Anna Kashfi dies at 80; wife in brief, stormy marriage to Marlon Brando

Anna Kashfi, an actress who played exotic beauties on screen and who went through a brief, turbulent marriage to Marlon Brando, has died at a care center in Woodland, Wash. She was 80.

Kashfi was Brando's first wife and the mother of their son Christian.

Her Aug. 16 death was confirmed by Cowlitz County Coroner Tim Davidson, who said it was from natural causes.

Kashfi was married to Brando for 11 months before their separation in 1958. However, their stormy relationship and her sometimes frantic attempts to secure custody of their son generated headlines for years.

In her 1979 memoir, "Brando for Breakfast," she called the cinema superstar "a balding, paunchy hypochondriac, a middle-aged, wheezing Superman; an egomaniac, a rock upon which other egos founder."

She said he was physically and emotionally abusive. "Within his being lurks the unregenerate soul of a Cro-Magnon," she wrote.

In court testimony, Brando contended that his ex-wife was a violent woman addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. He said he married her only because she was pregnant, and that he intended at the time to get a divorce within a year.

They married in his aunt's Eagle Rock living room on Oct.11, 1957. Their divorce became final in 1960.

Both events were front-page news.

So too were revelations about Kashfi's ethnic heritage. The day after their surprise marriage, a factory worker in Cardiff, Wales, told the Associated Press, "That's our Joan!" William Patrick O'Callaghan and his wife, Phoebe, said the new Mrs. Brando was their estranged daughter — not the daughter of a wealthy Indian architect named Devi Kashfi, as she had claimed.

The couple said they had raised Joan in India, where O'Callaghan was with the Indian state railway service, until she was 13. Then they moved to Cardiff, where she completed school and worked in a fish-and-chips shop before turning to modeling and acting. Baptism records and other documents backed up their account.

In her memoir, Kashfi said O'Callaghan was actually her stepfather, and that she was the product of an "unregistered alliance" between the architect, who died weeks before her wedding, and an Indian woman named Selma Ghose.

"Is she Indian? Is she Irish? Is she Welsh? It depends," the Washington Post said earlier this year in recounting the controversy. "The most fascinating revelation from Kashfi's story may be that even a marginal amount of fame means that everyone will claim you."

Kashfi's fame stemmed from a few films in the 1950s and a 12-year string of bitter, highly publicized court battles with Brando. Brando finally gained custody of their long-troubled son after Kashfi moved him to Mexico and hid him on a "hippie commune," as it was described in press accounts.

In 1991, Christian Brando was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of his half sister Cheyenne's boyfriend. He served five years in prison and, in 2008, died of pneumonia. Marlon Brando died in 2004.

Born Sept. 30, 1934 in Darjeeling, India, Kashfi told gossip columnist Hedda Hopper that she got into pictures after a Paramount executive spotted her at a party in London when she was 18.

"It all happened so fast," she said. "The first thing I knew I was in Switzerland..."

In "The Mountain" (1956), with Spencer Tracy, she played a Hindu girl who survives a plane crash in the Alps. Her other films included "Battle Hymn" (1957), in which she played a Korean teacher opposite fighter pilot Rock Hudson; and Glenn Ford's "Cowboy" (1958), in which she was the daughter of a Mexican aristocrat.

In 1974, Kashfi married electronics executive James Hannaford. He died in 1986. She was known as Anna K. Hannaford at the time of her death.

In her later years, she lived modestly. In 2009, French journalist Armelle Vincent interviewed her in her rundown mobile home in Alpine, east of San Diego.

Her survivors include nephew Terry O'Callaghan, of Cardiff, Wales. A complete list was unavailable.

In a Facebook post, O'Callaghan called his aunt Brando's "only true love." He said she had been planning to visit him in November.

"She was the best person you could ever wish to meet, so humble and had no time for Hollywood," he wrote.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

Twitter: @schawkins

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