But the fact is, making movies is time out for me because the rest, the nearly complete whole, is what’s real for me. I’m not an actor and haven’t been for years. I’m a human being — hopefully a concerned and somewhat intelligent one — who occasionally acts.
There was screen acting before Brando and after Brando, just as there was painting before Picasso and after Picasso…and even the casual observer can tell the difference. As film historian Molly Haskell pointed out, the film star’s legend “is written in one word. BRANDO. Like Garbo. Like Fido. An animal, a force of nature, an element; not a human being who must, as a member of society, distinguish himself from other members with a Christian name and an initial as well as a surname. There is only one Brando.” — Stefan Kanfer
Marlon Brando and his cat, photographed by Murray Garrett, 1954.
Marlon Brando in a promotional photo for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
my sister watching A Streetcar Named Desire for the first time
The iconic image of Brando as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire
Guys & Dolls (1955)
Marlon Brando photographed by Ronny Jaques for the broadway play, A Streetcar Named Desire c. 1948
Brando’s athleticism was critical to his acting talent; his physical strength and muscular control gave him extraordinary range on stage and screen. Dance lessons with Katherine Dunham when he was a young actor in Manhattan augmented a native flexibility. “He moved like a panther”, according to one fellow actor,and astonished people with his ability to imitate anything - even a cash register.
Marlon Brando on his experience with James Dean, from his autobiography “Songs My Mother Taught Me”:
After we met on the set of East of Eden, Jimmy began calling for advice or to suggest a night out. We talked on the phone and ran into each other at parties, but never became close. I think he regarded me as a kind of older brother or mentor, and I suppose responded to him as if I was. I felt a kinship for him and was sorry for him. He was hypersensitive, and I could see in his eyes and in the way he moved and spoke that he had suffered a lot. He was tortured by insecurities, the origin of which I never determined, though he said he’d had a difficult childhood and a lot of problems with his father. I urged him to seek assistance, perhaps go into therapy. I have no idea whether he ever did, but I did know it can be hard for a troubled kid like him to have to live up to sudden fame and the ballyhoo Hollywood created around him. I saw it happen to Marilyn, and I also knew it from my own experience. In trying to copy me, I think Jimmy was only attempting to deal with these insecurities, but I told him it was a mistake. Once he showed up at a party and I saw him take off his jacket, roll it into a ball and throw it onto the floor. It struck me that he was imitating something I had done and I took him aside and said, “Don’t do that, Jimmy. Just hang your coat up like everybody else. You don’t have to throw your coat in the corner. It’s much easier to hang it up than pick it up off the floor.”
Another time, I told him I thought he was foolish to try to copy me as an actor. “Jimmy, you have to be who you are, not who I am. You mustn’t try to copy me. Emulate the best aspects of yourself.” I said it was a dead-end street to try to be somebody else. In retrospect, I realize it’s not unusual for people to borrow some else’s form until they find their own, and in time Jimmy did. He was still developing when I first met him, but by the time he made Giant, he was no longer trying to imitate me. He still had his insecurities, but he had become his own man. He was awfully good in that last picture, and people identified with his pain and made him a cult hero. We can only guess what kind of actor he would have become in another twenty years. I think he could have become a great one. Instead he died and was forever entombed in his myth.
You know what luck is? Luck is believing you’re lucky, that’s all… To hold a front position in this rat-race, you’ve got to believe you are lucky.