Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando
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Stefan Kanfer, acclaimed biographer of Lucille Ball and Groucho Marx, now gives us the definitive life of Marlon Brando, seamlessly intertwining the man and the work to give us a stunning and illuminating appraisal. Beginning with Brando’s turbulent childhood, Kanfer follows him to New York where he made his star-making Broadway debut as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire at age twenty-three. Brando then decamped for Hollywood, and Kanfer looks at each of Brando’s films over the years—from The Men in 1950 to The Score in 2001—offering deft and insightful analysis of his sometimes brilliant, sometimes baffling performances. And, finally, Kanfer brings into focus Brando’s self-destructiveness, ambivalence toward his craft, and the tragedies that shadowed his last years.
military school. Marlon senior had been a hellion in his own youth; Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, had straightened him out just fine. It would do the same for his recalcitrant son. Resistance was useless. Bud was a minor and the law was on his father’s side. In September 1941 the seventeen-year-old signed the appropriate papers, picked up his uniform, and checked into Shattuck. Like all military schools of the period, it was oversubscribed. All year long the countdown to
it was undeserved, and Bud knew that it was too late. He sent back a letter thanking his classmates and informing them that while he was grateful for their support he had chosen a different path. This was mere bravado. He had no idea where to turn or what to do. It was 1943. He had turned nineteen in April and would soon be subject to the draft. Some 90,000 German troops had surrendered at Stalingrad. Guadalcanal had been taken back from the Japanese. What the hell, Bud figured—I might as well
Wallis, who offered a weekly salary of $3,000; and Joe Schenk, who instructed him to get a nose job. More out of curiosity than enthusiasm, Marlon agreed to play a boxer in a one-shot TV drama. In 1947 television plays were done live; videotape was years away from practical use. To indicate the passage of time, actors and technicians had to dash from one set to another without missing a beat. A key scene showed the middleweight fighting; another, seconds later, revealed him immediately after a
Marlon, Streetcar became “the triumph of Stanley Kowalski with the collusion of the audience, which is no longer on the side of the angels.” There was little anyone could do about it. The others received applause; Marlon got ovations. He was the one audiences had come to see. And so the routine went on, Tandy bitter and haughty, returning to her husband every night via chauffeured limousine, Brando grabbing his motorcycle and noisily riding his latest date around the neon city. What everyone
he called Kazan in New York and went through a litany of the actor’s mannerisms and affectations. “Marlon will be all right,” Gadge advised. “Just be patient. He’ll come through, I promise you.” Just as Marlon had searched for the soul of Stanley Kowalski, he tried to locate the center of Ken Wilcheck. After several weeks he did feel more comfortable in the part, aided by a group of outstanding performers. Richard Erdman, an underrated character actor, played one of the mordant ward mates along