Marlon Brando, Jr. was one of the most famous and influential actors of the second half of the 20th century. The student-turned-face of Method acting, as taught to him by Stella Adler, first gained attention for his performance as Stanley Kowalski in the Broadway run of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947. Ever since, the seemingly tall tales of Brando clashing with actors, writers, and directors have only multiplied over the years. In honor of the legendary actor’s birthday, here are 16 stories about his just-as-legendary antics.
1. HE WAS EXPELLED FROM TWO SCHOOLS.
Brando was expelled from high school, allegedly for riding a motorcycle down the hallway, which forced his father to send him to Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota. Once there, Brando wrote that one night he climbed the bell tower, removed the 150-pound clapper, then carried the clapper 200 yards and buried it. In a stroke of genius, Brando then organized a committee to find out who was responsible. He was never caught, but got himself expelled anyway for other infractions. After that, in the spring of 1943, he moved to New York to live with his sister in Greenwich Village.
2. HE WORKED AS AN ELEVATOR OPERATOR.
In New York, Brando worked as an elevator operator at Best & Co., a department store. In Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, he wrote that he followed that gig with brief stints as a waiter, a short-order cook, and a sandwich man. Brando was also a night watchman in a factory.
3. HE WOULD SPEND HOURS WATCHING AN AGENT MAKE DEALS.
Agent Irving Paul "Swifty" Lazar helped Brando get a $10 raise, from $65 to $75 a week, for his Broadway debut in I Remember Mama. Lazar recalled how in 1945, Brando and his then-girlfriend, Blossom Plumb, would sit silently for hours at a time listening to Lazar make deals over the phone.
4. HE FIXED TENNESSEE WILLIAMS' HOUSE BEFORE AUDITIONING FOR A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.
The playwright was living in Provincetown, Massachusetts when his plumbing flooded. The light fuse was also broken. A few days after he was scheduled to arrive for his audition, Brando showed up at Williams' house, asked him why the lights were out, and then proceeded to fix the fuses and unclog the overflowing toilet bowl. Then he gave his audition. Williams wrote that it was "the most magnificent reading" he had ever witnessed.
5. HE BROKE HIS NOSE DURING A PERFORMANCE OF STREETCAR WHEN HE WAS BOXING WITH SOMEONE BACKSTAGE.
To alleviate the boredom of playing Kowalski on stage for, at that time, over one year, Brando started to fight with one of the stagehands, who was an amateur boxer. The stagehand took it easy on Brando until the actor insisted he fight for real. The stagehand then popped him in the nose, and blackened his eyes. Having just been punched in the face, and with his nose bleeding, Brando stepped back on to the stage. His co-star, Jessica Tandy, hid her surprise at his appearance by ad-libbing the line "You bloody fool" and playing it off as if Stanley had just been in a street fight.
After the performance, Brando walked to the nearest hospital to get himself fixed up. Irene Selznick, the show's producer, told Brando to get his nose reset. She was glad he did not to listen to her. "I honestly think that broken nose made his fortune," she said. "It gave him sex appeal. He was too beautiful before."
6. HE SCREEN TESTED FOR REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.
This was in 1947, when the film project was just a planned screen adaptation of Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath, a 1944 book by Robert M. Lindner, about an inmate who admitted under hypnosis that he witnessed his parents having sex when he was just a baby and had been rebelling ever since. Brando turned down a $3000 per week offer from Warner Bros. and continued to work the stage. When the movie was finally made in 1955, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that James Dean was “imitating Marlon Brando in varying degrees."
7. BRANDO INITIALLY TURNED DOWN ON THE WATERFRONT, AND DIDN'T CARE FOR HIS PERFORMANCE IN IT.
After Brando returned the unread script—twice—Frank Sinatra was cast as Terry Malloy. While costumes were being fitted for the crooner to star, Brando changed his mind after producer Sam Spiegel convinced the actor to put his politics aside and re-team with his A Streetcar Named Desire director Elia Kazan, who had testified as a witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952.
When Brando first saw the movie, he was "so depressed" by his performance that he left the screening room without saying a word. Brando won his first (of two) Best Actor Oscars for the role.
8. SOMEONE STOLE HIS ON THE WATERFRONT OSCAR.
Brando wrote that he honestly did not know what happened to his Oscar. He did not notice its disappearance until 1994, when his lawyer informed him a London auction house was planning on selling it.
9. BRANDO AND SINATRA FEUDED DURING GUYS AND DOLLS.
Still upset over having the role of Terry Malloy taken away from him, Sinatra held a grudge, and repeatedly referred to Brando as "Mumbles." Sinatra also declared that he didn't go for Brando and "that Method crap."
The two ended up starring in Guys and Dolls (1955) together, with Sinatra as Nathan Detroit and Brando as Sky Masterson. To get back at Sinatra for his adamant dislike of rehearsing, Brando purposely screwed up at the end of scenes to necessitate a retake. In one scene, Brando reportedly messed up nine times in a row because Sinatra had to eat a piece of cheesecake every time. After the ninth mistake, Sinatra threw his plate to the ground, jammed his fork on the table, and screamed at the director, "These f**king New York actors! How much cheesecake do you think I can eat?"
10. HE BOUGHT HIS OWN ISLAND.
While filming Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Brando first saw Tetiaroa, a 2.3-square-mile atoll located about 30 miles north of Tahiti's main island. Six years after falling in love with it, he bought it. Today, it operates as a resort: The Brando.
11. HE WAS NOT A FAN OF BURT REYNOLDS.
When Brando learned that Burt Reynolds was being considered for the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), he said that he would drop out of playing Vito if Reynolds was cast. Brando said Reynolds was "the epitome of something that makes me want to throw up."
12. HE CAME UP SHORT WHILE SHOOTING LAST TANGO IN PARIS.
While filming Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial, X-rated movie, Brando became embarrassed one very cold day when, according to him, his member shrank to the "size of a peanut." Unfortunately for Brando, it was on a day when several nude scenes were set to be filmed.
13. BRANDO THOUGHT HIS SUPERMAN CHARACTER WOULD WORK BETTER AS A GREEN BAGEL.
After being cast as Jor-El, Superman's father in Richard Donner's 1978 superhero flick, Brando suggested that it might be better if he simply provided the voice of the character. "He suggested—strongly—that Jor-El could be a suitcase or a green bagel that spoke with Brando's voice," producer Ilya Salkind recalled. "I was really young and I was sweating it out. I said 'My God, this is finished, the movie will not happen ... The man will destroy everything. This is impossible. Jor-El will be a bagel.'" Fortunately, Donner stepped in: "Marlon, I think that people want to see Marlon Brando playing Jor-El. They don't want to see a green bagel."
14. BRANDO READ HIS SUPERMAN LINES OFF OF SUPERMAN'S DIAPER.
TIME initially reported that Brando made $2.25 million for 12 days work on Superman, but over the years his salary has gone up to $3.7 million for his 10 minutes of screen time. In a scene where Brando—as Jor-El, Superman's father—put his infant son into an escape pod, Brando read his lines off the baby's diaper. (Similarly, he had asked Bertolucci if he could read his lines off of co-star Maria Schneider's backside in Last Tango in Paris. In that case, he was turned down.)
15. HE WORKED FOR ONE DAY ON SCARY MOVIE 2.
Brando was paid $2 million to cameo as a priest in Scary Movie 2, but had to drop out when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. "He wanted to go for it," co-writer and star Shawn Wayans said. "He had an oxygen mask and we were like, 'Yo, we gotta let him go. This guy is not healthy." For that one day, Brando had an assistant in the next room read his lines into an ear piece.
16. HE GOT MAD AT YODA.
Brando starred in The Score (2001), directed by Frank Oz, a noted puppeteer who operated and voiced Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, and Yoda. The trouble began when Brando played his homosexual character "way over the top" on the first day of shooting, according to Oz—who also admitted to being "too tough" on Brando when he told him to tone it down.
In response, Brando began referring to Oz as "Miss Piggy." Co-star Robert DeNiro ended up serving as a sort of mediator, and would deliver Oz's directions to Brando. For one scene, shot over two days, Brando was so upset that he refused to act with Oz in the room, so the director had to watch outside with a monitor.