100th birthday of Marlon Brando: The immortal Hollywood rebel

100th birthday of Marlon Brando: The immortal Hollywood rebel

Today, April 3rd, Marlon Brando would have been 100 years old. As Hollywood’s model rebel, he has secured eternal cult status.

When Marlon Brando (1924-2004) is mentioned, he is often praised as the best Hollywood actor of all time, with his roles in iconic films such as “Endstation Sehnsucht” (1951), “The Godfather” (1972) or ” Apocalypse Now” (1979) made film history. To this day, the superstar, born on April 3, 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska, is also seen as an influential rebel who turned the rules of the American film industry upside down and rebelled against the political establishment.

In fact, from the start of his acting career, Brando made it clear that he was dealing with a talent who had no intention of submitting to the conventions of the industry at the time. After a chaotic school career that ultimately ended without a degree, he went to New York in 1943 and attended the “Dramatic Workshop” of the theater legend Erwin Piscator (1893-1966), a pioneer of political theater who had emigrated from Nazi Germany, at the progressive New School.

Career start as a master of “method acting”

While he soon got into a fight with the venerable workshop master and was thrown out after nine months, the rebellious newcomer fixated on his acting teacher Stella Adler (1901-1992), who was the greatest with her radical variety of naturalistic “method acting”. should have an influence on Brando’s career. The fact that this acting technique aimed to merge the actor as closely as possible with the character he was playing and to let him push his limits using psychological techniques was very suitable for Brando’s pronounced emotionality.

After his well-connected mentor Adler helped him get his first Broadway engagements, he finally became the living flagship of this revolutionary acting philosophy in 1947 with his leading role in the sensational play “Endstation Sehnsucht”. By the way, with his then unusual stage outfit of skin-tight blue jeans and a simple white T-shirt, which the costume designer Lucinda Ballard (1906-1993) tailored to his muscular body, he became a casual style icon overnight, the greatest influence on the Youth fashion should have in the coming years.

Prototype of the rebellious outsider

Up to this point, American cultural life had never seen male actors with such open sexual charisma. When Marlon Brando made the leap from New York’s Broadway to Hollywood in 1950, he further developed his reputation as a nonconformist character actor with sex appeal. In addition to the film adaptation of the stage play “Endstation Sehnsucht” (1950), he set another milestone in this regard, especially with his role as the motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in “Der Wilde” (1953).

Even before filming of his first film “The Men” (1950) began, Brando immediately set about adapting the existing rules of Hollywood to his genius. He was one of the first American film actors ever to sign a “one-picture deal” for this film, which meant he was only hired for a single film. Multi-year studio contracts were common at the time and usually did not allow actors to choose their own film roles. As far as financially possible, he consistently enforced this principle for the rest of his long career.

Film flops under the thumb of Hollywood

Involuntary exceptions to his rule of choosing roles himself at maximum wages and exerting a strong influence on the direction during filming resulted in him producing films almost continuously throughout his career that, in retrospect, are considered to be among his weakest achievements. After Brando finally drove his own film production company “Pennebaker Productions” into financial trouble in the early 1960s and was bought by Universal Studios, he had to grudgingly commit to five extremely commercially oriented films with the company.

The result were works such as “Two Successful Seducers” (1964) or “The Countess of Hong Kong” (1967), with which neither the actor nor the audience were happy. When Brando landed the role of Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” in 1971, the Hollywood rebel’s career was generally considered over. Director Francis Ford Coppola (84), who was still very young at the time, had to push through the casting of the supposedly burned-out Hollywood star against the wishes of the production company.

Brando as a political champion for civil rights

The fact that Marlon Brando also had a soft spot for social outsiders and was politically active away from the film set became apparent not only when he boycotted the Academy Awards in 1973, where he was to be awarded the Oscar for best actor for his role in “The Godfather.” .

Instead of going to the event himself, he sent the indigenous activist Sacheen Littlefeather (1946-2022) there to read out Brando’s declaration of solidarity with the “American Indian Movement” in front of the shocked audience, in which, among other things, the stereotypical portrayal of Indians was denounced by the American film industry.

Brando had already made a name for himself in the 1960s with his support of the American civil rights movement and, together with prominent colleagues such as Paul Newman (1925-2008), Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) and Harry Belafonte (1927-2023), he had the black civil rights icon Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

The unpredictable terror of the directors

As a rebel and unpredictable factor, Brando naturally also made a name for himself on the countless film sets of his career. For example, in 1968, in the middle of filming “Queimada – Island of Horror” (1979), he managed to move the film set from Colombia to Morocco because the heat, the mosquitoes and the food in South America were getting on his nerves. During the filming of the western “Duel on the Missouri” (1976) in 1975, he also played the troublemaker and drove the director crazy by suddenly making his character speak with an Irish accent and repeatedly incorporating little gags that were not in the script .

The filming of the anti-war film “Apocalypse Now” is also considered legendary, during which he shocked director Coppola with a drastically changed appearance when he arrived in the Philippines. After being signed six months earlier for a record fee of $3.5 million, he now appeared on set weighing over 110 kilograms, with a shaved head and in disastrous health. As film history would show, this did not detract from his legendary acting performance in the role of the crazy Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.

Source: Stern

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