Picks and Pans Review: Brando: the Unauthorized Biography

UPDATED 11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST

by Charles Higham

Higham, the official unauthorized biographer to the stars (he's done books on Katharine and Audrey Hepburn, Errol Flynn and Bette Davis, among others), has turned his pen to one of the most elusive of celebrity subjects. This is an anecdotal reconstruction of Brando's life culled from friends, ex-friends, coworkers and the occasional family member. While there is no startlingly new information here, the book is a readable profile that begins when Brando's mother, Dodie, who later became an alcoholic, "carried him in his swaddling clothes into the three-story white clapboard house." It goes through "Bud's" early childhood—playground fights in defense of his friend Wally Cox, military school that a strict father demanded, and early high school sweethearts. Elaine Stritch, one of these old flamelets, later lived in a convent school and recalls the Reverend Mother swooning when Marlon came to call. Brando went through stints as a lemonade salesman and elevator operator before indulging his nascent flair for drama with classes at New York's New School. Tales of his romantic life are compared to a "French farce with hot and cold running girls." He married twice—Mexican actress Movita Castenada followed actress Anna Kashfi, who said she was an Indian. (An English couple popped up making a convincing argument for being her parents.) Brando, never bound by social expectations, was also a productive free-lance father. While filming Mutiny on the Bounty, he fell in love with the Polynesian girl who became his leading lady in the film, Tarita. He had two children with her, three with his wives. While his amorous indulgences are marked with entertaining bits of passion and fury—an ex-wife appears in a mistress's home, that sort of thing—the results are more often pathetic. During the continuing custody battle over Christian (now 29), his son with Kashfi, the boy was kidnapped by thugs who said they were paid by his mother; Christian was finally found shivering in a tent in Mexico. Higham portrays Brando as a boorish practical joker, especially given to urinating in inappropriate places and mooning out of car windows. By book's end Brando has become an oversize hermit, rarely leaving his Los Angeles fortress—except for an occasional turn around the roller rink with Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. Cyclones devastated his South Pacific island, and he put it up for sale. His role as Superman's father appears to have been his last. It's a sad story in a lot of ways, but Higham has probably gotten as close to Brando as any writer will. Unless, of course, Bud's pal of recent years, Michael Jackson, gets a sudden inspiration to tell the world all he knows. (New American Library, $18.95)

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