Remembering Brando, the Political Activist
Re “A Hollywood Iconoclast Who Transformed the Art of Acting,” July 3: Readers might be interested to know that Marlon Brando was a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy.
After reading my March 3, 1999, Op-Ed article in The Times criticizing U.S. actions in Guatemala, Brando contacted me and initiated an hourlong discussion about the history of U.S. operations there. Outraged at U.S. military training and CIA manuals on killing in Central America, he wanted to understand how it was possible to turn normal American boys into killers and torturers abroad. Is this “human nature,” he wondered, or can it be changed? (These questions remain painfully relevant today.)
It seemed likely that Brando was beginning to formulate a film project to educate Americans about overt and covert U.S. interventions abroad -- perhaps a modern-day version of his movies such as “Burn!” (1969), perhaps in the tradition of “The Ugly American” (1963) or “A Dry White Season” (1989). The project was never finished, but it reveals another dimension of this immensely complex and admirable human being.
Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies
UC Santa Cruz
In 1968 I was producing a television talk show in the Bay Area. At the time, the Black Panther Party was the most controversial topic of discussion. I booked the group’s leaders, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver, as guests on “The Pat Michaels Show.” When they showed up at the studio, I noticed that they were being accompanied by none other than Brando. Although his reclusive nature and disdain for public attention was well established by then, I approached him with the request that he join the two dissidents on the show. He declined the invitation.
I said, “Of course, you must realize that if you appear, everybody will watch.” Without any further hesitation, he agreed. It was at that time that I recognized Brando’s personal commitment to integrity, loyalty and his love of country.
The show got the press’ attention and, of course, everybody watched it. Today, a photograph of the four of us, together on the set, is one of my most prized possessions.
As a teenager in the 1950s, along with my friends, I was enthralled with Brando and his films and never missed any. (Does anyone remember “Desiree”?)
However, when “The Young Lions” came out in 1958, I didn’t want to see it. The chorus from all my friends was “Marlon Brando dies in that!” Now the great one has died, and I can’t avoid the theater of this life. Adieu, Mr. Brando, and thank you.
Syed Hamde Ali