My first time with Brando

Michael Jackson, Kirk Douglas, Mary Tyler Moore, Tennessee Williams, Rocky Graziano, Joan Baez, Tony Bennett, Michael Caine, Mario Puzo and many others recall their initial encounters with the acting legend.

Topics: Marlon Brando,

My first time with Brando

Harold Norse, poet
“Shy and tense”

“… the summer was spent on the beach and attending parties, at one of which I met Marlon Brando. At eighteen he was indescribably attractive, but shy and tense. Two years later we met again at a party of Tennessee’s [Williams] in a ballroom on Irving Place in New York, just before Marlon got the role of Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Hundreds of people milled about or danced to the all-black jazz band. I was standing alone when Marlon approached. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ he drawled, sizing me up with intense interest.

“‘Yeah,’ I said with a grin. ‘Provincetown. We met once.’” (1942)

[from "Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey," by Harold Norse (William Morrow, 1989)]

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Maureen Stapleton, actor
“Wallowing in women”

“Janice Mars and I rented an apartment at 37 West 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues …

“One of our more frequent guests was a young actor who was making his mark in the theater and soon would answer the call of Hollywood. His nickname was ‘Bud’ and Bud had made a splash in ‘I Remember Mama.’ He’d go on to do ‘Candida’ with Katharine Cornell and in 1947 would hit the jackpot playing Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Marlon Brando was a great actor and a charter member of the 37 West 52nd Street regulars. Marlon was an original golden boy and you knew he was going to be big time just by the way he looked. Dames chased him and more often than not he’d let himself be caught. He was always wallowing in women. He’d drop by with his girl of the moment, and then go off and leave her with us. We were supposed to pick up the pieces. I spent hours — days!– listening to those poor girls sighing over Bud. Janice and I became professionals at doling out tea and sympathy to Marlon’s exes. Believe me, they needed plenty of tea and plenty of sympathy — he was something to sigh about.

“Not only did Bud hang around the apartment, he’d sleep there too. He kept his drums in the closet and would haul them out and start banging away when the mood suited him. Eventually he rented a second-floor apartment in our brownstone … (New York, 1945)



[from "A Hell of a Life: An Autobiography," by Maureen Stapleton with Jane Scovell (Simon & Schuster, 1995)]

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Irving (Swifty) Lazar, literary and show business agent
“An agent’s instinct”

“In addition to helping Broadway actors make a painless transition to film, I was taking on such challenges as negotiating a raise for the likes of Marlon Brando, who was then making his Broadway debut in ‘I Remember Mama.’ Marlon was having a rough time getting by on sixty-five dollars a week. The extra ten I got him made a difference.

“Even if I had only gotten him five dollars more, I suspect that Brando would have kept coming to my office with his girlfriend, Blossom Plumb. The two of them would arrive — Brando in an old trench coat — and take chairs in opposite corners of the room. They wouldn’t speak, just listen to me making deals on the phone. After a few hours, they’d leave. Next day, same routine. It definitely gave me the idea that Brando was taking notes on my ‘character.’ Although he did, in later years, develop an agent’s instinct for getting his money first and fast, he fortunately never got a part that enabled him to use whatever he learned from me. (New York, 1945)”

[from "Swifty: My Life and Good Times," by Irving Lazar with Annette Tapert (Simon & Schuster, 1995)]

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Kirk Douglas, actor
“Electrifying”

“I went up for a part in a play called ‘Truckline Cafe.’ I didn’t get it. Bitter, I went to see the play, watched another actor play my role. I loved the first two acts — he was terrible. He mumbled, you couldn’t hear what he was saying. I congratulated myself on how much better I would have been. Suddenly, in the third act, he erupted, electrifying the audience. I thought, ‘My God, he’s good!’ and looked in the program for his name: Marlon Brando.”(New York, mid-1940s)

[from "The Ragman's Son: An Autobiography," by Kirk Douglas (Simon and Schuster, 1988)]

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Tennessee Williams, playwright
“Household repairs, magnificent reading”

“I first met Marlon Brando in 1947 when I was casting ‘Streetcar.’ I had very little money at the time and was living simply in a broken-down house near Provincetown [Mass.]. I had a houseful of people, the plumbing was flooded, and someone had blown the light fuse. Someone said a kid named Brando was down on the beach and looked good. He arrived at dusk, wearing Levi’s, took one look at the confusion around him, and set to work. First he stuck his hand into the overflowing toilet bowl and unclogged the drain, then he tackled the fuses. Within an hour, everything worked. You’d think he had spent his entire antecedent life repairing drains. Then he read the script aloud, just as he played it. It was the most magnificent reading I ever heard, and he had the part [of Stanley Kowalski] immediately. He stayed the night, slept curled up with an old quilt in the center of the floor.”

[from "Memoirs," by Tennessee Williams (Doubleday, 1972)]

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Rocky Graziano, middleweight boxer
“Contenda dreams?”

“… hit Stillman’s gym every day.

“…

“… I spots this young blond kid always watching me train … the first thing I think about. Gotta be a fag.

“He looks like the kinda guy you find delivering groceries for a high-class grocery store …

“…

” … I go away an come back and the next day an there’s this guy, maybe leaning against a post, watching me for a long time. He’s got on a T-shirt, worn-out sneakers, and dungarees. He’s dressed just like the kids dress today, only in those days when you dressed like that you were down ‘n out … a bum.

“…

“Before ya know it, he’s bringing me my towel when I need it, and he’s asking me real nice if I teach him how to stand and t’row a few punches, and maybe spar with him a lil bit …

“I say, ‘Eh, what’s ya name?’ and he says, ‘Bud.’ I look at the kid kinda funny, an he says, ‘Lotta people call me Buddy.’ That sound better when I think of the song, ‘Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?’

“…

“… ‘I’m in a play,’ he tells me. He says, ‘You know, Rock, you could do me a big favor if you come and see me. I get you two of the best seats in the house, on the arm.”

“…

” After the curtain goes up [on 'A Streetcar Named Desire'] an everything’s happening, I get the shock of my life. This kid I been sendin on errands is the star. Jesus, that’s him, that’s the kid I been sparring with in the gym. …” (New York, 1947)

[ from "Somebody Down Here Likes Me Too," by Rocky Graziano with Ralph Corsel (Stein & Day, 1981)]

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Anthony Quinn, actor
“Provocative improvisations”

“Brando was an instant legend among our group. He flouted convention in Streetcar and in acting class–and from what I could gather, in the rest of his life as well. His improvisations in our Actors’ Studio sessions were prominent for the way he managed to mock the process and still do provocative work. Once, when we were asked to do a dance and freeze our poses at the clap of the instructor’s hands, Marlon wound up locked in a headstand. We were then supposed to do a bit based on our frozen postures, and when Marlon’s turn came he delivered his premise with deadpan seriousness.

“‘I have a stomachache,’ he announced to the rest of the class, ‘and I’m standing on my head hoping I can pass it out of my mouth.’ “(New York, 1947)

[ from "One Man Tango," by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner (HarperCollins, 1995)]

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Tony Bennett, singer
“Always a pretty girl”

“…Marlon Brando, who was then on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire, often came down and hung around with the musicians at [trumpeter Billy] Verlin’s studio on his matinee days. This was long before the general public knew who he was. Billy didn’t recognize him and was about to tell him to split until one of the guys said that he was an actor. That was okay with Billy. Brando always had a pretty girl on his arm and strolled into the studio wearing his trademark T-shirt.”(New York, 1947)

[ from "The Good Life," by Tony Bennett with Will Friedwald (Pocket Books/ Simon & Schuster, 1998)]

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Sheila Graham, gossip columnist
“Deflated me”

” … I knew Jessica Tandy…from her time in Hollywood, and after the show [A Streetcar Named Desire] I went backstage and asked her to introduce me to her co-star. ‘He’s so virile, so exciting with that torn shirt,’ I gurgled.

“Marlon’s dressing room seemed to be as narrow and long as eternity, as, guided by Jessica, I stumbled towards the stationary figure at the other end. ‘Oh Marlon,’ said Jessica, who was also flustered by his stern visage, ‘I want you to meet — ‘ He interrupted: ‘Your mother?’ My complete deflation. He was probably joking, but I didn’t stay long enough to find out. In fact this was the only close encounter I ever had with him.” (New York, 1947)

[from "Hollywood Revisited: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration," by Sheilah Graham (St. Martin's Press, 1984)]

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Tony Curtis, actor
“Clubbing together”

“…Marlon got there [Hollywood] a year before us. We socialized with each other, took out our dates, met at social clubs without having to carry membership cards. We finished work and at the end of the day couldn’t wait to get in our cars, go home, clean up, then hit the clubs: Morocco, Ciro’s, Mocambo, Lucy’s, and the Club Gala….

“…….

“For a short time in those days, I roomed in the same house on Barham Boulevard with Marlon Brando. He was doing A Streetcar Named Desire and I was doing The Prince Who Was a Thief. Later I said, ‘Marlon, I wonder what would’ve happened if you’d turned left down Barham Boulevard and gone to Universal to be the son of Ali Baba, and I’d turned right and become Stanley Kowalski?’”

“Marlon said, ‘Then I’d have been stuck with “Yondah lies the castle of my faddah,” and you’d have been yelling ‘Stel-l-a-a!’” (late 1940s)

[from "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography," by Tony Curtis with Barry Paris (William Morrow, 1993)]

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Shelley Winters, actor
“Pet raccoon”

“Marlon Brando already had quite a reputation among theater people as a brilliant actor because of a small part he’d done in Truckline Cafi, in which he had one scene and flashed across the stage like sexual lightning. He also had another extraordinary reputation, but I figured it couldn’t be true because when did he have time?…”

” …Marlon invited me to dinner at his…new apartment one night after my show….

“It was really a cold-water flat, there was ice on the inside of the windows! Marlon was lifting weights in an untorn long-sleeved gray sweat shirt and asked me to take my coat off. ‘I’ll keep it on,’ I said.

“Marlon had a goddamned raccoon in a cage, and I think it was wearing some other raccoon’s fur coat, it was so cold in there. And it smelled so bad I immediately told Marlon I couldn’t stay unless he put it in the bathroom. Marlon explained that the bathroom was just a toilet and was even colder than the living room, which had the smallest electric heater I had ever seen….Marlon compromised by putting the raccoon in the small bathtub next to the kitchen sink. He put a wooden door over it; then he put the heater under the sink, aimed at the bathtub to keep the damned raccoon warm…. (New York, late 1940s)”

[ from "Shelley II: The Middle of My Century," by Shelley Winters (Simon & Schuster, 1989)]

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Stanley Kramer, film director
“World’s greatest actor”

“…I got a call from an energetic young MCA agent named Jay Kantor about a client of his, Marlon Brando, who had never appeared in a film but had become a towering Broadway star as a result of his smash performance in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire….

“I made a bid of $50,000 for Brando and sent with it a copy of [Carl] Foreman’s screen treatment for the film [The Men] we wanted to make….

” For his first visit to my office, I invited several paraplegics from the Birmingham Hospital. I’m not sure how eager they were to welcome him because I had heard some bitter words from them about movie stars who thought they could understand and convey the feelings of paraplegics after just a short interview.

“I think they were startled when Brando arrived, not in fine, tailored clothing but in jeans and a torn T-shirt. He didn’t look like a movie star, nor did he act like one, mingling with them as if they were old friends. They received him politely, and when he asked if he could accompany them back to the hospital, they seemed befuddled. Why would he want to go there?

“The next thing I knew, Brando was living at the hospital in a wheelchair and learning how difficult life could be for a paraplegic. He was experiencing, as much as an outsider could, the real, everyday meaning of the role he was about to play.. . . ”

“By the time we finished The Men, I was convinced he was the world’s greatest actor…. (Hollywood, 1950)”

[from "A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," by Stanley Kramer with Thomas M. Coffey (Harcourt Brace, 1997)]

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Christopher Isherwood, novelist
“High camp”

” …the paraplegics [of Birmingham Hospital] had been involved in the shooting of a film about themselves. This was The Men. Its script had been written by Carl Foreman. Fred Zinnemann directed it, Stanley Kramer produced it; its stars were Marlon Brando and Teresa Wright….

“Christopher…enjoyed meeting Brando, although his first impressions were bad. Brando seemed to Christopher to be just another young ham giving himself airs. He was talking about Vivien Leigh, with whom he’s spent the whole afternoon, waiting to be called onto the set for a take. And now he gravely announced: ‘I don’t think she’s very sincere.’ This was too much for Christopher. ‘My God, Mr. Brando,’ he exclaimed, ‘how sincere do you think you’ll be, when you’ve been in this business as long as she has?!’ But, to Christopher’s surprise and pleasure, Brando wasn’t either offended or crushed. He grinned at Christopher appreciatively, as much as to say, ‘Good for you–we understand each other!’ What Christopher understood at that moment–or thought he did–was that Brando was capable of high camp and that most of his public behavior was probably camping. As for Brando’s private behavior and his private self, I’m no wiser about that now than Christopher was then; I’ve never gotten even a glimpse. (Hollywood, 1950)”

[from "The Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945-1951," by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell, (HarperCollins, 2000)]

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Roger Vadim, film director
“Foot massage”

“I met Marlon about the same time I met Brigitte [Bardot]. I was sitting with Christian Marquand on the terrace of a cafi in the Boulevard Montparnasse when an extraordinarily handsome young man at the next table caught our attention. He had taken off his shoes and was massaging his naked foot, which he had placed on the table between a glass of Perrier and an ashtray. Groaning with ecstasy, like a woman about to have an orgasm, he kept saying, ‘Shit … that feels good … Shit … that feels good.’

“We started up a conversation and the Adonis explained that one of his greatest pleasures in life was massaging his feet after walking a long time. He introduced himself as Marlon Brando and told us that he was alone in Paris and living in a very uncomfortable little hotel on the Left Bank. (Paris, 1950)”

[from "Bardot Deneuve Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World," by Roger Vadim (Simon and Schuster, 1986)]

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John Gielgud, actor
“Studying speeches”

“Joseph Mankiewicz’s ‘Julius Caesar’ … was the first film I really enjoyed making …

“…when Brando’s tests for Antony arrived they were so successful that he was engaged …

“…

“Brando was very self-conscious and modest, it seemed to me. He would come on to the set in his fine, tomato-coloured toga, his hair cropped in a straight fringe, and would look around nervously, expecting to find someone making fun of his appearance. Then he would take out a cigarette and stick it behind his ear. He told me that he was so well-off that he sent all his money home to his father and that he really had no need to work at all. I begged him to play Hamlet, and said that I would like to direct him if he did, but he said he never wanted to go back to the theatre.

“I had only one scene with him in the film. We went through the speeches in the morning and he asked me ‘What did you think of the way I did those speeches?’ So I went through them with him and made some suggestions. He thanked me very politely and went away. The next morning, when we shot the scene, I found that he had taken note of everything I had said and spoke the lines exactly as I had suggested.

“… the very first day I was introduced to him he said, ‘You must come and do a speech for me — one of my Antony speeches. I’ve got a tape recorder in my dressing-room.’ He had tapes of Maurice Evans and John Barrymore and three or four other actors and listened to them every day to improve his diction. I thought he would have made a wonderful Oedipus. (Hollywood, 1953)”

[from "An Actor and His Time," by John Gielgud (Sidgwick & Jackason, 1979)]

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Sidney Skolsky, gossip columnist
“Acceptance”

“… Rebel Marlon Brando beat Bing Crosby (‘Country Girl’) and won an Oscar for ‘On the Waterfront.’ Previously, Brando couldn’t win an Oscar for his performance in ‘Streetcar,’ although Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter did. Marlon couldn’t get it for ‘Viva Zapata’ either, although Anthony Quinn did for Best Supporting Actor.

“I sat behind Marlon at the Pantages Theater on his winning night. He slumped in his seat when the envelope with the name of the Best Actor was to be opened. He was chewing gum faster than he rode his motorcycle. Bette Davis shouted, ‘Marlon Brando!’ She handed him the Oscar. Marlon’s acceptance speech consisted of ‘thank you.’ It was a big deal that night. As if society had accepted Marlon Brando, and he had accepted society.” (Hollywood, 1954)

[from " Don't Get Me Wrong -- I Love Hollywood," by Sidney Skolsky (G.P. Putnam's, 1975)]

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Mary Tyler Moore, actor
“In disguise”

“… with no real boys to answer our pubescent yearnings, we spent our free time indulging in fantasies about Marlon Brando. ‘On the Waterfront’ had propelled him to the number one position as leading man …”

“… We were outside his house. Our hearts were beating in syncopated rhythms …”

“… an old man with a limp exited his house and joined another man who waited outside in a car. We were so grateful for any action it didn’t matter who it was. Someone had been in his house and come out! Then it occurred to us — it was Brando! He was wearing a disguise … We tailed him for about a quarter of a mile.

“… When we got to the place where Coldwater Canyon intersects, his car slowed down and a hand motioned from the passenger window for us to follow to a wide spot on the side of the road … We came to a halt about two car lengths behind, and watched, slack-jawed, as Marlon Brando opened the car door and made his way toward us. The limp was gone, so was the gray wig. He was looking straight at us with his head sort of down and his eyes kind of up. There was a smile on his Marlon Brando face, a smile that could have meant anything. He never broke eye contact with us. (I’m pretty sure he was looking at me, but then I bet everyone in the car thought the same for herself.) He walked to us in the slowest, sexiest walk I’d ever seen.

“He bent over, both hands on his knees, scanned the passengers for a moment, and then looking down at his feet said, ‘Don’t you girls have anything better to do on a Saturday night?’ We giggled, cleared throats, and made attempts at responses, but none of us was able. ” (Beverly Hills, Calif., mid-1950s)

[from "After All," by Mary Tyler Moore (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995) ]

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Peter Fonda, actor
“Pup at his feet”

“We headed for Rome in the summer of 1955 where Dad [Henry Fonda] was to film ‘War and Peace’ … I flew overseas on a Boeing Stratocruiser, on the same flight as Marlon Brando and Dean Martin, who were on their way to Europe to make ‘The Young Lions.’

“I went down to the Stratocruiser lounge area and listened to Brando tell stories while Martin gave me beers. It was a long flight and after many beers, I fell asleep … In those days, I wore a tie and jacket whenever I traveled. But even in my tie and jacket, sneaking cigarettes and beers, I felt like a newly whelped pup around Brando.”

[from "Don't Tell Dad: A Memoir," by Peter Fonda (Hyperion, 1998) ]

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Anna Kashfi Brando, actor and wife of Marlon Brando
“Marilyn Bongo”

“I saw Marlon Brando for the first time in October 1955 while lunching in the Paramount Studio commissary. The meeting was not notable for stirring a sudden emotional surge. No bells rang. No glances were transfixed across a crowded room … ”

“… This man, I became aware, was staring at me — staring, that is, when he was not alternatively occupied with kissing and nibbling at the nape of a blonde (subsequently identified to me as Eva Marie Saint) seated beside him. Ripples of attention were expanding from the source of the staring and nibbling.

“…A.C. Lyles left our table … was introduced … to the starer. Evidently the man expressed a desire to meet me, for he then followed A.C. back to our table.

“‘This,’ I understood A.C. to say, ‘is Marilyn Bongo.’ Through the commissary noises and in the exotic environment, it sounded reasonable.

“‘Hi,’ the man said. Somehow I had expected a statement more profound. The voice sounded like a caterpillar squiggling through a soda straw. The face, with incipient heaviness about the jawline, reflected a wistfulness, an open sensuality, and an ineffable indifference. The bluish-gray eyes lay in ambush behind a ciliary curtain, promising power in reserve, an inexhaustible force. He had the features of a man whose inner turmoil was preparing an organized escape.” (Hollywood)

[from "Brando for Breakfast," by Anna Kashfi Brando and E.P. Stein (Crown Publishers, 1979)]

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Joan Collins, actor
“Curious about people”

“His [George Englund's] best friend at the time was Marlon Brando, who was almost as great an admirer of George as I was …”

“Marlon adored him, he emulated his vocabulary and mannerisms, his prowess at storytelling, his slightly superior attitude toward others not on his wavelength. Sometimes I found it hard to tell the difference between the two voices on the telephone …

“…

“Marlon had an insatiable curiosity about people. What made them tick? What did they think about the world and other people, what were their feelings, observations, needs? At any gathering Marlon would usually gravitate to the quietest, and what to the unpracticed eye appeared the dullest, person in the room, and engage that person in animated and spirited conversation for hours. He was a master at making the shrinking violet bloom and the wallflower leave the wall. His interest was genuine. He really was interested in that pimpled, bespectacled young woman whose manner bespoke the library rather than the boudoir. He would draw her out slowly, painstakingly, with questions asked with intelligence and such obvious concern that the girl would flower before our eyes …” (Hollywood, late 1950s)

[from "Past Imperfect," by Joan Collins (Simon and Schuster, 1978)]

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Zsa Zsa Gabor, actor
“What men can do with me”

“I appeared on the [Tonight] show with Marlon Brando. The show was still live in those days. I wore a low-cut pink Oscar de la Renta evening gown rather like a powder puff, and, of course, my diamond earrings and diamond necklace … We started bantering about this and that. Then Marlon leaned forward and leered, ‘I don’t know why Zsa Zsa has to talk so much. With those boobs she really doesn’t have to say anything.

“Marlon’s first comment was fairly acceptable to the American TV audience. His next comment, though, definitely was not … Marlon announced, ‘Do you know what I want to do with that girl, Johnny [Carson]? I want to fuck her.’ Then, turning his attention to me, Brando went on, ‘Zsa Zsa, a man can only do one thing with you: throw you down and fuck you!’” (New York, early 1960s)

[from "One Lifetime Is Not Enough," by Zsa Zsa Gabor with Wendy Leigh (Delacorte, 1991)]

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Debbie Reynolds, actor and singer
“Napoleonic”

“I walked into the small trailer, very basic, with a sofa, a makeup table and mirror, and a padded, backless stool. Marlon was sitting there, his legs apart in a very relaxed, Napoleonic, sexual manner. He never rose, never stood up. I sat down on the little stool across from him …

“‘Are you Tammy?’ he asked, in his slow, mumbled accent.

“‘No, I’m Debbie.’

“‘No, you’re Tammy,’ he said.” [Reynolds had acted and sang the title song in "Tammy and the Bachelor."]

“He sat there all askew while I sat there very primly, legs together and back straight. He was putting me on; and I knew it. But I was so busy trying to figure out how to match wits with him — and get over my discomfort — that I had to go along.” (Tahiti, 1962)

[from "Debbie: My Life," by Debbie Reynolds, with David Patrick (William Morrow, 1988)]

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Mort Sahl, comedian
“Marching for publicity?”

“When Brando decided to march to Mississippi, he called me up one night and asked me to dinner. He’s the only artist, one of a select few, whom I can separate from his character. I mean, his work is so monumental that I would stand in line to see him. In the past, I’d found him less than civil. For instance, at the time he directed and acted in the movie ‘One-Eyed Jacks,’ all the studios were jockeying and lobbying in the trade papers for awards. I took out an ad in the back of The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety and nominated him as the best director.

“I went over to his house and Richard Harris was there. Now, Brando prides himself on being cagey, and he said, ‘I’ve got Harris here because I’m suing “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Harris was in the cast and he can be my witness.’ In other words, it wasn’t just a free dinner. He was going to get that much out of Harris. Then he turned to me and said, ‘Will you go to Mississippi on Sunday and march for us?’ That’s one thing about the liberals: they knew that when I march, nobody laughs. Brando said he was going to march for the Negroes in Mississippi. Did I want to go? I said I didn’t. He said, ‘It’ll be great publicity.’ I found that shocking, but I still don’t think publicity motivates him.” (Los Angeles, early 1960s)

[from "Heartland," by Mort Sahl (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976)]

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Knowlton Nash, broadcast journalist
“At civil rights march”

“As part of our [CBC] program [on the civil rights march], we interviewed Marlon Brando at the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At that point I was halfway up the stairs and had the only microphone in that areas. So I tossed it up to reporter Kingsley Brown who was to do the interview, but my aim was bad and it struck Brando on the side of the head. Brown looked aghast and apologized while Brando massaged his head, slowly smiled, and still did the interview.” (Washington, D.C., 1963)

[from "History on the Run: The Trenchcoat Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent," by Knowlton Nash (McClelland and Stewart, 1984)]

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Miriam Makeba, singer
“Strong opinions of Stokely Carmichael”

“… I perform at a small coffee house called the Ashgrove. It is on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood …

“…

“… I look in the mirror of my tiny, two-by-four dressing room and there he is standing at the door. My mouth drops open and my eyes go pop!

“‘I’m Marlon Brando. I’ve been asking for you to join us at our table.’

“… Brando stays for [the remaining sets] … After, he asks me, ‘Would you like to come and have some coffee with us?’

“We stop at his house … Right away, Mr. Brando starts talking to me about South Africa. The next thing I know, we are arguing. He wants to know everything, and he has strong opinions. I must say, he is the first celebrity who has ever asked me about home. He wants to know when the Boers came. I tell him. He goes to the encyclopedia and says, ‘That’s not true! That’s not what it says here!’

“I am mad. ‘Well, who wrote that?’ I won’t let Mr. Brando or anybody tell me about South Africa. I tell him this, too.

“He laughs. ‘Miriam, you have a split personality.’

“‘I do?’

“‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Because when you’re singing you come alive. And then when you’re off stage you’re quiet. And now that I’m talking to you about South Africa, you become a lioness!’

“…

“Before he says good night and leaves me, he takes my hand and looks into my eyes. He smiles in a quiet and almost sad way. ‘Miriam, you have something that most of us have lost. Something very special. And that’s humility.’” (1963)

[from "Makeba: My Story," by Miriam Makeba with James Hall (New American Library, 1987)]

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Joan Baez, folk singer
Weary of everything

“I first saw Marlon Brando in person during the civil rights march on Washington, in 1963. He was standing about twenty feet away, surrounded by newsmen and stargazers; I was barefoot, leaning against a pillar on the Capitol steps, wearing a purple dress. I tried to see his face clearly, hoping he would glance over just once and look straight into my eyes. As he evaporated into the crowd my heart pounded so hard my body shook.

“Sometime in the late sixties I finally met Marlon Brando under the legitimate guise of raising money for some cause. When I stepped up to his front door [in Los Angeles] to greet him, he handed me a gardenia. I see the white gardenia now through a wistful, fragrant haze. I can say that he was a gentleman, and that he was funny. He seemed a little weary of everything, a little sad, though he told me that he was happy. We shared stories about crazy people we’d met as a result of being the object of other people’s fantasies. Though he was aging somewhat it was not difficult to match up his eyes with the eyes of a young lion, the wild one, and all of my phantoms. Time was a veil. My memories of that meeting are as heavily laden with pathos as the gardenia was with its heavenly perfume.”

[from "And a Voice to Sing With: A Memoir," by Joan Baez (Summit Books, 1987)]

- – - – - – -

Shana Alexander, magazine journalist
“Submitting to ‘navel-picking’ and news commentator”

“… I began a marathon Life interview with Marlon Brando, then in Rome shooting ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’ for John Huston. A leonine presence with a noble head, small broken nose, eyes like bruises in a Mayan mask …

“Marlon was a supple, sensual, lazy, charming trickster, and a riveting storyteller, but the Life assignment took me seven years to complete. Though Marlon loved to talk, and could hold forth for many hours on a dazzling variety of subjects — bioaquanautics, tropical sex practices, Indians, Eskimos, Buddhist philosophy, the ten deadliest animals in the world, Japanese erotica, the social life of apes, the Black Panther Party, poisons of the Amazon — he loathed talking for publication. He considered submitting to an interview ‘navel-picking’…” (1966)

[from "Happy Days: My Mother, My Father, My Sister & Me," by Shana Alexander (Doubleday 1995)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Tariq Ali, New Left activist
“Talked Vietnam”

“I arrived at his rented accommodation somewhere in Chelsea and was greeted by the much-amused secretary, a Ms. Sanchez, who introduced me to my host. We sat down and talked about Vietnam. Brando was deeply hostile to the war and it was he who told me that [Henry] Kissinger was not an insipid nonentity, but a man desperate to become a grey eminence to the powerful and the mighty. He asked whether I thought the United States could win the war. I gave him three reasons why they could never win a permanent victory and would be forced to leave sooner or later. He nodded in agreement. Then I asked him whether his position would be the same if he thought that his country could win the battle. I explained that many Americans were despondent because they thought the situation was hopeless and not because they were on principle opposed to the intervention. He grinned and assured me that he did not belong in that category: ‘You said on TV that in your opinion US intervention in Vietnam was as immoral as that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in Spain during the Thirties. Well, I’d go along with that …’” (London, 1966)

[from "Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties," by Tariq Ali (Citadel Press, 1987)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Michael Caine, actor
“Director problem”

“Sidney Furie, who had directed me in ‘Ipcress,’ was also working at Universal on a picture called ‘The Appaloosa,’ a western starring Marlon Brando. Sidney came to my dressing room one day almost in tears with horror stories at how badly things were going over on his set. The main problem seemed to be that Brando would not take him seriously.

“I had some free time so I went back with Sidney to the set and met Brando, who was sitting on a horse at the time. We said hello and then Brando asked me what I thought of Sidney as a director. I told him that I thought he was excellent, and Brando said, in front of Sidney, ‘I don’t think he can direct traffic.’

“Sid just stood there terribly hurt, and I found myself saying, ‘It’s a western — there isn’t any traffic.’ This got a slightly tense laugh after a moment while everybody waited to see if Marlon laughed, which he did and things lightened up a bit.” (Hollywood, 1966)

[from "What's It All About?: An Autobiography," by Michael Caine (Turtle Bay Books/Random House, 1992]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Omar Sharif, actor
“Pleasant plasticity”

“Marlon Brando … changed not only acting technique but also the behavior and habits of a generation that adopted the T-shirt and jeans …

“Marlon Brando did what no actor had done before. He imposed his style, his expression, and his wardrobe. He was the forerunner of the budding actor films …

“Marlon Brando has no equivalent in the seventh art: he is — all by himself — a school. He injected a new plasticity into movement, gesture, facial expression. This pleasant plasticity, spectacular in the noble sense of the word, although appearing natural, spontaneous, is the fruit of long inner toil. Marlon Brando did away with unnecessary gestures. Austerity is the keynote of his way of moving and looking.

“…

” I knew Marlon Brando — No, I didn’t really know him. What’s more, who can claim to really know him? A few close friends? Not even they! Marlon Brando is being drawn into himself. He doesn’t reveal himself. Even approaching him is hard. His inner life — what he loves, what he knows — seems to be enough for him.” (Hollywood, mid-1960s)

[from The Eternal Male: My Own Story, by Omar Sharif with Marie-Therese Guinchard (Doubelday, 1977)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Kenneth Tynan, theatre critic
“Friendship proven”

“…the echt sixties party that we gave in (or around) 1967 … Our theme was the work of [French artist] Clovis Trouille and we peopled the Mount Street flat with fibre-glass models of girls dressed like the creatures of Trouille’s imagination …

“The guests included Gore Vidal, Richard Harris and Marlon Brando, the latter pair drunk on arrival; Marlon joined me in the bathroom, locked the door, and dared me to kiss him on the lips as proof of our friendship. (I did.)” (London)

[from "The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan," edited by John Lahr (Bloomsbury, 2001)]

Alan King, actor, comedian and film producer
“His favorite actor”

“Once I spent a weekend in a house where Brando was also a guest. It was in Runnymede, near Windsor Castle; Elliott Kastner and Tessa Kennedy, mutual friends, were our hosts. Marlon, who then weighed over 300 pounds, had just traveled alone all over Europe. He wore a Greek sailor’s hat, and he said nobody recognized him. He also said he couldn’t fly on the Concorde because he couldn’t fit in the seat.”

“I asked him … ‘Who’s the greatest actor you ever saw?’ He didn’t miss a beat. ‘Paul Muni,’ he said.

“Muni, my first hero. Probably because my parents had taken me to the Yiddish theater to see him when his name was still Muni Weisenfreund. I got to know him toward the end of his life, when he was doing ‘Inherit the Wind’ on Broadway…

“I talked to Marlon about Muni and the Yiddish theater, and it turned out Marlon could speak Yiddish … (London, late 1960s)”

[from "Name-Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King," by Alan King with Chris Chase (Scribner, 1996)

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Mario Puzo, novelist
"No trouble"

"... the role of The Godfather ... I had always thought Marlon Brando would be great ... I contacted Brando, wrote him a letter, and he was nice enough to call me. We had a talk on the phone. He had not read the book but he told me that the studio would never hire him unless a strong director insisted on it. He was nice over the phone but didn't sound too interested. And that was that.

"... I remembered what Brando had told me so I had a little talk with Francis Ford Coppola ...

"... he fought and got Brando. And incidentally Brando never gave any trouble. So much for his reputation. (1969)"

[from "The Godfather Papers & Other Confessions," by Mario Puzo (G.P. Putnam's, 1972)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Gordon Pinsent, actor
“Inhaling chocolate cake”

“I met Brando first after knowing Wally [Cox] and his wife Pat for only a week or so …

“… the door banged open and in came Stanley Kowalski, the Wild One, Emiliano Zapata, Marc Antony, Napoleon, Sky Masterson, and soon Don Corleone, with Colonel Kurtz on the far horizon, all in the extra large person of Marlon Brando.

“He was heavy, to be kind about it, and had his hair knotted at the back, while sporting a wide sweatband on his forehead.

“With not a word to anyone, and heaving like a vastly out-of-shape escaped convict, he hurled himself at the fridge, ripped open the door, grabbed a chunk of chocolate cake, squashed it onto his face, and flopped into the nearest chair. Deciphering Brando wasn’t the easiest chore at the best of times, but when spoken through a pound of cake, his speech became a linguist’s nightmare.

“‘You want to go to a movie!’ The famous voice seemed a little clearer now.

It took me a moment or so to realize who he was talking to. ‘Me?’ I’d been in Hollywood a matter of months and this is who I’m going to the movies with? This is stupid! ‘Sure, but I’ve got to go home for money.’

“‘I’ve got money. Come on,’ he said, and off we went. (1970)”

[from "By the Way," by Gordon Pinsent (Stoddart, 1992)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Cybill Shepherd, actor
“Not impressed with me”

“It would be an understatement to say that I failed to impress Marlon Brando. On a warm summer night Peter [Bogdanovich] and I drove the great acting coach Stella Adler to a party in her honor at Brando’s home atop Mulholland Drive. There were Japanese lanterns strung through the trees, and I was seated on a garden bench next to Brando, but for once I was chattering away rather than deferring to the conversation of others. Brando was holding a beer bottle when he looked at me with unsubtle disgust.

“‘If this girl doesn’t shut up,’ he said to no one in particular, ‘I’m going to hit her in the face with this bottle.’ Then he turned to me and said, ‘Would you get up and go over there so I can watch you walk away?’ (Beverly Hills, Calif., early 1970s)”

[from "Cybill Disobedience," by Cybill Shepherd with Aime Lee Ball (HarperCollins, 2000)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Hugh Downs, television host
“Indians and toys”

“When Marlon Brando came on Today, he was concerned about American Indians. But he talked across a range of subjects, including little toy trucks that had commercial labels on them such as ‘Standard Oil.’

“‘Can you imagine how children’s minds are affected by this brainwashing?’ He asked. ‘Once they play with this supposedly innocent toy, they’ll grow up and see Standard Oil at a gas station. They’ll just sail right in and won’t even know why!’

“He then assailed a magazine article which had commented on his private life and his marriages in ways he felt were unjust and inaccurate … (New York, mid-1970s)”

[from "On Camera: My 10,000 Hours on Television," by Hugh Downs (G.P. Putnam's, 1986)]

Dick Cavett, television talk show host
“Leashed violence”

“…speaking of strong physical impressions, the most powerful one I got from a guest was from Marlon Brando. The power in him hits you the second you meet him …

“There was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a crowd of people, most of whom had formed a flying wedge to get Brando in through the mob outside the theater. Suddenly he came at me through the crowd, like a tank pushing through a haystack …

“Being alone with him in a small room is like being in a cage with a large animal. It is hard to know where the effect comes from, but there is a sense of leashed violence about his presence that is exhilarating and weird …

“My time alone with Brando in the dressing room before the show was a little spooky. He sat on my couch, took off his aviator glasses, and gave me an eye-widened stare. I had read about this habit of his and stared back …(New York, early 1970s)”

[from "Cavett," by Dick Cavett with Christopher Porterfield (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1974)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

William Kunstler, radical lawyer
“Aloof, reclusive, retiring”

“The trial of Russell [Means] and Dennis [Banks], called the [Wounded Knee] Leadership Trial, began on January 8, 1974 in St. Paul, Minnesota …

“I met Marlon for the first time at this trial. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, he has an affinity for Native Americans and had donated vehicles and bail money and supported their causes for many years. One evening, I joined Marlon and his girlfriend in their hotel room. He told me he had come to St. Paul to watch the Leadership Trial because he was planning a movie about Wounded Knee and wanted to see me in action. ‘I’m a method actor, and I have to see the subject that I’m playing in his native habitat,’ he said. Of course, I was very flattered …

“Marlon and I became friends — as much as it’s possible to be friends with him — and have worked together, over the years, on many political issues. Marlon is aloof, reclusive, and retiring. He loathes public appearances so much that he is no longer accessible to people in the movement, or anyone else for that matter. But with all his quirks, I liked him very much when we first met and still do.

[from "My Life as a Radical Lawyer," by William M. Kunstler with Sheila Isenberg (Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing, 1994)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Charles Kuralt, broadcast journalist
“No fisherman”

“I spent a few days in the company of Marlon Brando. He wasn’t very good company. For Brando, I guess I have to make an exception to my rule that the very famous, down deep, are just like you and me. Marlon Brando is not one bit like you and me.

“I was covering a big public squabble between the state of Washington and the Puyallup Indians over fishing rights …

“Marlon Brando showed up from Hollywood and moved into a suite on the same floor of the same hotel where I was staying. I don’t think anybody invited him, but Brando was eager to be known as a supporter of Indian causes, and he brought along a beautiful brunette secretary to handle his press releases …

“His aim was to catch an illegal salmon on reservation waters, get arrested and make headlines to publicize the Indian cause. Morning after morning, he went out and trolled a salmon lure from a boat with a flotilla of photographers following and the Fish and Game officers watching from a respectful distance. The problem was that Marlon Brando was a movie star, not a fisherman …

“I don’t think Marlon Brando helped the Indian cause much, or furthered his own reputation either as Indian rights crusader or salmon fisherman. The press and the public, and maybe the fish, too, were all pretty weary of him before he left town …” (Olympia, Wash., mid-1970s)

[from "A Life on the Road," by Charles Kuralt (G.P. Putnam's, 1990)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

John Cassavetes, film director
“Too involved with causes”

“Brando is one of the best actors that ever lived, and I like him personally. But I’m angry with him. He’s so involved with causes. I would think that if he were so concerned about the plight of Indians, for example, he would make a picture about them instead of going to Washington and talking about it. I don’t think an actor should involve himself with causes. Whatever he has to say can be better said on screen.” (1970s)

[from "Cassavetes on Cassavetes," edited by Ray Carney (Faber and Faber, 2001)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Mike Douglas, television host
“Getting to know him”

“…After enough years, enough thousands of shows, there were few names on the guest list that really got my adrenaline flowing. Marlon Brando. There’s one. Getting a chance to meet the man I considered perhaps the finest actor of our time, and then have him come on the show for a rare interview–if I wasn’t the host, I guarantee you I’d be watching that day.

“…….

“He was expansive about his career, his co-stars, Tahiti. He was good. So honest. One hundred percent Brando. We took a break then spent one full segment on ‘the plight of Native Americans.’ He was and is a compassionate spokesman for that cause.

“But here’s the point, and it’s the point of a show like ours–I believe people listened more closely to his message because they were more sympathetic, because they had gotten to know Marlon Brando a little bit. After fifteen minutes, they were thinking, ‘This Marlon Brando’s all right, now let’s hear what he has to say about Indians.’” (mid-1970s)

[ from "I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show," by Mike Douglas with Thomas Kelly and Michael Heaton (Simon & Schuster, 2000)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Eleanor Coppola, filmmaker and wife of Francis Ford Coppola
“Absorbing all details”

“September 22, Pagsanjan

“I went to the French plantation set to see how Francis was doing and how the boys were holding up. The ['Apocalypse Now'] shot was down on the dock, so I walked down there and found Francis in the shade talking to a heavyset man with short gray hair. When I got closer, the man said, ‘Hi, Ellie.’ He looked familiar and then I realized that he was Marlon Brando. I was fascinated that he recognized me and knew my name after such brief meetings. He seemed to be looking at me in microscopic detail. As if he noticed my eyebrows move slightly, or could see the irregular stitching on the buttonhole of my shirt pocket. Not in a judgmental way, just in a complete absorption of all the details.

“…

“Marlon is very overweight. Francis and he are struggling with how to change the character in the script. Brando wants to camouflage his weight and Francis wants to play him as a man eating all the time and overindulging.” (Phillipines, 1976)

[from "Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now," by Eleanor Coppola (Limelight Editions, 1979)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Jennifer Lee, actor
“Vulnerability”

“Marlon Brando comes by Windsor Gardens to pick up an old girlfriend … Marlon’s really sweet; he does this odd embarrassed little dance kicking up one leg like a chorus-line dancer. Since he’s a tad overweight, this makes a touching image. He’s all vulnerability, with ‘I’ll do anything for love’ written all over his face. See him a few days later at a Filmex screening for Bud Cort’s film ‘Why Shoot the Teacher?’ where he tells me I look ravishing!” (Hollywood, 1977)

[from "Tarnished Angel: Surviving in the Dark Curve of Drugs, Violence, Sex and Fame," by Jennifer Lee (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1981)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Michael Jackson, singer
“Like a father”

“Marlon Brando has become a very close and trusted friend of mine. I can’t tell you how much he’s taught me. We sit and talk for hours. He has told me a great deal about the movies. He is such a wonderful actor and he had worked with so many giants in the industry — from other actors to cameramen. He has a respect for the artistic value of filmmaking that leaves me in awe. He’s like a father to me.” (Beverly Hills, Calif., mid-1980s)

[from "Moon Walk," by Michael Jackson (Doubleday, 1988)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Robert Lindsey, writer
“Inquisitive”

“Within twenty minutes of our first meeting [to discuss collaborating on his autobiography], he had my shoes off, my belt loosened and my fingers wired to an instrument that measured by galvanic skin response, all the while explaining that it was a technique he sometimes used to get a personality profile of people by asking questions and observing the reaction of the meter. I was more puzzled than jittery. At our first meeting, I discovered that he was the most curious man I had ever met and that he felt uncomfortable, possibly even embarrassed, to be thought of as a movie star. The movies, he said, were the least important aspect of his life, a thought that he would repeat over and over. As a writer, I was accustomed to asking people questions, but he turned it around and bombarded me with endless questions about my family, my childhood, my marriage, my ideas. I felt as if I were being debriefed by a CIA interrogator. He was inquisitive about everything and informed about many topics — physics, Shakespeare, philosophy, chess, religion, music, chemistry, genetics, scatology, psychology, shoe making, or whatever else he might suggest we discuss.” (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1988)

[from "Songs My Mother Taught Me," by Marlon Brando with Robert Lindsey (Random House, 1994)]

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Sandra Bernhard, comedian
“Impetuous”

” Here at Cafe Rosso I spend some of my most wonderful evenings, in deep conversation with the greatest artists of our time …

“Come with me to this table, where I sat with Marlon Brando just days before his appearance on Larry King. I myself thought his ideas risky. ‘Marlon,’ I screamed. ‘Yes, I understand, but will Hollywood? You have the luxury of really delving into it here with me, but you know Larry — it would all go through the roof. Just think about it, that’s all I ask!’ But of course he is so impetuous, and it blew up in his face. He called me late that night and wept about the whole thing. What could I do but console him?” (Beverly Hills, Calif., mid-1990s)

[from “May I Kiss You on the Lips, Miss Sandra?” by Sandra Bernhard (William Morrow, 1998)

- – - – - – - – - – - -

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