All of us to whom he belonged

A memory of Marlon Brando.

By Paul Mantee/Special to The Malibu Times

I never met Marlon Brando. I knew him only in terms of what he shared with all of us through his art, which was plenty.

Sunday night, at a Fourth of July party, I ran into Arnold York, publisher of The Malibu Times, and he asked me if I knew anyone who knew Brando. I did, but they’re all dead now. York said that was his problem as well. So we had another drink and reminisced about apocryphal stories until he said, “Write it.”

Write what?

Marlon Brando belonged to me. He belonged to nearly every actor who came into the craft around the mid-’50s. None of us had ever before been given permission to go so deeply into raw feelings and to behave off impulse as he did. His bravery and freedom, his economy, his ability to listen big and his endless imagination became a beacon. The result was total surprise. And we didn’t know how to do that. So, he was ours.

After the news of Brando’s death, I received several e-mails from friends who felt as strongly about him as I did. But I think the most eloquent was the one I received from Dan Shor, an actor I had the privilege of working with for several seasons on “Cagney & Lacey.” Shor is, at present, teaching and directing on the island of Saipan. His e-mail read simply,” ‘Brando.’ Love, Danny.” And left me to fill in the volume of what he meant to us all. All of us to whom he belonged.

Rod Steiger knew him. The two played brothers in “On the Waterfront.” They were not close. However, whenever Steiger spoke of Brando, I sensed enormous respect. Steiger often cited the latter’s complex sexuality, that part of Brando’s gift that kept us exquisitely off balance. I remember years ago, Steiger and I were discussing a film called “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” an intimate film dealing with a pair of cellmates, starring William Hurt and Raul Julia, that somehow, to both of us, fell short of expectations. I knew it was vaguely unsatisfying, but I didn’t know why. Steiger articulated it this way. “Picture the same film done in the mid-’50s with two young actors named Brando and Clift.” I got the picture.

Steiger and Brando apparently ran into one another a few years ago, either in Canada or in Europe, I forget which, but it was in a restaurant and the meeting was unexpected. As Steiger told it, he walked over to Brando and the two-off impulse, what else?- immediately rubbed foreheads together indicating, in a way words never could, the passage of time by what had occurred to their respective hairlines over the years.

Both actors were famous for an ounce of behavior saying everything.

But the most colorful story about Brando and Steiger together deals with the famous taxicab scene in “On the Waterfront.” The story as I heard it has two versions: his and his.

As Steiger tells it, Brando took it upon himself to go home shortly before Steiger’s close-up. It’s customary and courteous for one actor to position himself off-camera in the eye line of the other during the other’s close-up, especially in a scene involving intimacy, so that the actor whose face is being photographed taller than an apartment building will actually be playing the scene with the other principal. It was Steiger’s contention that he was left to play his close-up opposite a third-assistant director who was sitting off-camera reading from the script.

Brando’s people tell it this way. Shortly after one of the many rehearsals, Brando took director Elia Kazan aside and said to him, “If this guy cries once more, I’m going home.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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