Marlon Brando: Forever In Transit, Part Two


Never apologize for those things or those people you love. Tennessee talked about the corruption of the artist beginning when we fail to be a witness to our fellow men and women--our fellow artists--and he was right. The corruption of a person--whatever their occupation--begins when they deny themselves the pleasure and the respect of their preferences. If you respond to something, own it. Love it. Share it. Never defend it: Just put it out there and be proud of it.

There was a period when everyone loved Hazel Scott.  In the name of God, Hazel Scott deserves love and respect, but I was amused by the number of people who pledged allegiance to Hazel Scott who had never listened to Hazel Scott. There was a cult of passion surrounding people unknown to each other, and that is corrupting. 

Everyone loved Rohmer for a time. Chaplin. Kurosawa. Ozu. Bergman. I have loved them all and argued with them all--in person and in the interior halls of anger I roam at night. So many people loved them who never invested an hour toward the investigation of their work, but they took the many hours to announce their allegiance because it allowed them brief entry to a correct circle.

That is corrupt.

Believe what you wish. Love it. Husband it. Share it if you like, but the greatest satisfaction comes from the time you spend alone with your passions. Quiet. Alone with the friend who is your writer, musician, artist, soul mate.

Harold Clurman always said 'Love what you want.' Someone somewhere needs to engrave that on the wall of a building. Build a church around that sentiment.

And listen to Hazel Scott. She and Bach get a soul going in the morning.

Hazel Scott

Most people in the arts aren't great at what they do. Their passions outweigh their abilities. This is true of all of us, myself included. It is impossible to always be great or even very good, because actors depend upon so many other people to implement their gifts. You have to have a great deal of luck and you have to have impossibly high standards: These are the things that will save you, and these are the things that will deliver you to a great result.

No one can be good in meretricious material: Stella always ground this into my head. You can be interesting in lousy material: People will applaud your efforts to craft a castle out of papier mâché, but there is no room for greatness in those situations.

Dream of greatness. Pray for greatness. Realize that greatness is terribly rare. Endure the adequate. Ignore the bad. Most of everything artistic is bad. Learn to stay at home and read and paint and listen to good music. Study with people you respect and who dream and pray for greatness.

Don't keep art in a temple, or in your heart, or in your dreams. Bring it down to the level where everyone gets to see it, be charmed and changed by it. To keep art in a temple--sacred and reserved--would be like putting padlocks on all the libraries and all the museums and torturing people with the knowledge that its treasures are there,  but they're not available to anyone but those few with a key.

That is corrupt. Take your art out for a walk and see if anyone notices.

I don't know what else to tell you.

Marilyn Monroe and Brando

I read the things Tennessee said about Marilyn, and they're all true and they're all brilliant and they're all mean and harsh and sad.

That is that.

There was a persistent cycle of emotions when you were around Marilyn: You wanted to laugh at her vaudeville act of sex and idiocy and vulnerability; you wanted to fuck her; you wanted to take care of her and teach her things; you wanted to save her; you wanted to get her out of the room.

There are some people who patent their pain and take it on tour and ask for a forgiving audience, a salve or two, redemption, surcease. It brings nothing but pain to the performer and nothing but embarrassment to the audience. Keep your pain to yourself. Use your pain to make something--a book, a story, a painting, a song, create a character or a play full of characters. Make pain the grain of sand that chafes and grates and creates a pearl you pass with the elation of having transformed something ugly and awful into something magnificent that can help other people transcend their own pain.

Don't roll around in your pain. It can be shamefully comfortable.

It is a waste of time.

But let's not disrespect Marilyn Monroe: Let's take her sad example and create something both in her honor and to allow other people the opportunity to create something that transcends pain and that closes vaudeville acts of sadness.

Grace Kelly and Brando on Oscar night, 1955.

There were awards in Omaha for businessmen and for housewives and for students. You could stand on a stage with a trophy for selling cars or insurance or appliances. You could stand on a stage with a trophy for growing a huge eggplant or baking perfect pies or raising money for the PTA. You could stand on a stage with a trophy for making good grades or inspiring school spirit or writing an essay that felt like Carlyle or Newman or John Stuart Mill. The community felt good; the recipient felt giddy; the losers felt competitive and wanted their chance to stand on a stage with a trophy.

I don't know what is implanted or instilled within each of us that wants this moment on a stage with a trophy and envy and applause, but it's in there. It's in me.

I don't like it.

I submitted to it and it made me sick.

What these awards really are--all awards--are civic boosters, sales attempts for whatever they're selling: local pride; school spirit; ticket sales to movies or plays or TV show; a run on hardcover books at the local bookstore.

They're about money and pride and power.

They have nothing at all to do with art or ability or worth.

I was proud of my work with Kazan in On the Waterfront. I worked hard and well. I'm proud of that film, and I felt good about being nominated and winning, but then I stood on a stage with lovely, sweet Grace Kelly and began to see the worthlessness of the whole evening, the whole enterprise. Grace Kelly was one of the sweetest women on earth--ambitious, avaricious, generous--but never, ever, even remotely an actress.

So what do you do? You ignore them, even as you profit from them, and you use them as they use you. The people who give awards are generally business people--they come from trades like hotels; they understand putting asses in seats or beds. They will give the awards to the people and the films or plays or TV series that will guarantee ratings and attention and money.

That is it. There you have it.

So use the awards for your own purposes. Make a statement or a profit on the backs of those bastards. Send a statement. Make some noise. Sell some hard truth for some hardware.

Brando, in two studies by Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten enjoyed me almost as much as he enjoyed a black man. He told me that. He liked the way I looked, and I responded to that. I wasn't used to people--particularly a photographer, an artist--liking the way I looked. I felt comfortable in front of him and his camera, and I took on various poses and people.

He said I was like an overfed baby. I had a sense of satisfaction you see in a child when he has just filled his belly and he feels good; he's gotten what he wanted. I think I felt good because I had studied enough to know how impossible it would be to be good, to stay good, to keep finding good work. I had given myself a shape that made people want to work with me, look at me, love me. You earn your face and your body and your time on a stage or in someone's heart. You bring something to them; you share yourself.

I look the way I look because of my parents and because of the work I put into looking a certain way and because of the work I did on the stage and in films that transformed the way I felt and thought and loved and cared.

This is true of all of us. Invest in those things you love and they appear on your face, on your body, in your voice, in the very way your heart operates.

I've never seen you, but I can tell from your voice what you love and what you're like. I don't think I'm wrong to trust you, and I don't think I'm wrong that beauty matters to you, that truth matters to you.

You've made yourself into something that I trust and want to talk to. I made myself into something that people wanted to watch and listen to and observe as I tried to do good work and investigate people through acting.

This is what living is, I think. This is what we're supposed to do.

My father--hateful as he was--was right: Make yourself into something.



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