“The only reason I’m in Hollywood is that I don’t have the moral courage to refuse the money.” – Marlon Brando
One of the most iconic actors to have ever graced Hollywood, Marlon Brando is the human embodiment of the phrase: the man, the myth, the legend. Having been the subject of various wild stories and conspiracy theories, he is a sensational character, intriguing, mysterious and idiosyncratic, who seems to have led a life luxurious enough for us to ponder over. His strange ways have often been converted into urban myths, cementing his volatile, unpredictable and madcap persona. Known for his iconic roles in films such as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, A Streetcar Named Desire and more, this Hollywood icon had a fruitful career spanning nearly six decades. However, with passing time, he grew severely disillusioned and hated acting yet returned to fund his extravagant lifestyle. Arguably one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history, Brando’s rich legacy included him becoming a cultural icon who had the image of an “angry young man – the delinquent, the tough, the rebel – who stood at the centre of [our] common experience.”
Brando, who gained acclaim via theatre, however, never wanted to go back as it had been a very humbling and emotionally draining experience for him. While rehearsing for A Streetcar Named Desire, the “emotional grind” involved him “having to yell, scream, cry, break dishes, kick the furniture, punch the walls and experience the same intense, wrenching emotions night after night, trying each time to evoke in audiences the same emotions” which proved to be exceedingly exhausting. In his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me, Brando discussed how his “emotional insecurity as a child” and “the frustrations of not being allowed to be who I was, of wanting love and not being able to get it, of realising that I was of no value” had helped him achieve a certain sensibility and intensity as an actor that others lacked.
Alongside his acting prowess, Brando was notorious for his on-set antics. He was loved for his acting ability yet feared for his volatility and tantrums. Given how close he was to Jack Nicholson, both being dubbed as the bad boys of Beverly Hills, the two pranksters were regularly up to no good. Brando, though, was notoriously difficult to work with and had repeated bizarre requests. From requesting to play a dolphin to being the bagel-version of Krypton, Superman’s father, working with Brando was borderline nightmarish. He often refused to memorise his lines and that would force the actors to wear cue cards to aid him to say his dialogues. The man also owned a raccoon who would allegedly “play fight and tickle” with him and love being “chased around” by the veteran actor.
While these bizarre stories circulate, it is pertinent to note that the man was insanely courageous and unabashed; he did not turn up to accept his Academy Award for his brilliant performance as the phenomenal Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather to voice out his protest against the atrocities meted out to the Native Americans. A serial romancer, openly bisexual and proud and aware of his talent, Brando lived a rocky life. His disillusionment resulted from his absolute hatred towards the pretentious facade of Hollywood yet he continued being one of the pioneering figures of his time.
Two-time Oscar winner Brando passed away on July 1, 2004, at the age of 80 to respiratory problems and a failing heart. Today marks his 18th death anniversary, and we pay tribute to the incomprehensible and elusive icon by taking a look at the 10 wildest stories about Brando and his quirks.
10 wildest Marlon Brando stories
10. A mastiff saved Brando from interviews
Brando was notorious for escaping the public eye and media attention, well known for never cooperating with the press. Brando would usually stay at home with his two English mastiffs, of whom Doctor Tim was his favourite. It is alleged that during the promotions for The Score, when a reporter requested an interview response to the actor, they would be directed to Doctor Tim. Doctor Tim had allegedly responded to one such fax from a New York Times reporter fairly quickly with a curt “Marlon Brando is unavailable” and undersigned his “Doctor Tim”.
Doctor Tim had even made a brisk appearance in the infamous Larry King interview (which ended with Brando and King kissing). Brando had specifically requested a close-up shot of his beloved companion who helped him escape unwanted interviews and the prying questions of interviewers.
9. An undead best friend
The voice actor in Underdog, Wally Cox was one of Brando’s closest friends. Cox’s wife, Patricia Shapiro, wanted to honour her husband’s request following his death and requested Brando to scatter the ashes in the late actor’s favourite hiking spots. However, Brando, who was in denial of his friend’s death, did not pay any heed to her request and kept the ashes at home. Shapiro had stumbled upon this truth years later in a Time Magazine interview.
Brando, who simply could not bring himself to sever his attachment to his best friend, wanted to keep up the illusion of Cox being alive by his side. He would talk to his ashes and feel closer to his best friend in the process. “He was [like] my brother,” he admitted, “I can’t tell you how much I miss and love that man. I have Wally’s ashes in my house. I talk to him all the time.”
8. The human scalp situation
Widely known for her role as Magenta in the cult-favourite counter-culture classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, Patricia Quinn encountered Brando’s bizarre behaviour on a particular occasion. In Peter Manso’s biography, Marlon Brando, Quinn talked about how the legendary actor once presented her with a human scalp necklace. Quinn, who had been a romantic interest of Brando in the 1960s, once visited him on the sets of The Appaloosa and was accompanied by Bob Dylan. As soon as she entered the trailer, all Brando did, according to her, was “take this thing from around his neck and put it around mine”. It was his way of “claiming” her and Quinn soon realised that the “thing” was actually a “real human scalp”.
On the same day, Brando charmed his way into Dylan’s heart by opening a bottle of coke with his teeth. Dylan was so impressed that an alleged romance brewed between the two. Brando was unabashedly a bisexual and Quinn confirmed the Brando-Dylan romance rumours by saying that despite never having seen “anything”, the “word going around then was that Dylan was swinging both ways.”
7. God appears in form of a fart machine
Marlon Brando had a knack for practical jokes. From offering fake bagels that had a cockroach inside them to shock the guests to using a remote-controlled fart machine to catch them off-guard, Brando would go to great lengths to appease his joker streak. He was a particular fan of farts and had even considered creating a fart phone line where one could call and guess the name of the celebrity by identifying their fart sound.
Brando used the fart machine to distract actors as well. Johnny Depp had the courage to ask him regarding this and Brando simply replied that his fixation with farts is a result of them being “blatantly anti-social”.
“After a couple of years of being on the receiving end of Marlon’s practical jokes,” Depp allegedly gifted him a fart unit which led to the veteran actor claiming: “I’ve found God!” Depp said that they “were both winners as the fart machine became a source of entertainment for many years.”
6. A frog a day keeps Brando’s hunger at bay
Strange tales of Marlon Brando’s extreme love for food has been circulated over the years. He had been nicknamed Branflakes due to his immense love for cereals and rich and greasy breakfasts. Brando could apparently eat two whole chickens in one single sitting and had a sweet tooth. His wife would chain up the fridge to prevent him from overeating as it hinted at a lot of health issues and he would request his friends to sneak in burgers over his fenced house while he was supposed to diet. Brando’s tryst with overeating was an open secret in Hollywood but none of his eating habits was as unbelievable as what he did while shooting the nutcase film The Missouri Breaks.
In 1976, Brando was shooting the popular western The Missouri Breaks. He was no longer interested in maintaining the figure of a quintessential leading man and was growing rotund by the day, his hunger subsuming his desire to function or his ability to think clearly. It is alleged that Brando once fished out a frog from a pond to take a bite out of it before tossing it back into the water. As bizarre as it may sound, given Brando’s quirks, the possibility of this event cannot be discounted. Perhaps he was in the mood for a frog steak rather than a beef steak!
5. The power of the electric eels
During Brando’s 2004 memorial service, Ed Begley Jr., who was very passionate about using alternative sources of energy recalled, how Brando had once expressed his desire to use electric eels as one of the sources. Brando had reportedly summoned Begley Jr. to his house to address an “urgent matter” which involved Brando’s desire to accumulate thousands of electric eels in his swimming pool wherein he could harness their power to use it for the house. He was quite annoyed with Begley’s hesitation, saying how everything that he suggested to Begley Jr was always denied.
Brando went ahead with his plan, gathering some eels on his private island in Tahiti. While cleaning their tank, he kept them in the swimming pool one day. It was quite unfortunate as his son had brought home a girlfriend for a swim. When she jumped into the pool, she was shocked pretty hard and was sent into the air away from the water as a result. Although everyone survived this incident, it is safe to assume that his son probably lost a potential girlfriend to his father’s eccentric ways!
4. Brando’s pissing contest
Brando was known for his strange antics. While he played the heroic Mexican revolutionary of Irish-Mexican descent, Emiliano Zapata in the 1952 film Viva Zapata!, Anthony Quinn portrayed the role of Zapata’s brother, Eufemio. Quinn allegedly felt himself to be better suited for the role of Zapata which irked Brando and the latter wanted to challenge his rival to a fair game to decide who was a better fit. It was a literal pissing contest over the Rio Grande.
The challenge was fairly simple. The furthest piss would declare the winner. Brando emerged the victor with his piss travelling the furthest, helping him retain the titular role of Zapata while Quinn went back to playing Eufemio. Things worked out in his favour as well as Quinn went on to win an Oscar for his role.
3. His obsession with mind control during circumcision
Brando was invested in meditating towards the later stages of his life as it helped him gain clarity during the troubled phases that included various emotional, psychological and physical issues. When he decided to get a circumcision in his ‘60s, Brando had an unusual request for the doctors. He believed that his ability to meditate had given him an incomprehensible pain tolerance and thus wanted to procedure to be conducted without using painkillers or anaesthesia.
In his autobiography, Brando recalled a discussion with his doctor regarding the same. The doctor was allegedly “sceptical but said it would be an interesting medical experience”. Brando, who was excited to “eliminate the pain using mind control during the operation”, however, was extremely disgruntled to find that his circumcision would be performed only after administering an anaesthetic. This makes one wonder if Brando really was that confident about his mediation skills or if he just had a pain kink!
2. The bizarre madness of Doctor Moreau
Brando hated memorising lines and while he was shooting The Island of Dr. Moreau, his claims were obnoxious and insufferable. He wanted someone to feed him the dialogues via the earpiece. He created a lot of problems on set and wanted to abruptly stop the production for a period as long as eight weeks for the remodelling and rewriting of the script where he wanted to include a bizarre detail. He wanted Dr. Moreau to take off his hat in the final scene to reveal his true identity of being a dolphin. Brando even wanted to wear an ice bucket as a headpiece.
Marlon Brando did not stop there. He even vehemently asked for a sidekick which was totally not a part of the script. He was smitten by the 71-centimetre-tall Nelson de La Rosa, one of the shortest actors and was obsessed with him. He wanted de la Rosa to be a part of all his scenes where they would wear matching clothes and he would stay as his personal sidekick. He was fascinated by the other actor and often asked, “You’re telling me there’s a man in there!?”
1. Brando’s beef with Frank Oz
The film sets of The Score witnessed the worst of Brando in his final feature film role. He was a nightmare to work with and had received a payment of a whopping $3 million for just three weeks. On the very first day, Brando turned up to the sets naked from below his waist. This was allegedly intentional so that the director could not film anything below his shoulders as he wanted to conceal the “full measure of his corpulence”. Brando outright bullied Oz on several occasions which can be seen as the actor’s rebellion against his job which he returned to just to fund his lavish living.
Since Oz had worked as a puppeteer on Muppets Show, Brando called him Miss Piggy which often left the director humiliated and led to heated arguments. Brando refused to be directed by Oz and Robert De Niro had to direct the scenes that contained Brando which were relayed by the director via a headset. One day, Brando was so agitated with Oz that he went on to cuss at him with a vivid insult: “I bet you wish I was a puppet so you could stick your hand up my ass and make me do what you want.” Brando refused to cooperate or smile in his last scene which prompted the director to use CGI in post-production to correct it.