California Retrospective: Brando gave the paparazzi the slip -- out a courtroom rear window


It’s one of Hollywood’s most enduring cat-and-mouse games: paparazzi and the celebrities who try to avoid them.

The hunt for celebrity photos has intensified in recent years, leading to some tense incidents and prompting legislation aimed at taming the paparazzi.

But few stars successfully elude the photographers — but not for a lack of trying.

One of the more legendary celebrity disappearing acts occurred Aug. 11, 1955, and involved Marlon Brando.


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Brando did not want to deal with photographers when he was called into court in downtown Los Angeles over two old traffic tickets. After hiding in the courthouse for over an hour, he climbed out a back window and ran.

Brando avoided all photographers but one: Mirror-News staff photographer Bill Knight, who had been tipped to Brando’s window escape.

A story in that day’s Los Angeles Times explains the caper:

“Marlon Brando, an actor, played a game of cat and mouse with newspaper photographers yesterday with the aid of judges and bailiffs in the Municipal Traffic Court Building, 833 Wall St.

“Appearing on two old traffic tickets which had gone to warrant, Brando announced to all that he did not want his picture taken. And for the next hour and a half, court attaches did their utmost to see that his wishes were respected.

“Municipal Judge Albert E. Wheatcroft ordered that no pictures were to be taken in the courtroom, even when court was not in session — a most unusual procedure. Photographers stationed themselves in the hall.


“As Brando walked up to the judge’s bench, he had to pass a door opening onto the hall. The door was suddenly jerked open and flashbulbs popped. Brando grinned, but did not admit defeat.

“After his business with Judge Wheatcroft was completed, Brando was escorted through a private door into the unoccupied judge’s chambers of another courtroom. Photographers waited him out, refusing to believe that he had left the building.

“Sure enough, bailiffs again escorted him through Judge Wheatcroft’s court through the courtroom of Municipal Judge Thomas L. Griffith Jr., where a trial was in progress, and into Judge Griffith’s chambers.

“There he stayed for about a half-hour, with Judge Griffith dropping in twice during recesses to see what it was all about.

“Told that his visitor wanted to escape photographers, Judge Griffith wanted to know why. And when informed that his visitor was Marlon Brando, the judge reportedly asked, ‘Who’s he?’

“But Judge Griffith did not order Brando to leave. Finally, a bailiff not involved in the original scheme decided to end it all.


“He arranged an escape route through a rear window leading to an alley. But one of the photographers was there waiting for him, and got another picture.

“Brando darted between cars in a parking lot, across Maple Avenue, between buildings to Los Angeles Street, and when last seen was heading in the general direction of the Pacific Ocean.

“A striking … young woman wearing a flower in her hair, who had accompanied Brando to court, was left waiting in a racy sports car in the alley behind the building. She was joined by a male friend and they began cruising up and down streets in search of Brando.

“The tickets? Oh, yes.

“Brando received a suspended sentence of $10 or two days for making an illegal U-turn at Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue last May 11. And he was fined $40 for failing to appear on a charge of driving without a driver’s license Jan. 24, 1954, at Hollywood Boulevard and Hudson Avenue.

“He was held in a detention room until his unidentified woman friend came forward with the $40.”