Marlon Brando Jr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 3, 1924. He was the youngest among the three offspring of Marlon Brando and Dorothy Pennebaker, who were both a Christian Scientist. Brando has two older sisters, namely Jocelyn and Frances Brando. Her father was a manufacturer of chemical and pesticide feed while her mother was an American Actress.
Dorothy, or also known as Dodie, was described by Brando as ‘unconventional.’ She smoked; she was alcoholic and was often brought home by Brando’s father from bars in Chicago. According to his autobiography, he expressed sadness, knowing that his mother preferred getting drunk than taking care of them. However, his father, to whom he had developed hostility, was never pleased in whatever he does. Brando was always told that he couldn’t do anything right.
Brando was 11 years old when her mother took the three of them when his parents separated in 1935. For two years, Brando and her sisters lived with her mother on Sta. Ana California. In 1937, his parents reconciled, and they moved to a farm located at Libertyville, Illinois. Young Brando had developed the habit of imitating the mannerisms of the kids he played with. He even imitated the animals on the farm as a way to distract her mother from drinking. From his childhood, he made friends with his neighbor, Wally Cox (who later on became an American Comedian and actor) and George Englund (who later became an American film director and producer.)
Apart from her mother, who was an actress, his sister, also pursued an acting career. Jocelyn went to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Later on, she appeared on Broadway shows, as well as in TV and movies. Subsequently, his sister, Frances, also left to study art in New York. However, Brando was expelled from Libertyville High School.
After being expelled for riding a motorcycle through the school’s halls, Brando’s father sent him to Shattuck Military Academy (now known as Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.) Shattuck Military Academy was a college preparatory school located in Minnesota, USA. In 1943, Brando was once again expelled at Shattuck for insubordination. Following his expulsion, he moved to New York to study acting at the Dramatic Workshop under Stella Adler, an American Actress, and teacher.
In the Dramatic Workshop, he learned to use the Stanislavski System in acting. Stanislavski System is a systematic approach in training actors. It was developed in the 20th century by a Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski. This approach was used by Brando in many of his performances, including in his summer stock roles. In 1944, Brando made it to Broadway in a play called ‘I Remember Mama.’From the year 1941-1951, Brando earned a favorable response from his theatre acting, including in Truckline Café, Candida, and Antigone. In 1950, Brando was offered his first screen role in an American drama film, The Men.
Life as a Star
In the following year, Brando was given the role of Stanley Kowalski in the film, A Streetcar Named Desire. It was an adaptation of the 1947 play of the same name that won a Pulitzer award. Brando’s role in this film was regarded by the critics as one of his greatest performances. In 1953, his role in the film Julius Caesar earned him coequal reviews from the critics. While some acknowledged his acting, others regarded him as an actor lacking acting skills. He also starred in the film The Wild One, in which some critics perceived as violent.Though after the film was released, the sales of blue-jeans and black leather jackets reportedly increased.
In 1954, Brando starred on a crime drama, On the Waterfront. This film, directed by Elia Kazan, was about the corruption and violence among the dockworkers. Brando’s excellent performance in this film had won him an Oscar Award for the best actor. In 1954-1957, Brando’s acting career flourished as he portrayed roles in films, including Desiree (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), and Sayonara (1957).
His acting skills brought him to star on the film The Young Lions in 1958. This film was based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, aboutWorld War II. In 1961, Brando starred in the movie, One-Eyed Jacks, directed by Stanley Kubrick. However, after Kubrick was fired, Paramount decided to make Brando as the director while playing the leading role. Later on, Paramount controlled the film due to Brando’s inexperience in directing and after it caused a doubled cost production. Also, One-Eyed Jacks received a poor review from critics.
From 1962 to 1971, Brando’s career began to decline. Critics viewed many of the roles he then accepted as beneath his talent. His roles in the films, Bedtime Story, The Appaloosa, A Countess from Hong Kong, and The Night of the Following Day, were viewed by critics as a disappointment for Brando. Although Brando seemed indifferent with regards to the critic’s mauling, he admitted in a documentary film that he was hurt a lot. During the 1970s, Brando’s films continued to fall out of the Box office hits. However, his role in the film Godfather in 1972 became a turning point to his career, which led to his second Oscar’s Award for Best Actor.
In 1980, his film The Formula by John Avildsen was once again received poorly by the critics. He then announced his retirement in acting. However, in 1989 he returned for the film A Dry White Season and agreed to play the role for free. His performance for this film received positive feedback, which earned him the Best Actor Award at Tokyo Film Festival.
In the 1990’s he starred in the films, The Freshman (1990), Don Marco (1995), and The Brave in 1997, which was never released in the US. His later roles in 1992 up to 1998, received the worst reviews from the critics. These films include Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), and Free Money (1998).
In the 1990s, Brando suffered from Type 2 Diabetes, as well as his notable weight gain that later turned to obesity. On July 1, 2004, He died because of respiratory and heart failure. Aside from these, Brando also suffered from liver cancer.
Shortly before he died, he recorded his voice for the video game, The Godfather: The Game. Although he only recorded one line due to his condition, an impersonator was hired to finish the recording. After Brando’s death, his remains were cremated and were put in the same place as Wally Cox, his friend.