In the early 1950s, Marlon Brando became the first post-war mega-movie star, redefining screen acting and heralding the end of the star system by refusing to sign a studio contract. But as the studio system fell apart in the 1960s, and a new generation of moviegoers rejected the previous decade’s movie stars, Brando acquired a reputation as box office poison. This is the story of how, with two movies shot in 1971 — The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris — Brando turned his career around. He then spent his regained celebrity capital on an act of social activism that simultaneously drew attention to a good cause, and put Hollywood’s culture of self-adoration in its place.
Today’s episode features excerpts from a conversation between myself and Austin Wilkin, the archivist for the Marlon Brando Estate. I’ve quoted liberally from Brando's own autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me. Of the many, many Brando biographies, Brando's Smile by Susan L. Mizruchi and Marlon Brando by Patricia Bosworth were the most helpful. I’m not sure how seriously to take Alice Marchak’s two self-published books about her time working as Brando's secretary (Wilkin suggested I take them “with a grain of salt”), but I did base some of the section on the 1972 Oscars on Marchak's More Me and Marlon. I consulted Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls to refresh my memory on some aspects of the making of The Godfather; I’ve also written about that film before.
I was a bit shocked to not be able to find an English-language biography of Bernardo Bertolucci (although maybe I shouldn’t have been). I made do with Bernardo Bertolucci: Interviews, and these two articles.
As noted in the podcast, my new book Hollywood Frame by Frame includes images of Brando on the set of The Godfather. The book also includes contact sheets featuring a much younger Brando, on the set of Julius Caesar.
“Preludes for Piano #2” by George Gershwin
“Exlibris” by Kosta T
“Looped” by Jahzzar
“Feel it All Around” by Washed Out
“What True Self, Feels Bogus, Let’s Watch Jason X” by Chris Zabriskie
“Rite of Passage” by Kevin Macleod
“Jump Into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson
“Be Thankful For What You Got” by Massive Attack
“Blue Lines” by Massive Attack
“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie
“Ghost Story” by Versus
“For Better or Worse” by Kai Engel
“Fiery Yellow” by Stereolab
“money” by Jahzzar
“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie
“Rebel Without a Pause” by Public Enemy