Marlon Brando was the brightest, boldest, and most iconoclastic acting talent of our time. But while his courage and imagination as an artist brought applause and attention from around the world, Brando shunned nearly everything that goes with celebrity status. He was one of the most reclusive personalities in modern times and a legend beyond compare. He was also an equal opportunity provocateura dazzling bafflerbe it on stage, on screen, or in his private life. Always true to his nature, he never failed to surprise. He did things his wayThe Way It's Never Been Done Before.
No one shared as much of Brando's private fields as his lifelong friend and business confidant, George Englund. For more than five decades, Brando and Englund were each other's most trusted ally and closest compadre. Even at their first meeting, at a Hollywood party in 1956the kind of occasion where Brando was most on guard against any who would attempt to get close to himhe and Englund forged close ties. From that initial meeting right up to the eve of the superstar's death in the summer of 2004, Brando and Englund were in nearly constant contact. They traveled together, worked together, and played together. They consoled and cajoled each other through their marriages and divorces, the births and tragic deaths of their children, good and bad business deals, and the onset of aging, concluding with Brando's death at the age of eighty.
"I remembered what Mark Twain wrote," Englund says, "'that everybody is a moon with a dark side he doesn't show anyone else.' I felt this was an appropriate hour for a book that looked at the other side of Marlon, that told of theman and friend and father he was. There has not been such a book in Marlon's lifetime, even including his autobiography, and I felt that after our long years of friendship, perhaps I should attempt to write it. I knew the difficulty I would encounter; to write about Marlon is to work with delicate glass, for he was, without question, the most complicated personality I ever met or knew about.
"I once thought what a grand time he and I would have writing the book about our friendship together. That possibility has passed away, for Marlon is gone nowI must make the attempt to write of us alone. I summon to the task the sacredness, which, when we were at our best, Marlon and I laid upon our friendship."
About the Author:
George Englund, seventy-eight, is a writer, producer, and director. He directed Marlon Brando in the 1963 film The Ugly American. He lives in Palm Springs, California, with his dog, Eli.
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The Way It's Never Been Done Before
My Friendship with Marlon Brando
February 16, 2004
Marlon is an old man. I both laugh and weep as I write the sentence. Marlon old? Marlon Brando old? It can't be true. It is, though; he's eighty. But it isn't the number of years that's significant, Marlon could still be youthful. It's how the years have treated him and how he has treated them. And he isn't old to me, we still fire the jokes and puns back and forth, still kid and prod each other, still rail at what's loathsome on television, still read our favorite poems aloud. The Ballad of William Sycamore by Stephen Vincent Benét is a perennial.
But age is here. Today, when I walk down the hall to Marlon's bedroom, on the polished teak that has supported my shoes through so many crossings, I hear it, faintly at first, then more certainly as I near the entrance -- the hiss of the oxygen tank. When I cross into the bedroom-sitting area, it's quiet, there is an unaccustomed stillness, I am in the whereabouts of an old man. The appurtenances of illness -- bottles of pills, boxes of medications, syringes, lotions and lubricants -- fill the surface of the bedside table and tell a story of infirmity. And in his bed Marlon's mien is that of a man who is not well.
It is midday, I have driven from Palm Springs. Marlon and I will have lunch, talk for a while, then I'll put my things in the guesthouse down below the swimming pool while he rests. At some point I will discuss with him the project he began three years ago that he first called Master Class then later Lying for a Living. Marlon meant it to be a top-secret, clandestine endeavor, but, of course, news of it soon landed in the press. He brought a group of actors together, some completely unknown, others established stars -- Nick Nolte, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Voight, Michael Jackson. Marlon instructed them in the use of improvisation in acting, then had them perform improvisations. He hired the controversial English director Tony Kaye to record the sessions on DVD and almost immediately had a falling-out with him and fired him.
He believes the project will bring him scores of millions of dollars. I believe there can be money in what Marlon has to teach about acting, but the madness that prevails when he controls the business side as well as the creative side of a project will likely prevent his work from reaching the audience it might.
His theme is that acting is lying and that this notion should first be brought to the attention of politicians.
"Politicians lie all the time, that's their principal occupation, but they don't do it well. I can teach them how to lie with style," he says.
After the material had been assembled, Marlon asked me to look at it. We then had a protracted discussion about the DVDs and he asked me to take over the whole enterprise, the legal structure, editing the footage into a salable package, creating and executing the marketing and sales campaign. Also, he wanted me to appear with him on the DVD and lead him into a wide-ranging discussion of the kind we have so often. Finally, he wanted me to appear alone talking about him as man and actor.
I am anxious that this project be completed; I feel it is essential that Marlon not leave this planet without, in some form, having set down his view of acting -- what acting is and how the art should be approached and rendered.
We agreed on what my responsibilities would be, specifically the duties listed above, then, as happened so often and so amusingly with us, we did not agree on what I should be paid. That brought a schism. After I thought about it, I told Marlon that at this point in life what was important was our friendship, I'd do the job as his friend, without compensation. It's critical, I said, that we build on what's been recorded and create a Brando legacy.
"Good to see you, Georgie." Marlon gestures at me. "Look good. Feeling strong?"
"Ready to run the four-forty, Mar, what about you?"
"Not bad, when I get out of bed I roll my oxygen tank around like a beach ball, that's good exercise. What do you want for lunch?"
Angela, the sweet thirty-four-year-old Filipina, who began as Marlon's maid a few years ago and now takes care of all of the details of his life, is nearby and looking at me with a smile. Her sister stands alongside to assist.
"Anything, Mar, I'm easy, maybe just some Rosicrucian fennel cakes."
"I don't know if we have those," Angela says ingenuously.
"He's bullshitting," Marlon tells her with a laugh, but he has to build on the idea. "You like them sautéed, right, shredded camel dung on top?"
"These days I'm leaning to walrus phlegm, for tartness."
"He'll have what I'm having." Marlon nods to Angela.
"Mr. Brando is having tuna salad, is that what you'd like?" She smiles at me. "We've got other choices."
"Tuna salad." Marlon looks up at her. "He's not able to say it, but he wants tuna salad."
Angela smiles again. "What would you like to drink?"
"Whatever Marlon thinks goes best with fennel cakes."
"Iced tea," he says to Angela. "We'll both have iced tea."
In this house on Mulholland Drive, which overlooks Beverly Hills on one side and the San Fernando Valley on the other, and in which Marlon has lived for over forty years, we are in our customary positions -- Marlon in bed, I in the chair facing him. Less than a year ago Marlon, who is five-ten, weighed in excess of three hundred and fifty pounds. In the past, he'd made forays into dieting, mostly without conviction, but eleven months ago, when he was having trouble breathing because all that weight had been pressing on his heart, lungs, and central organs for decades, the word from his doctors was an imperative ...The Way It's Never Been Done Before
My Friendship with Marlon Brando. Copyright © by George Englund. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book comes straight from the heart. As 3rd son of author George Englund, I, George Englund Jr. am closer my dad than anyone else. I grew up with Marlon and his children; Christian, Miko, and Cheyenne. I spent time with them all in Tahiti on his atoll and worked with Marlon on several projects directly and extensively. Before giving my review on the book I must comment on the Publisher¿s Weakley review which misses the mark almost completely. This book was intentionally non-chronological, is in no way an attempt to document Brando¿s career or establish his place in film history. That is another book which I truly hope my father writes and one for which he is eminently qualified. GE Sr. was arguably Marlon¿s closest lifelong friend and this book is his truth about their relationship and his deepest most honest perception of who Marlon was. It was finished in an insanely compressed schedule after Marlon¿s death requiring the author to balance the bereavement of a lost best friend with the pressure of writing a serious comprehensive book with an extremely limited deadline. Contrary to the Publishers Weekly author, I found that Englund¿s take was consistently un-self centered and reflected the reality of their experiences. They are both spectacularly talented in different and similar ways. The reviewer mentioned that GE Sr.s career was never fully developed¿.This is an ignorant and irresponsible statement. It was the opposite of an ego trip. The Publishers Weekly review claimed that the narration ruled out any multi-layered insight but their shared experiences illustrate a deep and complex picture of two highly unique guys sharing a rare set of experiences. Brando was accurately revealed in this book and Englund appropriately represented his role and stature. Imagine if you had to write a book about your best friend, the greatest actor in the world, within 30 days of his death. I¿m a hard grader on my dad but I think he did an outstanding job on this one big time. It is honest, fair and balanced
This is the Brando I wanted to know. Wonderful book. Great story by a man who REALLY knew Brando. You won't regret buying and reading this book. Exceptional. George Englund knows this man.