There was Lino Ventura, Wally Cox, Satch Sanders, Christian Marquand.
My detractors called them toadies and maybe they were.
Hell, I was a fucking matinee idol so there’s going to be hangers-on.
But they were also my friends, until they died or betrayed me.
Or I betrayed thembecause of some mood I was in.
Were the friendships strictly platonic?
Not strictly, no.
But my thing was females, as I’ve said, and they came around in droves.
I could never get enough.
That was long before I’d become too fat to fuck.
After Waterfront came out in ’54 and I became as famous as Elvis, I kept two NY apartments, a seven-room spread-out deal on West End Avenue, where I would go when I wanted to hang out, and a brownstone flat on Bedford Street in the Village when I wanted to be alone.
One phone I used for my people; the other was unlisted, but somehow the unlisted got out and I started getting crank calls.
One series of calls lasting for months came after midnight into the dawn hours from someone who would stay on the phone but not talk.
Sometimes I heard what sounded like nervous breathing.
After the 73rd time I said into the phone: “If you keep phoning me why don’t you have the courage to say what you want.”
There was a long pause, then, in tremulous low tones, a female voice:
“I want to eat your sacred body.”
After about a six count I forced a laugh.
“You mean like eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood?”
I said: “Why don’t you come here to my apartment. See me up close.”
This was my flat on Bedford Street.
“When?” she said
“Right now. Call a cab. You know where I live, right?”
The time was 2:35 AM.
I didn’t sleep much in those days.
She must have phoned from close by because five minutes later I heard a single tap at my door.
She was a tall slender girl of nineteen or twenty with wide-apart green eyes and extraordinarily long black hair.
I didn’t see how long her hair was until she came inside—it reached below her waist.
She followed me into the living room and sat on a cushion on the floor, her slim legs wrapped gracefully.
I sat on the floor across from her.
“What’s your name?”
“Quentin,” she said.
That shook me for some reason.
I looked at her closely.
She was wearing a lot of makeup; her face was white like a Kabuki actor.
Her hair was wavy and lustrous and so long she was actually sitting on it.
Her eyes were large, limpid, emerald green.
She wore a black cotton jersey and black slacks.
She had removed her shoes; her feet were slender and pointed.
“Did you plan to eat my sacred body before or after murdering me?”
It was a bad joke; she kept her head down.
“How did you plan to murder me, Quentin?”
She looked up at me, her eyes glistened.
She withdrew a scalpel from a small bag and waved it with her left hand.
“You’re a southpaw like me,” I said. “Okay, here I am. Murder.”
She didn’t move.
Then she lunged at me.
I grabbed her wrist and twisted it so that the scalpel fell on the floor.
She was stronger than I expected and I cut my hand.
When she saw the blood she bowed her head and licked the blood from my hand.
The cut wasn’t deep as a grave but it was bad enough.
I washed and dressed it and Quentin, head bowed, bandaged it carefully.
I smelled the sweetness of her hair.
We went back into the living room and sat again on the floor.
I picked up the scalpel—it had a retractable blade.
I closed it and put it in my pocket.
“I guess you’ll have to wait until next time to murder me, Quentin.
“So what do you want to do?”
Long legs and long straight back sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Gazing at me through emerald eyes.
In her soft contralto she said: “I want to wash your feet with my hair.”
“Why do you want to wash my feet with your hair?”
“She just looked at me.”
“Okay,” I said.
Immediately she stood and glided into the kitchen where she filled a metal basin with warm water.
She carried the basin into the living room, sat down beside me, removed my shoes and socks, and commenced to wash my feet with her thick, lustrous ebony hair
Caringly, reverently, she dried my feet with her hair.
Her hair was long and rich enough to wash and dry.
I saw the down on the nape of her neck.
I saw the scars on each of her wrists.
The feet-washing felt good.
Then it felt sexy.
Before I knew it, I was carrying her to my bedroom, knowing it was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
She was suicidal.
I was Jesus and about to fuck her.
She was scared to death.
At the same time her passion was close to bursting.
I was saying to myself: “Don’t do it, Bud.”
But a penis has its own agenda.
I was 24, passionate, determined, and forceful if I had to be.
When I penetrated her she cried out: “No, no, I am dying!”
“You’re not dying,” I whispered. “You’re alive.”
She was a virgin; her blood was all over the bed.
I felt lousy.
At the same time I was enjoying it.
Afterwards I was filled with remorse.
How could I seduce a girl who washed my feet with her hair and wanted to eat my sacred body because she saw me as Jesus?
When we were dressed and back in the living room, I said to her:
“I did the wrong thing, Quentin, and now I’m going to pay for it.”
I flung open the window—I lived on the fourth floor—and leaped out.
Actually I was hanging from the extended window sill.
It was a kind of parlor trick I’d practiced and done several times before.
Usually when everyone was drunk.
I chinned myself up and onto the roof, from where I peered into the living room.
Quentin was stunned, then she rushed to the window and looked down to see where I’d fallen.
But it was a dark night, moonless.
She sighed loudly, looked at the phone, but then backed up and let herself out of the apartment.
Afraid she might take her own life, I hired an investigator.
He said that when she was stalking me she’d taken down Streetcar posters with my photo and plastered her bedroom with them.
She lived with her older brother and his family in Staten Island.
Her brother was a cop who patrolled the subways.
Quentin would phone me from a pay-phone in an all-night pharmacy close to my Village apartment.
Once, for some reason, she became so upset she hung up the phone and drove her fist through the glass booth badly cutting her hand.
After my faked suicide she removed the posters from her bedroom walls and burned them.
Then she moved to the Horn of Africa, where she worked as a medical aide with Doctors Without Borders.
Improbable story, I know.
But that’s what my investigator came up with.
It took a while before I identified Quentin with the Queen of Hearts and possibly with my dead sister Quinn.
But I could never say what the identification signified.
His heart, it bleeds for the masses,
But the people he works with
get kicked in the asses.
I can’t say for sure who wrote this limerick about Brando.
I first heard it while shooting The Appaloosa, in ’65, where, thanks to
Bud–Marlon–I was working as a stuntman.
Marlon routinely kicked ass on the set of The Appaloosa, especially the young Canadian director Sidney Furie.
Though he was notoriously inconsistent, Brando’s heart always bled for the underdog, foundling, stray, like I said.
And after Capote’s blood-sucking profile in The New Yorker in ’57, Brando insisted he would no longer act in any film that didn’t have “social significance.”
What the connection was between Capote’s profile and Brando’s
resolution was not clear.
It was a resolution Brando would not be able to keep.
Too many times he needed the quick cash a starring role gave him, which meant continuing to do schlock.
Even doing schlock Brando usually managed to inject an intensity into a movie that had nothing else going for it.
He did become much more involved with social activism outside of acting.
It was the Sixties that gave him the political context.
He marched in Mississippi with MLK.
He traveled to Alabama to protest George Wallace’s school segregation, and Brando and Wallace had a nose-to-nose shouting confrontation surrounded by Wallace’s big-assed cops and K9s.
He spoke out against Apartheid, visited Nelson Mandela in prison, and broke bread with Bishop Tutu.
He spoke and marched against the Vietnam War.
He helped finance the Black Panthers, then the American Indian Movement, AIM.
Long before Jane Fonda became “Hanoi Jane,” Brando was part of a delegation led by the renegade former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, which also included Joan Baez, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Harry Belafonte.
They met with Ho Chi Minh and signed a document condemning the US’s “unlawful, immoral invasion of a sovereign country.”
This was in ’66 or ’67.
In India on a volunteer UNICEF mission in the mid-sixties, Marlon was stunned by the devastating famine in Bihar state in the northeast of the country.
Especially as the famine affected the lower castes and the “untouchables.”
Brando despised the Indian caste system, and he decided to film the Bihar famine as a documentary.
He said at the time that the US had its own untouchables: American Indians, blacks, homosexuals . . .
Back in the US, Brando showed the documentary to the JFK appointed Hollywood “czar,” Jack Valenti.
Valenti promised he would screen the film for LBJ.
Brando never heard back.
Next he tried the TV networks which responded pretty much the same way.
An NBC official viewed the 45-minute documentary and said it had its moments but NBC couldn’t use it.
“Why not?” Brando insisted.
“The NBC news department produces its own filming,” the official said.
“Yeah, but I was just there,” Brando said.
“People are dying of famine while millions of acres of harvested crops are being destroyed in other parts of the world because of economic-driven farm policies.
“My film is showing the truth.”
“Sorry, that is NBC policy,” the official said.
Brando gave up on getting his documentary produced.
Marlon appreciated that neither the Black Panthers nor AIM kissed his ass, but after a while he started to think that because of his fame and wealth maybe he was being suckered.
Bobby Seale was friendly to Brando in a sort of formal way, but Eldridge Cleaver gave off very little even when he was asking for $$ and it hurt Marlon that Cleaver didn’t seem to like him.
When Fred Hampton, the charismatic 20-year-old leader of the Panthers’ Chicago chapter, was drugged, ambushed, and massacred in his bed by Hoover’s COINTELPRO in ’69, Marlon flew to icy Chicago and joined the mourners.
He stood in a line that extended for several streets waiting to pay his respects.
I know because I stood in line with him.
None of the working-class black people in mourning for Fred Hampton there seemed to recognize Marlon Brando.
They weren’t in the mood to celebrate a white movie star, even with Marlon’s street cred.
We finally got inside the shot-to-shit small apartment.
The walls were still splattered with blood.
Fred Hampton’s open coffin was set in the center of the single room.
Marlon bent to kiss Fred Hampton’s forehead and I saw that he was weeping.
I’m estimating that Marlon probably donated as much as half a million dollars to the Panthers.
But when he was feeling depressed or pissed or both he would wonder where the money was actually ending up.
In the company of Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, or even 17-year-old Bobby Hutton, who was also ambushed and murdered by the feds, Marlon would look on admiringly and listen.
After AIM took over Alcatraz Island in ‘69, Marlon’s attention was energized in the direction of the American Indian Movement.
He hooked up with Dennis Banks and Russell Means and, later, for a brief time, with Leonard Peltier, boarding him in his LA home when Peltier was a
fugitive wanted for the murders of two feds on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
When Dennis Banks was on the lam Marlon gave him his motor home which Banks later totaled en route to Dakota from LA.
Banks got away but the feds claimed they discovered a huge cache of weapons in the motor home.
Marlon insisted the feds planted the weapons, and I’m pretty sure he was right.
Dennis Banks seemed to like Marlon but Russell Means didn’t trust him and
even called him a punk.
Marlon put his life on the line a bunch of times when he went on desegregation marches and confronted violent racists, shot film in infectious India, gave talks at the Pine Ridge rez, or put up fugitives wanted for murder either in his LA home or on his island in Tahiti.
But there were other times when Marlon seemed unexpectedly uptight.
Once in a sweat lodge ceremony in Gresham, Wisconsin, in 1975, during the month or so the Menominee Indians occupied a monastery there, Marlon had a paranoid episode and demanded to be helicoptered from the site immediately.
There was no imminent danger, but Marlon had gotten himself into a state.
Russell Means couldn’t forgive him for that.
I actually got to ask Marlon what it was that freaked him about the sweat lodge ceremony.
He didn’t answer the question.
Brando played the lead in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1969 Queimada, Portuguese for “Burn!,” the title, with an exclamation, under which a cut-up version was released in the US.
Pontecorvo had achieved a critical fame with Battle of Algiers and Brando turned down Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to work with him.
It seemed a perfect pairing: the brilliant revolutionary Italian director of the Battle of Algiers, and Brando.
Burn! was primarily an allegory of the misbegotten Vietnam War, and
Brando played a British upper-classman named William Walker who was transformed from revolutionary to counter-revolutionary.
The film was being shot in Martinique in the summer and Pontecorvo was a perfectionist who expected compliance from his actors, most of whom had been amateurs. Until Burn!
Brando noticed that a number of black-skinned Martinique extras were segregated from the Caucasian cast.
The blacks ate at a long table set aside from the more elaborate facilities and
were served different, cheaper, food.
Brando immediately confronted Pontecorvo.
He said: You are a Marxist.
How can you justify treating poor people that way?
Isn’t it their country that we are filming in?
Pontecorvo tried to make light of it.
“Look, Marlon, they are eating better food than they usually eat.
“And they are not complaining.
“I’m shooting this film on a small budget and if we want to complete it we will have to make sacrifices.”
Brando didn’t buy it.
He sat with the black extras and asked them whether they liked being segregated and fed different food than the white cast.
They said they would prefer the same privileges as everyone else.
Brando went back to Pontecorvo.
He said that either Pontecorvo treats the extras the same as everyone else or he stops working.
Pontecorvo relented, but his relationship with Brando never really healed.
Worse, they nearly came to blows.
By the time the film was a wrap Pontecorvo had a pistol in his belt and Brando carried a bowie knife.
Marlon was very dexterous and would at unexpected times throw the knife so that it would pierce the wall or a post and vibrate menacingly next to where Pontecorvo was stationed.
Pontecorvo would shudder and reach for his pistol.
Brando took it all as a surreal joke; Pontecorvo didn’t.
Burn! was released in ’70; the film and Brando got mixed reviews.
Sometime after the film Brando was quoted by Life as saying about Pontecorvo: “I would like to murder him.”
When that remark was conveyed to Pontecorvo, he said the following:
“I like Brando very much even if we fought while making Burn!
“We finished the film without a handshake.
“But two years later, I decided he was a profound, sympathetic man, so my wife and I sent a postcard saying, Merry Christmas.
“He didn’t answer, so I thought, I don’t like this man any more.”
Brando and Pontecorvo did not communicate for five or six years, when
out of the blue Brando contacted him and asked him to direct a film about the
Sioux Indians which would take place in South Dakota and Nebraska.
Pontecorovo said, “Look, we had a terrible working relationship five years
ago on Burn!‘’
The same thing is sure to happen with this project you have in mind.
Brando insisted that it would be different, that Pontecorvo was the only director who could do what he had in mind.
Pontecorvo gave in.
He never saw a script because Brando never wrote a script.
Still Pontecorvo, Brando, and other backers invested many thousands of dollars in the project.
Pontecorvo traveled from Italy to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
He lived on Pine Ridge for four months, meeting with Brando a few times a week to discuss the project, still without a script, which Brando claimed to be writing.
After a while, Brando stopped showing up for meetings and did not answer Pontecorvo’s phone calls.
Pontecorvo subsequently learned that Marlon had handed over all of the invested capital to AIM, which meant no seed money for the projected film.
Five months later Pontecorvo returned to Italy still without an explanation from Brando.
Maybe the most unexpected result was that Pontecorvo did not seem to mind
the misspent money and lost time.
He insisted that living on the Pine Ridge Reservation was more than worth whatever disappointments he put up with.
He said: “I had the rare experience to live in a hut for fifty-five days on an Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota, near Wounded Knee.
“I admired these people, who were so very attentive to political problems.
“They were very poor, yet when I went away, they gave me a present covered over with paper.
“On the plane, I opened it and found a blanket I recognized from one of the beds.
“I was very moved.”
Regarding Brando, Pontecorvo seemed to appreciate him all over again,
“If you work with a genius like Brando, you must give him space for creativity.
“He remains for me the greatest actor ever to play in movies.
“Also, he’s a very deep and nice person.
“Just a little bit crazy.”
Marlon had always been a strong supporter of Israel and enjoyed interacting
with European Jews like Estelle Rosen and her family.
He admired their humor, their chutzpah, their life force.
Early in his career he played the lead in a transparently bad play, Ben Hecht’s A Flag is Born, because he–Brando–supported the play’s overt Zionism.
But on a film-related trip to the Middle East in the late seventies, he got to go to Palestine and was very moved by what he saw.
His outspokenness on behalf of Palestinians lost him some Jewish friends.
And he never did the film which he thought belittled the Palestinian cause.
The film was to be directed by Otto Preminger, so maybe I should call it a movie.
How did Brando manage to act, often on location, run his on-again off-again production company, do his political work, tend to his family, to his constantly changing harem of women, and still hang with his homies?
Well, he didn’t do much tending to his family.
And he didn’t sleep.
He was a lousy sleeper all the time I knew him which goes back to the late Forties.
How many times did I get a phone call from him at three or four AM asking me to come over, or just wanting to bullshit on the phone?
When Marlon was bone weary but still couldn’t sleep he would take amphetamines.
I’m a long-time doper, I can tell when a dude is on speed.
Probably because of the alcoholism in his family, Marlon would never own
up to doing any kind of drug.
And later he was very hard on his kids, Krishnan and Lakota, who were both dopers.
Brando was originally Brandeaux; Marlon’s father’s family came from the Alsace-Lorraine area of France.
But because of the name Brando and Marlon’s look, a lot of people took him for Italian.
When he was cast as the Godfather, that assumption was reinforced.
It was rumored that the New York mafia was curious about Marlon’s depiction of Don Corleone.
The real mafia was concerned about how Marlon’s seemingly radical politics would square with his version of the Don.
Once, after shooting, Marlon, a few Godfather extras and I were eating in an Italian restaurant in Mott Street, Little Italy, near Chinatown.
I think it was a Tuesday.
Suddenly a burly tough guy appeared at our table and said: “Mr Gotti is
across the street and wants to meet Marlo Brando.”
That would be John Gotti, the “Dapper Don,” commander and chief of the Gambino family.
Marlon smiled, wiped his lips with the cloth napkin in a kind of “Italian” gesture, and got up.
The rest of us at the table followed him.
John Gotti was in a private club playing cards with four other men.
He was wearing an elegant silver-toned sharkskin suit which matched his coiffed silver hair.
He looked sharp as a stiletto.
The burly messenger made the introduction:
“Mr Gotti, this is Marlo Brando.”
Marlon held out his hand which after a pause John Gotti accepted, but without looking up from the card table.
Suddenly Marlon gathered up all the cards on the table, removed the cards from John Gotti’s hands, shuffled them, and said,
“Mr Gotti, pick a card.”
There was stone silence as Gotti’s men glared at Brando.
Gotti himself gave off an ironic chuckle which sounded a little menacing.
Then, with a thick manicured hand, he picked a card.
Marlon reshuffled the deck elaborately, then produced a card: the Queen of Hearts.
“Show us the card you have in your hand, Mr. Gotti.”
Gotti tossed the card on the table: it was the Queen of Hearts.
How could there be two in one deck?
Gotti looked straight ahead with a small grin at the side of his mouth.
His men looked at each other wondering if Marlon’s card trick was intended
to make John Gotti lose face.
It was like a scene out of Guys and Dolls.
Marlon said: “Thanks to you all.”
He set the deck on the table, turned, and left.
We followed him, thinking we might not make it to the door.
Two weeks later Marlon got a phone call from one of John Gotti’s people.
“Mr Gotti wants to know if you will go to the fights with him.
“As his guest.
“Madison Square Garden, Friday, 10 o’clock.”
Brando said he had other plans that night and couldn’t make it.
So Brando acted ballsy and even a little crazy with the real mafia Don, but he
got away with it.
When Marlon won an Oscar for his role in The Godfather he laughed it off.
Then he got pissed.
How could this bullshit Hollywood acting mean so much when American Indians are fighting for their lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation and being condemned or ignored?
Marlon decided to send a friend, the Apache Sacheen Littlefeather, in his place to accept his Oscar and deliver a speech on the persecution of native American people.
When Sacheen Littlefeather arrived at the ceremony, she told the show’s producer, Howard Koch, that Marlon Brando had given her a 15-page statement to read if he won the award.
“I’ll give you 45 seconds to make your statement,” Koch replied.
“If you go one second over, I’ll have you bodily removed from the stage.”
Somehow Sacheen Littlefeather condensed Brando’s 15-page speech on the official suffocation of Native Americans into 45 seconds.**
Later Sacheen Littlefeather was slandered as a fraud, a TV soap opera actress, and a former winner of the 1970 Miss American Vampire competition.