Brando: The naked truth
Marlon Brando went from being a screen icon in such films as A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront and The Godfather to a grossly overweight recluse, plagued with health problems and scarred by family tragedy including the suicide of his daughter Cheyenne. For nearly 50 years director and producer George Englund was Marlon's closest ally, his best friend and confidant, and later supported him through personal tragedy. He was also the last visitor to Marlon's Hollywood home before his death last year aged 80 of lung disease.
Even at their first meeting at a Hollywood party in 1956, he and George formed such close ties that people at first suspected they were lovers. Which, of course, they weren't. "Our humour was very similar and we found a repartee and exchange of jokes that was very similar," George recalls. "As we came to know each other we came to realise how many congruent aspects of our lives there were. We'd both gone to military school, we both had great difficulties about our fathers." From his early success in films, Marlon shunned celebrity status, was obsessive in his quest for privacy and suspicious of all around him. "It came from his inner sense of propriety, dignity and what he considered to be the superficiality and artificiality of the star culture," the 79-year-old explains. "It was an end of him being known for who he really was. People only met him because they wanted something from him or even slept with him because of the brownie points they'd get. He never knew who they were and they never knew who he was."
"By accident he got a play, started acting and it was the first time he got approval in his life."
Marlon won one Oscar for On The Waterfront and famously refused another, 18 years later, for The Godfather. He saw award ceremonies as being for the advertisers and felt that the only way you could judge the award of best performance was by each actor playing the same role under the same circumstances. Such a strong resentment of the showbiz world makes you wonder why he chose a career as an actor at all. "He'd been thrown out of military school and enrolled in drama at New York's New School.
By accident he got a play, started acting and it was the first time he got approval in his life," George explains. "He never got any from his father. His mother, an alcoholic, was lost to him. Then this great reservoir of ability he had came into play. Later, acting was not the centre of his life. He had other means of separating himself from the harshness of the world, like meditation."
George, who was married to actress Cloris Leachman for more than 25 years, saw a lot of women pass through Marlon's life and admits he's not sure how many children his friend fathered, but reports vary from 11 to 16. The actor married actress Anna Kashfi in 1957, but they separated a year later. In 1960 he wed Mexican actress Movita Castenada, but left her for Tahitian beauty Tarita Teriipia, who starred with him in Mutiny On The Bounty. But he later returned to housekeeper Maria Christina Ruiz, only to be sued for £70 million for maintenance.
George has his own theory as to why Marlon's relationships with women didn't work out. "His relationships were always characterised by his relationship with his mother, which was very emotional and very sad for him," he explains. "In a child's mind he could only imagine that she chose the alcohol addiction over him. It seemed like desertion and betrayal and then he expected that that's fundamentally how relationships were with women, that sooner or later the desertion or betrayal would occur.
"He could be very cruel to women. If he thought a woman was coming on to him he would decimate her and lead her into a conversation. I remember one woman who had a beautiful laugh and smile. She laughed often and as soon as we met he said, ?Why did you laugh then?'. She said, ?I don't know, is it not all right to laugh?' and he said, ?Sure, but it's easier to laugh when something funny has happened'. Slowly the laughter started to die and there was a kind of cruelty about it."
George later became Marlon's literary agent when the star decided to write his autobiography. But it was to lead to the end of their friendship for seven years, after George negotiated a five million dollar deal for a book which Marlon never delivered. "In six months he was supposed to deliver a third of the manuscript. A year went by and nothing. The publishers said that they didn't have any real reason to expect they were going to get the book and called back the advance. Marlon was going through considerable torment about his life at the time. Fundamentally he was reluctant to reveal personal things about himself."
It must have been intensely frustrating for George, but he plays it down. "There were many frustrations like that, but that's part of why we stayed friends. He had as many exasperations about me and I did about him. He felt sometimes I didn't realise my own potential. When two turkeys go stalking off, everybody feels right. But after a certain amount of time, you start to forget why you fell out. I heard that he was asking about me. I don't even remember who made the first phone call but the moment that it was made, it was just like it was yesterday"
"His relationships were always characterised by his relationship with his mother, which was very emotional and very sad for him."
It's ironic, then, that George has now penned the book that his friend never wrote, entitled Marlon Brando: The Naked Actor. As Marlon was such a private person, wouldn't he be upset at George writing this intimate account about him? "He'd be ecstatic," George insists, saying that the actor had nominated him to finish the autobiography should he become incapacitated. In the book, George writes of Marlon's darkest times, when his son, Christian, went to prison for the manslaughter of Dag Drollet, his daughter Cheyenne's boyfriend. Cheyenne later committed suicide on the Tahitian atoll which Marlon owned.
"He had a sense of great tragedy and unbearable agony. It changed him. He never went back to Tahiti again. He couldn't set foot on the land where Cheyenne had killed herself. The changes weren't like door-slams. They were interior. They remodelled him inside and he created a survival mechanism." The self-destructive gorging led to Marlon ballooning to 28 stone, although he'd battled with his weight for years, says George. "Sometimes he'd diet, but it wouldn't last. I tried on several occasions to get him to concentrate on it, but it didn't work. There was something compulsive and addictive about it. Sometimes we'd go to dinner and he would just eat a picky meal, but then he'd eat a quart of ice-cream when he got home. He was the most complex character. He was capable of extremes in almost anything."
How, then, will his friend be remembered? "He'll be remembered through stages. In that first 10 years after his death, people will say he squandered his talents. Later on he will be seen as the most influential actor of the 20th century."
Marlon Brando: The Naked Actor
by George Englund,
is published by Gibson Square,
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