If you are even a semi-serious lover of film, then you probably have seen at least a few of Marlon Brando’s indelible performances in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, to name only a few. You probably also are familiar with Brando’s legendary appetites for women and food, the tragic arc of his family life and perhaps his controversial political stands.
What you likely don’t know – few do — is that the man widely regarded to be the greatest American actor of the 20th century had a brilliant, restless mind to go with his innate talent and stunning looks. No, Brando was not merely a hunk with a mysterious intuitive genius — he was a student of history and the human condition who read voraciously and wrote some of the most famous lines from his epic performances.
“The enemy of the actor is the mind,” Marlon Brando once wrote in notes he compiled for a 2001 series of acting seminars that he planned to film and distribute under the title, “Lying for a Living.”
Brando, of course, meant that in performance, acting is an emotional rather than intellectual activity. But according to Brando’s Smile: His Life, Thought, and Work, Susan Mizruchi’s engaging, insightful and rigorously researched new biography of the man universally acclaimed as the 20th century’s greatest actor, understanding the often antagonistic dichotomy between a capacious intellect and a vast, intuitive talent goes a long way to cracking the enduring enigma that is Marlon Brando.
“He modeled,” Mizruchi tells Capital & Main, “a kind of social activism – the idea that actors were obligated in some sense to use their fame to help others.”
By the late ’60s, however, the actor’s reputation was in decline.