If Marlon Brando’s known for one thing, it’s turning down the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather. But if his means of protest were odd – sending a fake Indian on stage to criticise Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans – its effectiveness (and positive enfranchisement of the much maligned indigenous people) is proof of the man’s power.
Despite the ruckus over his Godfather gong, the Motion Picture Academy later offered Brando a lifetime achievement award. Naturally, the actor told the body where they could insert their Oscar.
When not crossing swords with the Academy, the great man was apt to give short shrift to Hollywood - “a cultural bone yard” – and fellow thesps such as Lee Marvin, whom he imaginatively rechristened “Lee Moron”.
After approaching Stanley Kubrick to shoot the western One-Eyed Jacks, Brando became so frustrated with the director’s long-windedness during meetings that he’d bang a gong whenever he felt Kubrick had gone of too long. Amazingly, the filmmaker soon quit the project, leaving Brando to make the movie himself.
While filming Jacks, Brando proved such a perfectionist that he spent days filming the sea, waiting for the perfect wave to break.
Likewise, whenever the script called for Brando’s character to be drunk, the Method legend went on a massive production-delaying bender.
Asked how he found the experience of directing, the actor undiplomatically described the process as “an assbreaker”. He also said that the studio execs left him feeling like “an old whore in a lumber camp who’s been fucked till she can’t see straight.”
Marlon was a good one for helping out his mates. To the studio’s chagrin, he promised to pay best buddy Karl Malden $10,000 to co-star in One-Eyed Jacks. The wonky-nosed actor proceeded to buy a property which he named “the house that Jacks built.”
To promote the action thriller Morituri, Brando conducted 71 interviews in one day. But rather than selling the film, the actor used his time to warn audiences of the dangers of studio propaganda.
Documented by the Maysles brothers’ picture Meet Marlon Brando, the big man’s behavior during the Morituri junket – and in particular his refusal to promote the picture – seems extraordinary in these hype-heavy days. Standard exchange – Journalist: “Tell us about your new movie.” Brando: “Why?”
While filming The Nightcomers, Brando and director Michael Winner got into an argument over the pronunciation of the word ‘integral’. To resolve the matter, Brando suggested both a bet and a forfeit. Cue Winner wandering around Piccadilly Circus selling condoms to bemused backpackers.
Although his star power was on the wane around the time he made The Godfather, he still packed enough clout to prevent Burt Reynolds from being cast as Sonny Corleone.
Contrary to popular belief, Brando didn’t suggest that the sex scenes in Last Tango In Paris should be for real. In fact, he used his weight to overturn Bernardo Bertolucci’s insistence of unsimulated intercourse.
Not content with showing up on the Apocalypse Now set badly out of shape, Brando repeatedly refused to shave his head, despite director Francis Ford Coppola’s desperate requests.
What’s more, Brando hadn’t read Apocalypse’s source novel Heart Of Darkness. Coppola proceeded to take Brando on a river cruise during which he read Joseph Conrad’s book to the actor. Such was the size of Brando’s salary that the outing cost the filmmaker over $500,000.
Arriving on the set of Superman, Brando asked co-star Terence Stamp what the script was like. “Haven’t you read it yet?” frowned the bemused Brit. “No,” smiled Brando, “I was worried it might be shit.” Such an oversight was forgivable given that Marlon was only making $4 million for his efforts.
Brando didn’t care for Frank Oz, director of The Score. And how did he make his displeasure known? By turning up on set minus his trousers and constantly referring to Oz as “Miss Piggy”.
Similarly, while few stars muddied themselves in the Civil Rights controversies of the 1960s and ‘70s, Brando made a point of attending the funerals of slain Black Panthers.
Marlon Brando claims that his indifferent attitude towards the film industry was cemented by a Tahitian woman he met while filming Mutiny On The Bounty. Bored with filming, the lady asked to be released. When the studio demanded compensation, the native offered the execs two pigs and then swam off to her island home. “That’s how life should be,” concluded the movie great.