Brando book details his unforgettable life story

GOOD MORNING: Marlon Brando sent me a copy of his autobiography, “Songs My Mother Taught Me” (Random House), written with Robert Lindsey. He didn’t autograph it. Marlon Brando does not sign autographs. Marlon Brando rarely does interviews (with present company every 40 years or so). The book is his interview. He says the book is his “declaration of liberty. I finally feel free and don’t give a damn anymore what people think about me.” And, he adds, “I’m also having more fun than ever before.” But, as the reader races through the 468 pages, it’s obvious Brando had more fun than pain in his 70 years. He details both poignantly — sometimes violently. While he says he doesn’t care about or read what’s written about him, he admits, “When the press made up lies about me, I used to try and maintain an image of indifference, but privately I sustained great injury.” He admits going through most of his life afraid of being rejected , a fact many of those who differed with him would find difficult to believe. He delves into his philosophies and cites learning experiences including teachings of some, like Satyajit Ray, who convinced him there are things that not even he, Brando, can solve. Yet he continues to this day to try and salve the world’s woes. The book boasts sensational stills of his personal and professional life, ranging from a pic of him and Marilyn to a photo of him at a 1963 civil rights march in Torrance, where a placard-bearer denounced him viciously. He says, “There have been several important influences on my life. Philosophically I’ve felt closest to the American Indians; I sympathize with them, admire their culture and have learned a great deal from them. Jews opened my mind and taught me to value knowledge and learning, and blacks also taught me a lot. But I think Polynesians have had the greatest influence because of how they live.” He writes at length about the Indians and Tahiti and his island, Teti’aroa. He talks about the making of the remake of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” his introduction to Tahiti. He says the delays in the filming of “Bounty” were blamed on him, and a press agent he hired to counteract the brickbats was actually a plant from the studio (MGM) itself.

BRANDO ADMITS HIS FAILURES. But he also cops a plea, saying how he tried to save (change) some of the disastrous scripts — like “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery.” Brando sez he told Ilya Salkind the movie would be a tragedy if filmed — the way it was. He had earlier made $ 14 million from the Salkinds for his “Superman” three weeks’ work. His contract gave him 11.3% of the gross, a figure Brando delighted in extracting from early days on. Why 11.3%? “I have my reasons,” he said mysteriously … Brando claims, “In the movie business there is a crude but amusing saying: The way to say ‘fuck you’ in Hollywood is ‘trust me.’ ” But he says it’s not always true, admits there are some “wonderful, honest people there.” He talks about Francis Coppola on “The Godfather” when he, Brando, threatened to quit when Charles Bluhdorn was going to fire Francis. But Brando and Coppola later disagreed on “Apocalypse Now.” Brando was thoroughly annoyed at the documentary Francis’ wife made about the making of “Apocalypse.” Brando believes it was Francis’ fine hand behind the negative docu report on Marlon … As for the highly controversial X-rated “Last Tango in Paris,” he says both he and Bernardo Bertolucci don’t know what the picture was about. Marlon describes the embarrassing moment filming in the nude — and what the ice-cold stage did to his private parts. He says he and Maria Schneider simulated “a lot of things … it was all ersatz sex”… But there was nothing ersatz about his private sex life. He relates with relish many interludes, none with names of those still living.

BRANDO’S ANGER OVER HIS FATHER’S treatment of his mother, his sisters and himself explodes in one particular episode. Brando had given his father a job in his company, and when he discovers his father has fired one of his employees Marlon’s rage is unconfined. As is his frustrated anger when he learns his father died — before Marlon had the chance to conclude matters with him. No holds are barred here … He reveals how he used script cues written anywhere and everywhere — on the sets, actors’ foreheads, costumes etc., rather than learn lengthy monologues. He graduated to tiny earphones and short-waved cues from offstage, claiming spontaneity was more effective than rote learning of the dialogue … He relives the Oscar night when Sacheen Littlefeather stood in for him and accepted his “Godfather” Oscar. He claims, “I don’t know what happened to that Oscar. The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did I don’t know where it is now.” He talks about his childhood, his early career, his eventual nervous breakdown, his solace in meditation. He does not talk about the past two years’ grief with his children, his legal battles on their behalf. Nor does he talk about his wife. He talks at length about his one great love, Weonna … Invariably whenever anyone questions me about Marlon they ask, “How’s his weight?” He admitted to me when I visited him on the set of “Don Juan” he’s constantly trying to lose weight. And in the book he allows, “There probably isn’t a diet I haven’t tried.” He admits, “Food has always been my friend. When I wanted to feel better or had a crisis in my life, I opened the icebox. Most of my life I weighed about 170 pounds, although when I had my nervous breakdown in New York I dropped to 157.”

ASIDE FROM ELIA KAZAN and Bertolucci, Brando says the best director he worked with was Gillo Pontecorvo on “Queimada!”– released as “Burn!” He says “Bedtime Story” was his happiest moviemaking experience — thanks to working with David Niven, a man who made life a delight for anyone lucky enough to be around him … And it is obvious from this book that anyone around Brando, at work or at play, found the experience unforgettable.

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