TV Times

Marlon Brando: Humanist turned Mega Star
By Harinda Vidanage
In post Second World War Hollywood must’ve thirsted for new energy; looking for an opening into a new Era in acting. Hollywood needed fresh talent and change. It is not easy to bewilder Hollywood, especially in those days. Only one man could’ve done that Marlon Brando. Who would have guessed, then, that Marlon Brando would eventually revolutionize film acting. Marlon Brando had the mega talent an allure to take over Hollywood and bring in a new breed of an acting style.

When it comes to Brando performances, icons abound. There was the 1950s motorcycle rebel from “The Wild One” (1954), or the brutal Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) or Terry “I Coulda Been a Contender” Malloy in “On the Waterfront” (1954). or his performance as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.” The mega star of the West leaves many a memories from his death.

This is a man that just cannot be seen in the light of a movie star. His deeds surpassed most of the cinematic values and transcended to a more human sphere. He was the actor who pulled back from the cinema industry in the 1960s to focus on supporting the Civil Rights Movement and the broader struggles against war and oppression. In 1959, he was a founding member of the Hollywood chapter of SANE, an anti-nuclear arms group formed alongside African-American performers Harry Belafonte and Ossie Davis.

Fighting for the rights of Native Americans in 1963, Brando marched arm in arm with James Baldwin at the March on Washington. He, along with Paul Newman, went down South with the freedom riders to desegregate inter-State bus lines. In defiance of state law, Native Americans protested the denial of treaty rights by fishing in the Puyallup River on March 2, 1964. Inspired by the civil rights movement sit-ins, Brando, Episcopal clergyman John Yaryan from San Francisco, and Puyallup tribal leader Bob Satiacum caught salmon in the Puyallup without state permits. The action was called a fish-in and resulted in Brando’s arrest.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Brando announced that he was bowing out of the lead role in a major film and would now devote himself to the civil rights movement. Brando said “If the vacuum formed by Dr. King’s death isn’t filled with concern and understanding and a measure of love, then I think we all are really going to be lost....”

He gave money and spoke out in defense of the Black Panthers and counted Bobby Seale as a close friend and attended the memorial for slain prison leader George Jackson. Southern theater chains boycotted his films, and Hollywood created what became known as the ‘Brando Black List’ that shut him out of many big time roles.

After making a comeback in Godfather, Brando won his second Oscar. Instead of accepted what he called “a door prize,” he sent up Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse befuddled presenter Roger Moore and issue a scathing speech about the Federal Government’s treatment of Native Americans.

This great actor and civils rights activist was born on April 3rd 1924, in Omaha, Nebraska, the third and last child of Dorothy Pennebaker Brando and Marlon Brando, Senior; sisters Jocelyn and Frances; who were descended from Irish immigrants.

As this famous character actor died at the age of 80 from undisclosed causes, though widely understood to be complications from morbid obesity. Brando, a three-decade survivor in his struggle to balance a gluttonous movie star lifestyle with “not dying” had his body donated to science, in accordance with his wishes. Brando had recorded his wish of organ and tissue donation with the living legacy registry, in his own living will and on his drivers license.

This short tribute attempts to trace the life and virtues of a man whom many identify only as a great actor born with incredible talents and a rebellious attitude to supplement them. But the writer perceives that there is more to the brand name Marlon Brando which sold the products of the Hollywood film industry. For the love of human kind and the feeling for the oppressed and exploited Brando remains an icon of defiance.


Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.