The Latest Brando Bio

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Stefan Kanfer's Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando.

Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando
Stefan Kanfer
Knopf; 350 pages

The Gist:
A film critic at TIME for decades, Kanfer delivers another in a long line of Marlon Brando biographies (including 1999's Brando, by Richard Schickel, another TIME critic). Looking particularly closely at the actor's self-destructive tendencies, Somebody take the Brando myth up to his 2004 death and beyond.

Highlight Reel:
1. On Brando (known as Bud as a child) and his early desire to prove everybody wrong: "Academically, he continued to lag, and various members of the faculty implied—or said outright—that he would never amount to anything. The athletic coaches disagreed: the following year Bud won letters in track and football, finished first in the school decathalon, and set a record by doing one thousand straight push-ups. He might have done more, but a teacher, worried that the youth would strain his heart, ordered him to stop.

2. On a missed opportunity: "For despite the recent box-office disappointment, Sam Spiegel believed that Marlon would be an ideal Lawrence of Arabia, made his an offer, and sent him Robert Bolt's vivid scenario. To Peter O'Toole's undying gratitude, Marlon responded: 'I'll be damned if I'll spend two years of my life out in the desert on some f-----g camel.'

3. On Brando at a White House dinner with President John F. Kennedy: "As Marlon attacked the pasta, Kennedy challenged him: 'Marlon, have you gained weight? Looks like you've put on a few.'
'Nary an ounce.'
'Kennedy grinned. "Then the CIA sent up some wrong information.'
Marlon bet the president that JFK weighed more than he did. A bathroom scale was brought into the room. Brando checked in at 187 pounds. Kennedy was eleven pounds lighter.
'Get some food into this man,' Marlon told the other guests. 'You can't lead the country at a hundred seventy-six."

The Lowdown:
Why pen another bio of the much studied Marlon Brando? To take him seriously. To get inside his head and then recreate him from the inside out, much as Brando tried to do to the characters he played. The prurient details of Brando's life (and there are many) are downplayed here. Rather, Kanfer portrays Brando as a man at war with himself: self-loathing, self-destructive and self-sabotaging. Beautiful performances were often followed up by several lazy ones. Brando would blatantly goof off like a petulant child if he didn't get his way on set. And all the way, in his mind, Brando knew his talent was going to waste. As he grew crazier, and bigger, his myth grew bigger and crazier in kind. While Kanfer piles on the psychobabble early on, he eventually settles down and delivers a respectful and comprehensive, if not exactly groundbreaking, look at a truly mad genius.

The Verdict: Skim

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