According to his latest biographer, Marlon Brando (1924-2004) was a voracious reader, social activist and insightful actor.
Mizruchi (English/Boston Univ.; The Rise of Multicultural America, 2008, etc.) bases her study on considerable new sources: Brando’s huge library of annotated books, film scripts and research notes, as well as interviews with friends and family members. “I can report,” she writes, “that Brando’s hunger for knowledge was as insatiable as his more legendary appetites for women and food.” She believes that Brando was a victim of sexism; his good looks and gossip about “the endless women and romantic affairs” led to his being stereotyped as an intellectual lightweight. Mizruchi argues that he was a serious student of philosophy, literature, history, and Western and Eastern religions. In the 1950s, as his reputation was established by performances in A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront, his reading became “focused on three main areas: comparative philosophy and religion; Asian cultures, including their histories, languages, and arts; and social scientific theory (politics and psychology in particular).” His readings, Mizruchi asserts, influenced his choice of roles, in which he hoped to convey some social or political message. Although he was chided for outspoken political views that some deemed naïve, the author claims that Brando consciously “treated his celebrity as a means to public ends.” His causes included Native American rights, civil rights for African-Americans, UNICEF and the environment. Mizruchi chronicles Brando’s career, highlighting his deliberations over roles, his profuse annotations of scripts and his efforts to deeply understand his characters. Even when he took parts just for the money, “Brando sought to balance lucrative projects against those he did for idealistic purposes.”
Admitting that she has been obsessed with Brando since she was a teenager, Mizruchi paints a sympathetic and respectful portrait of a man far different from the self-absorbed, self-indulgent one who emerges in other biographies.