life in the fast lane, smoking, wearing pants, and driving cars, all of which were considered too risqué for most women during the early 20th century.
21. Personal Checks
There are many valuable checks with Brando’s signature on them still in circulation this long after his death. Many checks that he wrote were never cashed because his signature was actually worth more than the amount the check was made out to.
20. Marlon and Michael
Brando was good friends with Michael Jackson, and even got his son Miko a job as Jackson’s bodyguard for years. He also spent a good amount of time at Neverland Ranch, as he enjoyed the luxurious 24-hour service available at the entire compound. Reportedly, the very last time he left his Hollywood bungalow was to go for a visit at the Ranch.
19. Island Life
Brando may have enjoyed spending time at the Neverland Ranch, but that’s not because he didn’t have anywhere else to go. He actually owned the Polynesian island of Tetiaroa, which was his own private paradise. He bought the island after falling in love with it during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty. The island is now home to “The Brando Resort,” a private resort that was built by a group including Brando’s estate and eight of his children.
18. What’s All The Hype For?
Brando’s role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather was a career defining moment, yet he didn’t think much of it. According to his friend George Englund, he didn’t see the big deal about performance and considered many other roles above it.
17. The Best of the Generation
By now, you get the hint: Marlon Brando was a popular guy who had many friends. Many of these friends were supremely talented, but not many got the praise that Johnny Depp did from the man, who once said he thought Depp was “the most talented actor of his generation.”
16. Trolling The Internet
Brando was one of the internet’s earliest trolls, as he spent much of his final years actively online, where he would sometimes go into chat rooms and strike up arguments with other users.
15. Scary Marlon
Could you imagine Marlon Brando in the Scary Movie franchise? Yeah, neither can we, but it almost happened. In the later years of his life, Brando was going through some financial difficulties and accepted a $2 million bid to play a priest in Scary Movie 2. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), Brando was hospitalized with pneumonia soon before shooting was to begin and was ultimately unable to appear in the film.
14. Lessons From The Master
Somewhere, hiding on a forgotten DVD, is a collection filmed by Brando himself as an old man giving acting lessons to famous actors such as Sean Penn and Nick Nolte. Tentatively titled “Lying for a Living,” Brando spent the last three years of his life working on this project with the intention to sell the DVDs to QVC, but due to his death they never saw the light of day.
13. Drummer Boy
A man of evolving tastes, during the last decade of his life Brando became interested in drumming and spent much of his time experimenting with the instrument. By the time he died, he had filed several patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a tensioning technique he developed for drum heads.
12. High School Expulsion
Marlon Brando spent time at a military academy as a teen, but not by choice. His father forced him into the academy after he was expelled from his high school for riding his motorcycle down the hallway. Brando would then go on to drop out of the military academy as well after being put on probation for insubordination, finally moving to Greenwich Village in NYC to live with his sister and to begin studying acting.
11. Rebellious Genius
Brando was put on probation at the Shattuck Military Academy for many different infractions, but he was never actually caught for his most wild (and bizarre) act of rebellion. One night he climbed the academy’s bell tower, removed its massive, 150 pound clapper, and dragged it 200 yards before burying it. When the campus found out, he came up with an ingenious way to avoid detection: he himself led the committee looking for the culprit!
10. Fixing the House
Brando’s breakthrough performance was as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, and the story behind how he got the gig is now legendary. After showing up a few days late for his audition with Tennessee Williams, at the playwright’s house, he proceeded to fix the electrical fuses and the house’s plumbing before finally giving his reading. Williams was expecting nothing special, as he thought perhaps the handiwork was an attempt to butter him up for a poor audition, but was quickly proven wrong, witnessing “the most magnificent reading” for a part he had seen in his life.
After Brando landed the part of Stanley Kowalski, he performed the show on stage for quite some time. After a year of performing, he grew restless with the mundanity of it, and would fight a stagehand who was an amateur boxer to stave off his boredom. After insisting that the stagehand not take it easy on him, he had his nose broken… during the middle of a show. He then stumbled onto the stage, bloody and bruised, and his co-star, Jessica Tandy, improvised with it by saying “You bloody fool” and playing the injury off as though Stanley had just been in a street fight.
8. Bloody Nose Money
After the performance where Brando broke his nose, the producer, Irene Selznick, tried to persuade him to have his nose reset. Of course, he resisted this advice, and Selznick is happy he did so, later stating: “I honestly think that broken nose made his fortune,” she said. “It gave him sex appeal. He was too beautiful before.”
James Dean almost never had the chance to become an iconic rebel, as it was Marlon Brando who was originally offered Dean’s part in Rebel Without A Cause. Brando declined the offer for the lead role, which came with a contract of $3,000 per week, and instead returned to the stage. It took another eight years for Warner Bros. Studios to find someone with a similar presence, and it seems as though they did just that—Bosley Crowther, the critic for The New York Times, wrote that Dean’s performance in the film was a kind of Marlon Brando imitation.
6. Politics Considered
Despite the huge success of A Streetcar Named Desire, it took a lot of convincing to get Brando to work with director Elia Kazan again for the film On The Waterfront. The reason? Brando was a man of his principles, and after Kazan testified as a witness in the Un-American Activities hearing before the House Committee in 1952, Brando didn’t want to work with him ever again.
5. Not Up To Par
Though Brando won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, he actually became “so depressed” by his performance that he wordlessly walked out one of the films first screenings.
4. Frankie and the Grudge
When Brando had originally declined the Oscar winning role of Terry Malloy, Frank Sinatra was cast as his replacement, only to be pushed out once Brando was convinced to change his mind. Sinatra didn’t much appreciate the switch, and held a grudge for many years. As a part of his grudge, he referred to Brando as “mumbles,” and called Brando’s acting techniques “that Method crap.”
3. Cheesecake Takes
Though Sinatra held a grudge against Brando, they co-starred in the 1955 film production of Guys and Dolls. Aware of Sinatra’s animosity, Brando purposely worked to get under the crooner’s skin, and would intentionally mess up scenes because he knew it would get to Sinatra. During the famed cheesecake scene of the film, Brando reportedly screwed the scene up nine times, making Sinatra eat nine pieces of cheesecake. Eventually, Ol’ Blue Eyes erupted at the director, shouting “These fucking New York actors! How much cheesecake do you think I can eat?”
2. No Burt For Brando
Harboring a dislike for Burt Reynolds, when Brando found out that Reynolds was being considered for the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, he threatened to leave the production entirely. I’d say he was probably in the right there.
1. Marilyn’s Death
Brando studied people. It was his work, and it was his innate ability to mimic others, coupled with his imagination and empathy, that made him so great, and he knew it too. This is why he believed that his friend Marilyn Monroe didn’t commit suicide, but rather was murdered. He believed that he could read people at an incredibly high level and that no matter how smart a person was, they could not completely conceal depression. Thus, in his eyes, Monroe couldn’t have committed suicide, because he would have been able to sense her depression prior to her death.